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Success Tips: Why you should broaden your patterns of thought

Success Tips: Why you should broaden your patterns of thought

Discover your thought patterns, then act on that knowledge.

Pattern

We all develop habitual patterns of thinking: channels along which our minds run all too easily into recurring patterns of mental behavior. People often aren’t fully aware of these patterns precisely because they are so much part of their lives. It’s terribly easy to miss the role they play in limiting your options and determining how things will nearly always turn out for you. Once you grasp the automatic way that your mind tends to work, you’ll be better able to see what part you are playing in keeping things the way they are now; and what you will need to do to change.

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The only sure way to change anything for the better in your life or career is to change what is causing it to be the way it is. To do that, you must step outside the fog of your habitual thoughts and opinions and see things for what they are, not what you unthinkingly and automatically assume them to be. Those habitual mind-sets are not “the truth,” even if you believe they’re true. There’s always more that you don’t know and aspects that you haven’t yet considered.

Coming to grips with your own thought patterns offers you new possibilities. You can make choices that are far more likely to work well for you, since they’re based on understanding first what conclusions you’re most likely to jump to, and then what aspects of the situation you’re almost bound to ignore as a result. Once those are clear, you can choose deliberately to step outside your habitual mental attitudes too increase the information and possibilities available. Doing so will immediately give you more positive influence over just about all aspects of your life.

Some typical thought patterns.
There are many variations on habitual patterns of thought and no two people’s will be precisely the same. These are some of the commonest, simplified for the sake of clarity. Your own pattern may contain a little from all of these, but there will probably be a preponderance of one, or at the most two, patterns.

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  • Do you feel best when you have lots of people around you? Do you enjoy making new relationships and keeping old ones fresh? Do you have many friends, yet are always adding more? Do others see you as more of a social animal than most? If so, your mental habits have probably become set in a Relationship-oriented pattern. You’ll spot all the human, relationship-based aspects of a situation easily. Other aspects may be much harder for you to see without concentrated effort.
  • Do you prize fairness? Does injustice and hypocrisy make you angry? Are you naturally drawn to good causes? Do those who know you well see you as the kind of person who feels high standards of behavior are critical? If so, your typical mode of thought probably lies in an Ethics-oriented direction. In any situation, you’ll jump right away to noticing what’s fair and what isn’t. That may grab your emotions so completely that you become almost blind to anything else.
  • Are you an active go-getter? Do you prefer less talk and more action? Are you driven by the need to succeed and the sense of satisfaction that comes with reaching your goals? People like you gravitate towards fast-moving roles with clear objectives and challenges to be overcome. Their natural thought pattern is Achievement-oriented and focuses on what can be done right away. Putting nearly all their attention on that often obscures anything else that won’t lead quickly to action of some kind.
  • Do you enjoy ideas for their own sake? Are you drawn to discovery? Are you always taking classes and adding to your knowledge? Are you the curious kind—the type of person who wants to know how things work? Are you the one that others naturally turn to when they want to know something? If so, your thought pattern is Expertise-oriented. It can lead you into approaching situations with such a narrow viewpoint that you fail to see the overall picture. Experts often focus only on those few aspects of a situation that relate directly to their area of expertise. The rest is ignored.
  • Do you need to feel what you’re doing has a specific meaning? Do you like to see things done correctly? Are you careful and precise in what you do? Do your friends know that you won’t give up on a task until it’s completely finished—and as near perfection as you can make it? People like that usually develop Precision-oriented mind-sets. The result can be anything from getting lost in the details to that old cliché: “paralysis by analysis.”
  • Perhaps you’re creative and innovative? You prefer to solve problems with brain rather than brawn. You’re excited by innovative possibilities. You may even be a visionary who sees far into the future and thrives on radical change. People around you can’t always follow you; maybe see you a something of a dreamer? Creative-oriented thought patterns probably come naturally to you. The obvious draw-back is a tendency to miss what is right in front of your nose.

Understanding your primary thought patterns is the key to making change work.
The purpose of trying to understand your commonest thinking patterns is two-fold: to avoid being blind-sided by what they won’t show you and to broaden them whenever you can.

People’s thought patterns focus naturally on the areas where they have learned most, gathered most experience, and feel most at home. They act like blinders or mental filters, presenting you with a neat picture of the world, tuned to your biases and assumptions. What you see as the truth is only what they let you see. What you do as a result may therefore be seriously flawed, as well as limited.

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Relying on patterns of thought that have become too narrow involves high risks. Like animals and birds that become over-specialized, fitting too closely into a single niche can lead to disaster when times and circumstances change. To be able to prosper in the widest possible range of environments, you need to become more adaptable—which means adding to your ways of collecting information and reaching conclusions. The wider the kinds of thinking in which you can you can operate with reasonable success, the more successful you are likely to be. True “geeks” are often hyper-intelligent, extremely determined, and amazingly well-informed . . . but in a very narrow field. If they are often denied the respect and success they deserve, it’s mostly because their thinking and interests are too narrow for their own good.

What you need to do next.
Which thought patterns from my list do you most recognize in yourself? If you’re still uncertain—or want to check out your conclusions—you can often get a sound grasp of them by considering what people say is “typically you.” You may not be immediately aware of the typical paths your mind follows, but nearly everyone else will be.

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Careful reflection is vital, as is the honesty to see what’s there, whether it’s what you expected (or wanted) or not. Many people find that keeping a journal helps. So does talking openly with trusted friends. It’s also worth listening to criticism, which often focuses on what patterns in your assumptions and opinions most irk other people. However you do it, it will be time well spent—but only so long as you then act on what you find. A thought pattern—a mind-set —is neither something to be ashamed of nor a reason for pride. It’s always a call to focused action to move your thinking into other directions to provide greater balance and flexibility.

No one can control their future; yet everyone can influence it to some extent. How successful that influence will be depends a good deal on luck. But a sound understanding of where your habitual patterns of thought are going to lead you, unless you re-direct them on occasion, can give that luck a strong push in a positive direction.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to find and recognize a civilized job and Why fear of failure is the most common blockage to success. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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