Every morning is the same routine for me, waking up, standing up, weighing myself, showering, getting dressed up, eat breakfast, and so on. This pattern is so much embedded in my weekdays that it feels strange when I do something else. A shower has almost become a necessary activity to start the day. Patterns like those must be familiar to you, everyone has repeating rituals during the day, over the weeks, and over the years. In this blog I will talk about these patterns in our behavior. I won’t talk about the context of our behavior, but just the patterns. Nevertheless, I do believe that the patterns are the best guide towards doing what we do. I will talk about the variations and regularity of patterns that determine our health and success. I hope you enjoy it.
Patterns in behaviour
There are many patterns in our behaviour. Almost everything is a pattern. You sleep every day, you eat every day, and each morning you have your personal routine. I believe that our behaviour is much more unconscious than we would like to admit. No one ever forgets to sleep, to eat, or forgets to go to work completely. With don’t give our routines that much of a conscious thought. Behavioural patterns are very personal but we all have our own routine. We might deviate from our patterns during days like the weekend, or holidays. But even within these deviations there is a pattern to be found, each New-year we kind of do the same thing as last year, don’t we?
Regular patterns over the days, weeks, and years
If we do the same thing every day, every week, every year, aren’t we looping then? I believe not. We are doing similar things every day, but everything is always a little bit different. There are so many configurations possible, that it quite hard to do exactly the same thing twice. Your experience changes you every day, making you a different person. Because of this, you behave a little different each time. Like the activities at Christmas might be quite similar each year, but the things you talk about, or how you interact with each other are (slightly) different. In this context, I believe that we are living in a strange attractor, this is a concept of dynamical systems theory. An attractor is a set of numerical values toward which a system tends to evolve, for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system. So if you compare this concept with our lives, I (as a system) tend to evolve to a person who is living a life just like everyone else. Furthermore, a strange attractor, is an attractor that never crosses the same point twice but shows very similar patterns, just like our activities are always quite different as mentioned.
Variation of patterns over the days
But still, some people have quite simple patterns, while others have very complex patterns. One person might work from 9-5 during the week and relaxes all weekend. While a different person might work night-shifts interchanged with day-shifts and goes travelling when he’s a few days of. The table below depicts this. Let’s say that every day you do (quite) the same thing. This could be a known pattern for that day and could be depicted as a number; like 1, 2, 3. For example, workdays might be a “1” and weekend-days might be a “2”, and a day-out might be a “3”, and so on. Over a few weeks of working, the patterns between several employee’s might look like something in the table below. Although, this is overly simplified (because there are many sub-patterns within the days). Over the days, some humans show quite some simplicity (like the unemployed one) while others show more complex behavior (like the shift-worker).
Patterns within the day
You can also see in the table that there is a difference in regularity between the workers. The regularity of the project workers’ pattern is high while the regularity of the shift worker is low, although the variations within the pattern is quite the same. So complexity of the patterns is in this case determined by its variation and by its regularity. Our own physical body requires regularity and has a circadian rhythm which is related to our hormone secretion, organ activity etc. Irregular living patterns has been therefore related to diabetes, obesity, cognition, alzheimer, cancer, and many other diseases (link and link).
Variations in patterns within the day
Within the days we have the same things happening. Thoughts and activities during the day show also patterns. Within a day you also have regularity and variety. At work for example, you have a regular break schedule, regular meetings, and so on. Within certain activities you might also have several patterns of thoughts. At work you might face a problem like this “How would you save energy costs using green energy?” When you try to solve this, you can do several things (depicted in the next table). You can stick with your first thought (1) and go into depth with your thoughts (deep-analyses). You could think about many alternatives (alternative solutions) to solve the problem without going too much into depth. Or you could combine alternatives and depth, having a little depth to a few solutions (the combination). (This has some relation with creating chaos through colors).
Better performance with more variation?
You could imagine that more variations you endure during your day, the better you perform. The variation within your activities might give you more diverse thoughts to solve a problem. However, this is also a trade-off. The more different activities you do over the days (like public speaking, interviewing, and typing), the more all-round you become. But on the other side, doing the same thing every day, can have several advantages as well. If you spend every day working on the same project behind a desk (like a PhD-worker), you’ll get into depth in that subject. You become an expert. So variation is great in finding alternatives, but it is a trade-off with going into depth. Thus, it is quite subjective what fits better for each situation. Should you think and talk about many different things, or should you go into depth? Nevertheless, it also conceivable that the right balance is somewhere between the two extremes for most cases.
Regularity in patterns within the day
Also during day to day situations, regularity is important, you need to know what you’re up to. Regularity gives you something to hold on too. Habits are regular patterns that require less mental energy, making it easier to get through the day. When there is no pattern in your activities, you’ll never know what to expect. You can find more regularity through more order. Through planning, setting up a schedule you can keep a regular pattern through the day.
How much variation can you handle?
Within your mind you have several sequences that you apply every day (known as habits). We have a morning habit during workdays, but also morning habits during the weekends. Often these are different sequences with different variations. How much sequences can you handle, and how much can you variate from your known sequences? Are you able to eat fries for breakfast? Could you go a week without showering? Sleeping less than 4 hours a night? Some of these “challenges” might not sound very attracting. You need to deviate from your usual habits to do this. The more variations you apply, the better you become to handle these things. Like the fact that a student can handle irregular sleeping patterns because he is used to it. Patterns can only change, if they change. So you will only learn to handle sleeping 4 hours a night, if for once you sleep 4 hours a night.
The role of consciousness
Our habits, and thus many parts of our life flow quite automatically. Your morning routine is largely automatic, you travel with not much of a thought, and many of your work activities probably have some habits involved. Patterns flow while you go with it. The time flows and you go with it. If you take no conscious actions, you will do the same day every day. I believe that the most important role of consciousness is, to deviate a little from your usual patterns. It is only the consciousness who can really decide and change things. Otherwise, you are just guided by your habits and by the environment.
So your behavior consists mainly of patterns that have variation and regularity. Variation means in this context, the amount of variations you have for doing something. While regularity means the patterns through the variations. We life quite automatically, but our conscious mind can make us deviate from the patterns we know. Consciousness gives us control.