Sunday, January 13, 2008

Patterns in Your Life Can be Functional or Dysfunctional

As can easily be explained by behavioral psychology, most people have patterns in their lives. The term “pattern,” from the French word patron meaning model, is “a recurring set of events or objects that repeat in a predictable fashion.” The term “functional” can refer to many phenomena (such as functional form and functionalism [as in architecture, mathematics, ontology, programming, symptom, and in music diatonic]); herein, however, I use the term functional to refer to “something able to fulfill its purpose or function.” Collectively, these terms refer to patterns in a person’s life that are either functional (i.e., they work, they’re good for you) or dysfunctional (i.e., they don’t work, they’re not good for you).

In my novels, the main characters take a look at the patterns in their individual lives as well as their collective/romantic lives. For example, in My Sweetpea: Seven Years and Seven Days, both Troy and Sheila eventually realize that Troy’s gambling has become troublesome – not only for Troy but for their marriage; in Fear of Feeling Loved, Marcia soon appreciates that her pattern of acting non-trustingly toward men is creating a problem in her relationship with Jack; and in If Ever Again… It’ll be for Love, Diane begins to see that her pattern always being argumentative with Michael is pushing him away.

My pop-psych book, Living Life, Anyway, addresses this functional versus dysfunctional patterns in life consideration in Chapter One, “Living Life, Consciously.” I will paste it in below for you:

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Sometimes, patterns in our lives can be like addictions– we follow our patterns without even realizing it (and occasionally professing that we can’t help ourselves, like the person who says, “I get so excited about getting a new car I just can’t help but tell everyone about it!”).

But do not assume that patterns necessarily are either good or bad. Rather, I prefer to look at the patterns in our lives similarly to how I view addictions: they can be either functional or dysfunctional. For example, while drinking a fifth of scotch every night might very well be considered a dysfunctional addiction, compulsively jogging two miles every morning may be considered a positive addiction. Likewise, timing it so that you get to the golf course just in time to tee off, may be a dysfunctional pattern, and timing yourself so that you get to the course early enough to stretch and loosen up, may be a functional pattern. To evaluate yourself in this area, just ponder two questions: (1) Is there any pattern to what I do? And (2) What are the logical consequences to the pattern? If nine out of ten times that you play golf you arrive at the course just in time to tee off, I would conclude that there is a pattern to what you do and if nine out of ten times you leave the course with pulled muscles, I would conclude that it is a dysfunctional pattern. Observing and being aware of such things indeed can be an important educational experience for us.

In the formal consideration of “education,” I treasure Lord Brougham’s observation: “Education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.” If we are not aware of the dysfunctional patterns in our lives, then aren’t we “slaves” to our own patterns (or said another way, to our own ignorance)? Learning from our observations and experiences, certainly can constitute the most important education we can ever have. Fittingly, the old proverb: “You pay for an education once; you pay for ignorance the rest of your life.” If I am to learn from my experience, then I must be aware of my experience (and, as well, I must be aware of my experience with my experience). Definitively, should we boil all of this down, the ultimate question we need to ask ourselves is: Why do I do what I do? If you are able to answer that question for yourself, and continue to ask yourself that question, chances are that you will not engage in dysfunctional patterns. You will learn from your experience. You will be aware, and most likely you will live a happier life.

(pp. 21-22)

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Question: What do you do to avoid dysfunctional patterns in your life?



Anonymous said...

For the most part I look at the results of my patterns and do my best to change them if need be to get more positive results. This works most of the time but there are still some patterns I have a tough time breaking. One of them is staying up too late at night. No matter what I do during the day I have a tough time falling asleep before midnight which means I'll be tired in the morning - not a good way to start the day. One of these days I'll figure it out.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Maconole,
Thanks for stopping by… always glad to see you (and as usual I appreciate your insightful sharing).
First and foremost, you are vigilant – you have no idea how many people I know, have known and have worked with who don’t even know that they have dysfunctional patterns in their lives. Secondly, try to be patient with yourself… as I said in the Post, at times patterns can resemble addictions and truly are hard to change.
Staying up too late almost seems to fall into the American way. Having decent TV programming 24/7 is a contributor. And if you live a busy life (with a plethora of career, family and recreational expectations, commitments and activities), sometimes late at night is the only time you have any “alone/quiet time for yourself.” (I tend to stay up too late as well, and I think this is the biggest factor contributing to my staying up late.)
These above contributing issues fall into the behavioral/routine/psychological realms, and with vigilance and patient persistence change can be made. For some people, however, it’s also biological (e.g., three cups of coffee at 10:00 o’clock can keep me up quite a while); and if it’s not dietary, consultation with a physician to consider possible medication always is another option.
Thanks again and have a great day.
‘til next time,

Julia Phillips Smith said...

I'm an even later nightowl than midnight - last night I made myself go to bed at 2:30 am because I knew 6 am was coming. I'm just that way - always have been. I get a surge of energy and creativity late in the afternoon, just as early birds are starting to fade for the day. But majority rules, and there are apparently more early birds than night owls.

I used to work at a live theatre, where my shift began at 6 pm and I got to bed by 3:30 or 4 am - the perfect world! But now I'm in an office where apparently I'm expected to think by the ungodly hour of 8:30 am. The theatre hours worked better for my bio clock, but the pay is better in that exotic office world, so I live through the work week sleepless and catch up on the weekend.

So what were we talking about...dysfunctional patterns...? (yawn...excuse me...)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Julia,
Good to see you.
It seems that many people have a “biological clock” unique to themselves – the time of day when they feel most productive and most comfortable. For you it’s apparently during the non-daylight hours (and I have a friend who has an 8:00 to 5:00 job yet is in bed every night by 9:00 and up at 4:30 the next morning). Different strokes for different folks. When I was younger, I played in bands – on weekends, primarily – I was up by noon, played music – guitar, piano and organ – until the bars closed at 2:00 and in bed by 4:00, only to get up by noon and do it all over again.
In terms of “functional,” the key words in my Post are, “they work, they’re good for you.” If staying up until 2:30 works for you and is good for you, do it (as long as your boss doesn’t catch you yawning too much). When I know I have a lot of book chapter editing to do, I occasionally will take a short nap after dinner and then stay up working until 3:30 or 4:00 (and for the record, the nap is not so I can stay up – it’s to half prevent or minimize the yawning the following day).
Thanks again, Julia, for the visit and sharing your experience.

Cole Reising said...

Ah, wait until someone hits me over the head and says, "Knock it off!"

=) Just kidding. This is a really great subject and is really important I think. Patterns can apply to so many things in our lives. Just recently I've been tending to my patterns of how I finish things. An area of weakness for me. =)

Great post as usual Bill!


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Cole,
Thanks for sharing your experience and gracious comments about the Post.
"How we end things" and "how we start things" tend to have a pattern to them, but the question is, "Does our pattern work for us (viz, is it functional)?"
If it doesn't, then a change indeed is warranted. (As a client once said to me, "I defeat myself because I repeat myself.")
Thanks again.
'til next time,

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr. Bill,
My friend, who is a student at USF told me about your site. Very interesting subjects...
I actually have to thank my very strict and organized parents for many of my "good" patterns. I think I actually do them pretty much without thinking. Plus, if they are "good" I seem to have figured out they make me feel better and are now self fulfilling. So, does wimpy parenting set us up for "bad" patterns?
Just wondering.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Nanceet,
I’m delighted to know that one of my students shared my website and blog with you – it seems that it stimulated some introspective thinking on your behalf (which is always a good thing). I also appreciate your chiming in and sharing your experiences and thoughts.
As we are growing up, we obviously learn from our parents (some from their “rules and restrictions,” but mostly from their modeling). But remember – we also learn from the modeling and interactions of others as well. Whatever was your case, it seems that you learned specific patterns and you feel good about them (including that they now are a part of you – they come naturally for you). I suppose you could consider yourself lucky. And while I would tend to agree that “strict” parenting might engender better values and respective patterns in children (depending of course what the parents are being strict about and modeling), remember – we also learn from others. (And some people grow up and think, “Whatever I do, I don’t want to be like my parents.”) Maybe what I am suggesting is that “parenting” has a strong influence on us when we’re young and growing up, and even though it can extend into adulthood, we, as adults, then have the ability to think about who we are, what kind of person we are, and what kinds of patterns we want n our lives – we can exercise choices (i.e., if we want to, we can change).
As you can see, you obviously facilitated some thinking on my behalf as well – thanks!
Thanks again for the visit, Nanceet, and remember that you are welcomed back at any time,