Focus on Patterns, not on Events

Pattern: a particular way in which something usually happens or is done

Event: a thing that happens or takes place, especially one of importance



People often see me to get their life in order.

My first assumption about a new client walking through my door is that some aspect of their life is not being lived well. Anyone would assume the same right? Why else see a psychologist?

And, luckily for me and my years of training, this assumption always turns out to be true. Sometimes people are doing too much of something (drugs, gaming, fighting). Sometimes they are doing too little of something (sleeping, spending time with friends). Sometimes it’s their actions that are out of order (they are too aggressive, or too passive). Sometimes it’s their thoughts that are at fault (thinking too pessimistically or in a paranoid fashion).

The common factor about all these problems is that they tend to be patterns. Patterns recur. Patterns are habitual. Patterns are predictable. When a new client sees me, I immediately want to know about their patterns. If someone’s mental health is suffering, chances are there is something about the patterns of their life that is going wrong.

This seems logical right? Of course, if your life is on the wrong path, there must be something you are doing consistently wrong.

But it isn’t all that clear to us when our patterns are awry.

And the main reason for this, in my experience, is that people have a greater focus on events rather than patterns.


Events are the big memorable experiences. Big fights. Saying a faux pas at a party. Not getting a single, hoped for job. Losing a fight. Losing a loved one.

These are the big experiences that we are likely to replay in our head at night. These big experiences are what we grieve over. They can be traumatic. They are hard to let go of, and the longer we stick to them, the more we feel that they are to blame for our problems.

Take Joe*:

Joe’s wife Charlotte had checked his phone and found inappropriate messages to a work colleague:

“I should have never sent those messages; nothing was going on! I was never unfaithful, but she doesn’t believe me. and now she’s told me to move out!”

Joe was fixated on the messages that Charlotte had found. But the real reason for Charlotte’s strong behaviour was her years of neglect. Joe had taken her for granted for years. The text messages just gave Charlotte a trigger to separate.

After the separation Joe’s focus on the text messages blinded him to Charlotte’s long-term feelings of resentment. Reconciliation became impossible.

Sometimes, we direct our efforts towards a one-off event, without thinking about changing our long-term habits. Take Marnie:

Marnie had lost, with the help of a diet, personal trainer and diet pills, nearly 20kgs in weight. Not long after, Marnie had binged while her husband and kids were away for the weekend. Three months later, she had nearly regained all of the weight.

“I’m furious with myself! I’d lost so much weight, but Miss Piggy here couldn’t resist stuffing her fat face!”

Marnie had focussed too much on the event: her cousin’s wedding, and not enough on sustainable eating and exercise habits.

Planning and Habit Formation

So, how do you shift focus from events to patterns?

Firstly, aim to let go and forgive yourself of any one-off actions or events. It’s helpful to remember that the rewards and punishments of life are much more likely to come as the result of your habits than any single big event.

Secondly, ask yourself, what unhelpful habits and patterns do I have? You might want to ask a friend this question. Many people use a psychologist to explore this.

Ask yourself: What habits do I need to do every day/week/month/years to stay mentally and physically healthy and keep my relationships healthy?

How much sleep? What sort of food? How much contact with friends? What sort of work hours?

Ask yourself: could I realistically see myself keeping these habits forever?

Ask yourself: In what way am I doing little wrong things that add up to big wrong things?

Thirdly, make a plan to change your habits using to-do lists, monitoring and goal setting.

And remember: it’s not the events that will bring you down, it’s the patterns

Speak Your Mind


Suite C5
102-106 Boyce Rd
Maroubra Junction, NSW 2035
(02) 8958 2585

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