Remember how fun it was to spot patterns as a little kid?
We love repetition. Humans look for meaning and sturdy patterns provide it. Their predictability tells us what to expect, and those clues relax us.
But finding internal patterns, in our habits, for example, is trickier. Here’s a great primer on how to recognize them.
It’s a worthwhile task, because seeing where we experience the same stuff, and maybe respond with less-than-great results, gives a satisfaction similar to spotting recurring shapes on a page.
Another kind of repetition is how life moves around us. Personally, I noticed a pattern to my creative process. Sporadic highs and lows kick off the experience. Good ideas mix with less good ones. I think of this period as "the fluctuations," which look like this:
As you can see, all the high points represent variations of: “I am genius, see me type!” Where life is evenly divided among flashes of insight, creative bravery, and general awesomeness.
But if the highs are about good ideas, the lows are the counterbalance, characterized by bad ones. None of my ideas feel right, and while these shifts can be rough, they’re actually normal, expected, and human. Life here is infused with mutability. Both extremes are so brief they’re easy to accept light-heartedly. It’s clear they’re temporary, so there’s nothing to worry about.
Contrary to what you might think, the problem isn’t the lows, it’s what comes after. Because however high you rise or low you fall, the fluctuations eventually die down.
From the multitude I move into a dearth, which I call "the plateau." It’s vacant and challenging. There are zero helpful ideas. Instead, it’s a desolate mental wasteland reserved for the harshest words, most searing criticism, and most desperate actions, all against myself. The only “progress” in the plateau is the anxiety-inducing passage of time.
I struggle through the plateau by plodding. It’s a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other trek. Tiny steps in the direction I want to go, poking at the general idea. In the plateau, I review saved drafts of half-baked ideas. Sometimes I read instead. Anything to stay on the same playing field as my work.
This might sound like loopy optimism, but guess what? It ends. Like my blood sugar after a sip of orange juice, my creativity spikes. Suddenly, so many ideas flood in, I almost can’t write quickly enough to get them all down. I feel possessed by benevolent creativity monsters.
Which brings me back to patterns. Because since I can predict the ups and downs following by flat-lining stasis, I simply call the plateau out for what it is. When it strikes, I see it as part of the whole, just the next chapter in the story.
I also noticed that as my faith and trust in this creativity pattern increases, the plateaus have shortened. These days there is less time than ever between “I’m doomed!” and “La, la, la! writing is the best!”
Crazy as this sounds, maybe you’ll reach a point where you even welcome the plateau, because you know it’ll end, giving you yet another example of its fleeting nature. And see it as a gift, a restful, temporary state into which a reprieve is bound to come. It’s possibility on the way, not eternal lack.
Once you locate patterns in your own life, there’s no more perceived injustice or randomness. Victimhood cries of “Oh, not again! Why me?” are pointless. You can answer, “Yes, again. But not forever. You already know this is simply how the process moves.” Or you’ll see your role in the events and change your behavior.
Where do you feel plateaus? How do you handle them?
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