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ETW: PATTERN: The Foundation of Creative Freedom

By October 17, 2013Articles, Blog

From Easier Teamwork

PATTERN: The Foundation of Creative Freedom


We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
– Aristotle

Imagine something you’d like to do more consistently in your life — something that doesn’t take long, but uplifts your mood or energy, and makes a positive difference to the rest of your day.  Perhaps it’s beginning each day with a little movement or meditation.  Or maybe you want to escape from computer/chair-lock to move more often during the day.  Perhaps it’s taking a head-clearing walk at lunchtime to get fresh energy and perspectives for a better afternoon.

These things are all simple, right?  Our rational mind’s “cost-benefit analysis” say that these kinds of actions pay off for our health, happiness, and productivity.  Yet if they were easy, a lot more of us would be flexible, fit meditators — or at least be seen upright and moving more often during the day!  What can help us DO what we know is good for us?

Help from Everyday Rhythm:  PATTERN

The Rhythm element of Pattern helps develop practices that anchor me in the groove of my desired life.
Pattern emerges from Pulse (rhythm’s steady foundation) and Cycle (groups of pulses moving forward in time).  Pattern is made up of the notes that you actually play.

In other words, Pulse and Cycle form the structural framework of a rhythm, and Pattern is its audible manifestation.

Let’s take a basic 4-count cycle                                 ◉                       ◉                         ◉

and create a pattern with words:  “WA-ter-mel-on-GRAPES  ●  ●  PEA ● ches-ba-NA ● na ●”  Hear how it sounds in this 8-second clip.

Watermelon grapes

Say that phrase out loud, and then play it on your lap or desk several times, like this.  Let yourself get into it!

You’ve just created a rhythmic pattern that would fit into just about any drum circle song.

When the Mind Takes a Back Seat: From Challenge to Flow

The process of learning a new pattern on the drum offers a window into the formation of patterns in our lives.  At first, our minds are involved, trying to “figure it out,” telling our hands what to do.  This is the uncomfortable phase of trial and learning that often activates our inner critic.  The antidote: Breathe and listen.  Relax and try again.

Drum3As we start to get it, our hands and body take over, repeating the pattern without needing the mind to direct them.  Not that the mind retires easily.  It will suddenly realize it’s not in control and think, “Wait!  Am I doing it right?”  That’s when we usually fall out of rhythm!

Eventually, your mind learns that it can trust the hands and body to carry on with the pattern.  This frees it to relaaaaaaaax, and simply notice the full experience of the moment.  You sense your hands hitting the drum, the sounds you make, and the vibrations coming from others in the room.

At that point, your inner Observer can notice:  What am I thinking, feeling, and wanting right now?  Drumming becomes an active journey of mindfulness with that magic feeling of Flow.

Repetition Gets Results

In life, too, we adopt patterns that can perpetuate with little involvement from the mind.  We call them Habits, and they are a powerful force for both accomplishment and misery in our lives.

On the positive side, thank goodness we don’t have to “figure out” each action or choice we make in daily life!  How exhausted would we be if we had to consciously decide each step to get ready in the morning, drive to work, or perform the same task every day?

On the other hand, as we all know, habits can be just as strong when they’re not helpful, taking us further from our goals.  Consciously shaping and cultivating habits is essential to successfully living to one’s chosen drumbeat.

Better Patterns = Better Life

Here is what Pattern and Rhythm have taught me about how to create positive habits in life:

  1. Business walkFeel It In Your Why.  Declare your commitment to the new habit by stating WHY you want to create it.  Include both the result and the feeling you expect.  For example, Why statements about creating a lunchtime walk habit might be: 

“I’ll feel energized, and open up to new ideas and insights by getting away from my desk.”  “I’ll feel better physically, and be proud I did something good for my body.”

 “I’ll feel more connected to my co-workers and what goes on around here by getting out and walking around.”
  2. Imagine It, Beginning at the End.  Give your new habit a head start with imagined practice.  First, envision yourself enjoying the results and feelings after completing the actions of your new habit.  Next, play your mental movie from the beginning, and imagine what triggers the routine.  Then watch yourself take that first action, go through the steps, and enjoy the feelings at the end!
  3. Set Your Cue.  Create a trigger to help yourself launch the new pattern.  Set a reminder alarm, for example — preferably one you have to stand up and move to turn off.  This is a critical moment in forming a new habit, where the voices of inertia serve up their excuses.  (“Just let me send one more quick email.”)  Don’t give in!  Let your cue trigger your resolve as well as your action.
  4. Start Small.  In drumming, we often learn new patterns by starting with just the first few notes.  Then we add the others, one at a time, until the cycle is complete.

  Starting small works in creating new habits, too — with five minutes, for instance.  Beginning a new habit like stretching, meditation, or a lunchtime walk with as little as five minutes makes a HUGE difference, compared to doing none at all.
  5. Tend the Transitions.  There is usually a “tricky spot” in a drum pattern.  That’s the place you’re most likely to “lose it,” to miss a note and fall out of the pattern.  

The same is true in establishing a new habit in life.  The tricky spots are usually in the transitions — at the start, and when you’re bridging from one stage to the next.  In our lunchtime walk example, the challenge might be walking past tempting conversations on your way to the door outside.  

Anticipate such transitions with relaxed focus.  Don’t let a stumble pull you completely off track; simply take a breath, remember your Whys, and return to your pattern.

Pattern Brings Creative Confidence

Finally, enjoy being in the process of creating your positive habit!  It’s not about “getting there” or doing it perfectly.  It’s about being engaged in taking consistent, small steps in your desired direction — and appreciating yourself for it!

photo 2 250Developing healthy, productive patterns boosts our confidence, and builds a foundation of freedom for creativity, exploration, and improvisation into new areas in life.

That’s what happens in a good jazz band, jam band, or drum circle.  The players sink (and sync) into their patterns, which form a solid platform for something new and different to emerge on top — a burst of solo play, a new melody, a deliciously interweaving duet.  Sweet!

Positive Patterns set the stage where Creativity can dance.