I have a friend who has a habit of beating up on herself. It might be her weight one day, her clothes the next, but she never lets up on herself.
Mind you, she is a caring, beautiful person, both inside and out. But no matter how many times I tell her this, I can’t drown out her own internal voice of disapproval. She is her own best adversary.
And now, I’ve noticed that her teenage daughter is starting to do the same thing.
My friend is caught in her own behavioral fractal – those thought patterns that can build us up or tear us down. And, sadly, her daughter is continuing the pattern.
Patterns Are Everywhere You Look
Fractals are naturally occurring, repeating patterns, and they’re everywhere in nature: trees, neurons, rivers, our respiratory system, snowflakes, and even earthquakes are all examples of fractals.
Fractals create infinite tiny copies of themselves, and the figures get more complex the deeper you explore. You can see this best in a Mandelbrot set or a Koch snowflake. Notice how the design repeats itself no matter how small it gets?
Fractals in nature are (usually) beautiful, and they can inspire awe and wonder.
Our brains are also fractal systems. All human behavior is composed of patterns: the friends we make, the people we date, and how we deal with life’s challenges and uncertainties are all recurring personal behavior fractals that either make us happier, more productive people, or cause us to be angry and stagnant.
For better or worse, we constantly repeat these patterns.
Negative behavior fractals are things like procrastination, malicious gossip, and constant self-criticism. But we also have the capacity for wonderfully positive fractals, such as empathy, generosity, tolerance, and openness.
Our goal, of course, is to maximize the time and energy we spend in our positive fractals and reduce (or eliminate altogether) what we devote to our negative fractals.
What Are Your Fractals?
One of my favorite sayings is “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” We may want to think that we’ll do it right – whatever “it” is – when it counts. But, as athletes like to say, you need to practice like you play. In other words, pay attention to how you behave and respond in all areas of your life.
If you notice yourself in the midst of a negative fractal (procrastinating on an important project, negative self-talk, etc.), ask yourself, “Where else in my life do I behave in this way? What pattern is this a part of and what’s causing me to fall back into this behavior? What do I get out of it?”
It could be an experience that shaped you, or an outdated belief, either about yourself or the world around you.
Allow for the possibility that your negative fractals – those patterns that are holding you back – are based on outdated information and beliefs. The first step to stopping them is awareness.
Once you’ve identified the pattern you want to change, look for ways to replace the negative with the positive. Here’s a great summary of Charles Duhigg’s excellent “The Power of Habit,” which breaks down the patterns that create our habits, and how to short-circuit the ones we want to break.
Replace procrastination with deliberate action, negative self-talk with kinder, more forgiving thoughts, and destructive habits with positive ones that feed your soul and bring you #onlyjoy.