Pattern Interrupts

Paradoxical as it may seem, we need patterns to be able to break out of patterns; Routine and habits are key ingredients for creative work. (Read Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit for an excellent treatise.)

Life, of course, does not always abide by our plans. A broken coffee machine in the morning, an unexpected phone call, a stolen bike when you’re about to leave for the office, your favorite ice cream being sold out — pattern interrupts are like electric shocks, eating their way through our minds, flipping neurons and hormones.

Habit building drills often include exercises to become (more) resilient against interrupts. But like electric shocks, interrupts are, by themselves, structurally neutral. They can paralyze or deliver a much needed jolt, so treating them as solely bad hides their potential positive contribution.

Patterns get stale over time, and interrupts can help us break out of habits that have become less useful without us noticing. Next time life tramples on your plans, after the shock has subsided, ask yourself: Which parts of your habits, exactly, were disrupted, and how can you use this interrupt to create a new pattern?