Change A Pattern, Change Your World

To see patterns in the world around you is to know your world and to understand something about that world. You make sense of the world by recognizing the patterns around you.

In HSD, we use a specific definition of patterns: “Patterns are similarities, differences and connections that have meaning across space and time.” So you make sense of the world by asking others and yourself, “What are the similarities?” “What are the differences?” “How are things connected?” “What is the pattern I see when I look across time?” “What is the pattern I see in a moment?”

When you stand back and look at the patterns that make up your local landscape, you realize that the messy challenges and opportunities that sometimes have you stuck are just patterns. Bias is a pattern of interaction and decision making by people who look at specific similarities and differences in particular ways as they connect with others across space and time. Love is a way of thinking about how someone else is like you and different from you, and recognizing the ways you connect to share experiences over time. Bad (or good) communication is just a name you give to patterns that emerge when people do or do not get or give information or resources in a timely fashion.

Bias, love, communication—it’s just that simple. And just that complex. So many different forces and factors shape the multitude of patterns that make up the tapestry of your life. So while it’s simple to say that some of your greatest challenges in your family, community, organization, and society are “just” patterns, it’s also a recognition of the complexity of those challenges.

Glenda Eoyang offers a path to understand the dynamics of patterns in a way that gives you options for action. The Eoyang CDE model helps you see into the conditions that shape the patterns around you. The C stands for the container that bounds the system while the pattern forms. The D stands for the differences inside that container that make the greatest difference. The E stands for the exchanges that allow for the flow of energy, time, and other resources across a system. Her research and years of experience have shown that if you want to shift a pattern, you have to shift one of these conditions in some way.

Working with clients, we find that to help someone shift the patterns that have them stuck, we help them 1) name the conditions that frame that pattern; 2) identify a way to shift one condition they can touch; and 3) take action and see if that brought them closer to the results they want.

This is what people have always done to shift patterns, but there was not a commonly shared language to talk about and learn more about what they were doing.

At an historic and national scale, Martin Luther King, Jr., looked at all of humanity (container) and dreamed that one day, his children would be judged (exchange) by the content of their character, rather than by the color of their skin (difference). He saw the pattern of bias in our culture (container) and shifted the prevailing exchange (judgment) from one difference to another (from color to character).

In a similar, but much smaller way, yesterday my granddaughter saw that between the two of us (container), her whining or begging (exchange) to get what she wanted had no power over me, in spite of how she knows I love her (difference). She wants something from me, so she couldn’t change the container to get it. She knows I love her, no matter what, so at that point there wasn’t a difference she could shift. So she focused on a different exchange. She quit whining and begging, and stepped into a more fun, playful role of helping and doing as she was asked. That shifted the pattern and got her the privilege she had wanted in the first place.

It’s even true on an intrapersonal scale. I find that I get lonely and out of sorts when I don’t take time to laugh and connect (exchange) in a fun way with people I love. I can’t live in the same space (container) with all the people I love. It’s sometimes hard to connect in a fun way (difference) to my daughters, who don’t live with me. So I use my phone to text them. That technology allows me to expand my day-to-day container to include them (exchange) in the fun and funny (difference) things I see in the world.

Considering your own patterns doesn’t have to be a long, analytical process. Working with clients we have come to realize that if they can describe the problematic pattern in a complete sentence, they can find a way to work on it. So try it for yourself. The next time you feel stuck, write down a complete sentence to describe the pattern that is challenging you. Look at that sentence and identify the conditions that are holding that pattern in place. Then think of one thing you can do to shift one of those conditions. Change the container, focus on a different difference, or connect in a different way. Try it and let us know how it works.

Be in touch,


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