Life: By Design or By Default

A couple of years ago, I began to see a pattern that I could no longer over look.  Every time I engaged with an older female client, I experienced an internal dialogue that was critical of them.  YIKES!  That’s a big f-ing deal!  The foundation of my work as a coach is seeing the hero in everyone.  My internal disparagements were infecting my client relationships and souring their results.   Oh, I could always justify or disguise my critiques.   “She’s being a victim.”  “She’s just wanting attention.”  But when I looked at my default pattern of behavior and the results, it was clear: I was the problem.


Default Patterns

We all have patterns, patterns we cling to and defend, even when they don’t serve us.  The perniciousness of these patterns is that they tend to be invisible to us.  They are our “default settings” created long ago.  In the present, we see only this moment and believe that our reactions are reasonable and responsive to the unique situation at hand.   And yet in reflection, we can see that we’ve had many moments just like this one, with different people, in different circumstances, with similar results.  And we are the common denominator.




The Power of Reflection

One way we detect these hidden habitual patterns is through self-reflection.   In reflection, we can become aware of how our unconscious self can take over, applying a lens colored by the past, to the present moment.  We can see trends in relationships, behaviors, performance and outcomes.    For years when running CEO roundtables, I routinely asked members to present their lifeline, a narration of the pivotal moments in their lives.  It was rare that the member or their peer group did not see a pattern that had been hidden previously.  (e.g. Changing companies every 7 years like an itch, engaging in partnerships that failed for similar reasons each time, cycling through employees whom they adored in the beginning and despised by the end).

After much reflection and self-inquiry, I realized that my pattern was based upon my relationship with my mom, which has been and frankly still is, challenging for both us.  (Love you, Mom).  Since I became aware of my default pattern, I am more intentional with my thoughts.  I can actively challenge my reflexive thinking and instead design my thinking to believe fully and wholeheartedly in my client.  If a critical thought arises, I say to myself, “That’s my pattern.”  And then I design a thought that is a truth about my client’s strengths and positive qualities.  Now, I’m thrilled to say that I have created a new pattern of meaningful and productive relationships.


By Design or By Default

We can live our lives by design or by default.  We can routinely reflect on our lives, become aware of our patterns and design more intentional choices that get better results.  Or we can default to the autopilot  created by our unconscious, and spin through the same cycles in business, in relationships, and in our beliefs about ourselves, and wonder why we keep getting the same results.



Create your own life line.  Start from the first years you remember to current day, and chart out your defining moments, the pivotal points in your life that formed and informed who you are today.  Look for your default patterns.  Share it with someone and ask them what they see.  Ask yourself what those patterns are about.  Then, wherever you see a pattern playing out in your life, bring your full awareness to it and design your thinking and behaviors to align with the ultimate results that you want.


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Author Bio

Alison Whitmire

CEO and Executive Leadership Coach, Advisor and Consultant, “Deeply Committed, Helping CEOs See Clearer, Do More”

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