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Uniqueness and Repeating Patterns

It is not only scientists who have been searching for repeating patterns in everything, each person constantly makes their own patterns. We already have some patterns, such as the sucking reflex, we quickly learn other patterns: where did I had leave my toy car, and if it is not there, how can I best find it? That is how you and I live throughout the day.

To know yourself, you build on discovering which patterns you use to think, react emotionally, colour preferences, interests, activities, smells, manners, and work preferences. It feels like exploring, because how the interaction takes place between your innate preferences and opportunities in the area eludes you. In our upbringing, education and experience, we learn to behave in accordance with prescribed patterns, often touted as ‘best practice’.

Patterns that prove useful can suddenly stop working.

Education and upbringing prepares us to organise living independently in the future that we create ourselves.

The simple list of knowledge and skills I made in the fifties and sixties of the last century were an idea about a future in which much remains the same. My teachers taught me knowledge and skills which I can apply to my whole life.

To survive

Are there now patterns on that list which are to be seen as necessary knowledge and skills for the next twenty years?

The Institute for the Future has been investigating for years the thinking, action, and social skills we need to be able to contribute to the rapidly changing technical society and not fall behind.

  • Resilience is an important personal skill. Go with a counter movement and be swept along again. Thoughts, attitudes and skills which help you to rise up strongly after a knock.

  • We will deal with people who are much more different from us. A "common background"? not much more than that: we are all human. Furthermore, we are all different. But cooperation is necessary. For that you have your own interests and what you offer is clear and you can think about the interests and idiosyncrasies of others. Find ways together to make such cooperation possible. Describe your own discipline so that working together with other functions is easy.

  • Analysis and organisation of information. Appoint personal frameworks and keys. Create meaning from apparent chaos. How to distinguish fact from fiction?

  • Use new communications media.

  • We need to think like a computer.

Collaboration skills are increasingly important. Anyone who thinks in a dependent position will easily look for support to anyone who promises to solve a problem for them. Anyone who wants to progress seeks cooperation with others in more equal relationships.

Making our behaviour patterns visible?

Many people research the traces we leave. Health-promoting or hindering behaviour; diseases; eating behaviour; driving habits; academic performance. We buy books; read blogs in search of best practices that bring success and happiness. We benchmark ourselves to the life lessons of others described in novels, played out on television or on the Internet. We also look for our unsuccessful patterns and adjust them ourselves.

Our search and buying behaviour is traded for money. You can see your spending habits by reading your bank statements. Everything is visible in patterns. Of each individual and as part of groups: age, gender, income. We also each have a risk profile: which performances should I make? Will I use violence? Will I repay a loan?

Your social reputation was formerly dependent on whether and how people talked about you, now there is a lot about you stored on databases. Reputation management is on the management agenda.

Children of four years old tell each other how other kids behave. That is important social information because now you do not have to rely on your own experiences to collaborate with others. You use the reputation that exists in a group, making it easier to start a collaboration with someone you do not know, or want to avoid hopeless cooperation.

  • Incidentally, do you know the profiles that others share about you?

Make patterns visible in writing

How do we write? About yourself, are there any advantages? Can we figure out patterns in our writing?

  • Just describing your traumatic experiences is enough to reduce physical symptoms, Pennebaker noted in 1980.

  • In the Netherlands, writing as therapy for the processing of traumatic experiences is also used. Over ten sessions, the client writes out all the details of the traumatic event, then the client, guided and challenged by the counsellor, examines dysfunctional thoughts and actions and replaces them with more effective methods. Finally, the client writes a farewell to the traumatic period and integrates his social environment into this farewell.

  • You can move into the perspectives of others, measurable in the alternating use of ‘I, you, he, she, we’ which equates to ‘more health’.

  • A small trial to test your assumptions about any patterns in our writing habits. What do you think: who uses these words the most? Men or women?

First person singular. I, me, ......

First person plural. We, us, .......

Determiners. The, a, ……

Feeling words. Happy, scared, sad, love, hate, ......

Thinking words. Why, because, think, believe, ......

Social words. He, she, friend, cousin ......

Women use feeling words, thinking words, first person words and social words more often than men. Men use determiners much more than women.

It does not occur to us that these differences are also heard in spoken language. We listen to the content. The use of certain words is bound to different topics. When we talk about people and their relations, we use more emotional and social words. To understand the mutual human dynamics, we use thinking words. When we talk about concrete things we use articles and ‘thing’ words.

  • Analysing written requests for admission to a university can accurately estimate an applicant's academic success. If the applicant uses many nouns and verbs and few pronouns, then the chance of academic success is great. We use nouns to organise things and events, naming ideas, and that is a task for universities. We use verbs and pronouns when we tell stories. Universities have nothing to tell in stories.

'I' or 'you'

When do we use "I" more or less? Whenever we write to someone higher in status, we use more ‘I, me.’ If we write from a higher status to someone with a lower standing, then we almost never use those words.

In my therapy training I learned that sometimes it is good to have someone in "I" to talk about themselves, instead of "you", so that the person is going to feel responsible for their own behaviour. Once the behaviour is natural, the next step is the question: "Do you want to go on with it?"

But sometimes someone 's behaviour is so strongly directed to his self-image that the behaviour is unchangeable. After all, do you change your whole person? No, you do not need to! The art is to dispose of the behaviour of the person to something outside. The person remains the same. This transfer of a behaviour enables a person to try out different behaviour while maintaining a sense of continuity.


Pennebaker is a pioneer in this field of research. He develops computer programs to analyse texts using psychologically meaningful categories. The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) program is such a validated instrument.

In the Netherlands, public resources are used for publications to establish and standardise the complexity of text.

The automatic chat

Everyone's written social interaction is unique and full of patterns. Microsoft is working in China in Weibo, and in WeChat with the chatbot Xiaoice. A development, Tay, is concealed in the work in a less widely used English-language chatbox. Apple’s Iris is also developing further and further.

It is important for this that the AI ​​learning software makes many learning interactions possible. The responses are returned to their own behaviour, there are patterns again: certain phrases are responded to in a certain way, other phrases in another.

Many organizations use simple Bots in their webchatbox when customers have to fill in forms or have questions.

Automatic educator

Positive feedback on behaviour promotes repeated behaviour, while corrective or negative feedback regarding behaviour reduces the risk of the occurrence of that behaviour. After the training of athletes, where technical feedback control is booming, this insight fits into promoting healthy living. You count your steps taken every day, calories burned, whether you achieved your goal. You get rewards such as praise words, virtual medals and you will be included in the list of high achievers. You get alerts when your goal is not likely to be achieved.

Health in developed countries is primarily in the line of what is important in life. All major industrial technology developers and device companies invest billions in apps; platforms; integration of data; big data analysis techniques and easy-to-use meet and feedback tools.

Using our knowledge about patterns for more self-direction

Simply describing promotes the processing of traumatic experiences. We also know a lot about processing a profound experience. A process that everyone goes through in their own way and there is usually someone who also comes through it in his or her own way. Sometimes one is left in limbo somewhere, then a controlled automated writing process helps. An expert guide can monitor and intervene if you get stuck.

Other tools, apps, working without a guide. You guide yourself.

An example. Sometimes we hamper ourselves by avoiding actions because we are afraid that they will have hugely disastrous consequences. This could be because you make a big deal out of things. There is an app that lets you choose what you think the big deal is at this event with catastrophic consequences. By reasonably transforming this big deal, the mind can reduce the overwhelming feeling of fear. The result is that you are free again to behave how you wish. You learn to use it in a therapy session to apply independently thereafter in your life.

Writing coaching

A coach and a client write to each other. The coach writes in a special coach-writing style. Writing allows the client unique possibilities.

A writer gets more overview of thoughts and feelings through reading. A written text can be divided into small chunks which one reflects on separately. Quickly switching between detail and the whole text is possible. Writing organises itself: which words, yes/no? What first, what later? Also reading back, or thinking in response to a question as to whether re-reading organises things.

A coach can make an issue very small, lead the client to small actions, the client describes his actions, effects and experiences. The coach gives immediate feedback. Immediate, short feedback accelerates learning.

Self-directed support in Australia

Older people suffer from anxiety and depression. Of all the complaints these two are the most common, but 40% of people are seeking help. ‘Is it possible to bring aid and relief via the Internet channel?’ asked Australian health workers.

A fully automated Internet program to help people who suffer from anxiety and depression proves effective. Most people complete the program, the number of complaints are significantly reduced and people are satisfied with the program itself.

How does the program work? They participate in a Wellbeing Internet educative program consisting of five classes. The classes are full of stories of people who learn to deal with anxiety and depression symptoms. Participants receive homework assignments. They can download lyrics dealing with questions such as insomnia, limited social skills, healthy eating and living habits. The program automatically sends regular supporting and encouraging emails, chats or SMS messages.

The program is based on cognitive behavioural therapy. ‘The results of the large RCTs replicated and extended the previous findings to reveal that a self-guided version was also highly effective, as well as highly acceptable to participants.’ The link to the full report is at the end of this article, in the references section.


From 1950 to 1973 I took part in mainstream education, which was organised with less attention to speaking skills than writing. Writing focused on grammatical accuracy. Nothing about organised writing, writing expressively, composing stories or inventing a product such as described in The Writer’s Journey or by Steven Pinker in Sense of Style, where he teaches you how to write readable scientific texts. During my training as a teacher, I learned that using more sentences teaches you to understand something better, and you remember it. I wrote down what I heard, read it once and read it later. During reading and writing I also speak, either to myself or aloud.

In recent years, there has been much research into the effects of expressive writing, which at the same time is the first step to reflective writing.

If you want to write something specific, like this article, it is necessary

  • that you think ahead. What do I want to write about?

  • that you put ideas into written text. Is this what I mean to say?

  • to re-read, re-read and edit what is written.

Expressive writing is different. You start with what comes to mind and go with whatever comes to mind. What psychological processes are involved?

  • Thinking

You give words to things, events, feelings, valuations. You organise. What happened first, what later. Who did what? Where was it? What happened? You structure. What is the consequence of what, which effect belongs to which action? Why, because, so, maybe? Could it be that? And you appreciate it. That could not have done, could have been done differently, if not now ...

  • Feeling

You describe your feelings and these are reflected back to you immediately when you read what you wrote, and that stimulates thinking. Feeling and interwoven reflection affect whether and how those feelings and thoughts persist.

  • Memory

The capacity of our working memory is limited, when laden with thoughts, feelings swirling about, which limits our functioning as a vessel. Writing brings thoughts and feelings out, organises and relieves the memory.

  • Social

Because writing our thoughts, feelings, and appreciating what we write, will change that how we speak with others and how we talk about what.

Writing a life

Gerda, she is now eighty, gives her children a book in which she describes her life story, typed on her computer. Pages printed out and pasted in a large scrapbook. Pictures there. "Her life with Theo," she calls it.

After her husband became seriously ill and remained disabled when he was just in his thirties, she was earning a living for the family with five children, cleaning whole days in households where both partners worked outside the home.

Then along came a family, which occupied her for twenty years. A family, bringing up a child, and taking care of the household. As long as I've known her, she has been writing what she is experiencing, thinking, feeling in poems. In rhyme.

Twenty years ago, handwritten, decorated with stickers. Hand-made greeting cards, which she circulated. Scrapbooks with poems about everyday experiences with Sophie. Now a computer is on the table in her office. She types and prints.

A son unexpectedly leaves her life. She writes poems, encouraged a group talking with parents who experienced it themselves. She has combined these poems in a publication on the shelves of the local bookshop.

For decades, she has been working on her life story. What will I write about, what not? Sometimes it remained that way for years because she could not write about a topics. Later, she found a way and continued writing.

For Christmas 2016, she gives her eldest son the first copy. "I read it in one go" he says a few days later. The other kids look forward to it. She continues writing, putting in new memories, which she now dares write about. This is an unique book.

We share stories during coffee every other Tuesday. On the table are 8 dice with images on each side. "You can throw them and then create a story with pictures”. She throws, organises and creates a story. Laughing.

Ton Voogt

January 2017

Alexi King, translation

Robert Volmer, painting next to 'Making our behavior patterns visible'

Jo King, painting 'Piaf' next to "I or You"

© 2019 TonVoogtConsultancy ~ Recent Update 24-08-2017
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