No Pattern? No Problem. Your Brain Will Make One Up (Which May Be A Problem)

Our brains are constantly in search of a story. When things don’t quite make sense, we have to remember just how quickly our wet-ware will go to work crafting a conclusion. It’s important for understanding our own logic, and for remembering what happens when we don’t communicate an idea well to others (especially professionally).

Here’s a story that makes the point well (and made me laugh when I heard it, so now I’m sharing it with you):

A mother picks up her young daughter from daycare. The daughter’s wearing a different pair of pants and is carrying her peed-in pants inside of a plastic bag. Mom thinks, “She’s potty trained… argh. Oh well. Must have been an accident.”

The next day at pickup, the same thing happens again. Mom thinks, “I hope she’s ok. Oh well, I’m sure it was just another accident. She’s a little kid. These things happen.”

On the third day it happens again, and now mom is worrying, “OK, something is not right about this. I might have to call the doctor. Something is wrong.”

At drop-off on the fourth day, she asks one of the daycare workers if he thinks her daughter’s ok. Mom explains how she’s definitely potty trained, it’s not happening at home, and as a mom she’s personally starting to worry what else could be going on.

If you’re a parent, you know this stress over uncertainty well. Sit with it for a minute because here comes the twist.

The daycare work looks at her and laughs. He explains, “Your daughter found out the boys can pee standing up. She’s been trying to learn how. We’ve tried to explain that’s not the way it works, but she really seems determined. We’ve seen this before. Don’t worry. We’ll help and it’ll take care of itself soon enough.”

Pattern, meet your match.

When we don’t have an answer, we imagine our own. It’s as true for us trying to make sense of things like the patterns in our kids’ behaviors as it is for wondering how our clients think about some of the stuff we do as professionals.

I’ll say it again: in the absence of a pattern, our brains will make one. We are excellent explanation seekers, but not always the greatest information gatherers. The best defense from ending up with a squirrely story is to keep asking questions and keep communications open.

If we approach random information aware that our brains are searching for a story, we have a better chance of helping ourselves and others find the right one. Professionally, this means remembering clear is kind, and that the people we seek to serve need to know (and sometimes be reminded of) what we do and why it matters to them.

There’s going to be a story either way. We might as well get it right.

I heard this story on the Hidden Brain podcast episode, “The Story of Stories.”