Humans are amazing, pattern-recognition machines. It has been an almost unrivaled evolutionary advantage that benefits our hunter-gatherer ancestors and today's entrepreneurs.
Our ability to learn from the past (mental time travel) helps us to cope with new situations and plan for the future. We store memories, create patterns and look for them in each new moment.
We spend an incredible amount of time (apparently 12 percent of our daily thoughts) analyzing past events and daydreaming about the future, which is not a bad thing, since believing our futures look bright makes us happy, and planning for them makes us feel safe.
But, when it comes to relationships, endlessly probing each one for patterns and meaning, like an overly dedicated proctologist, can be the kiss of death. Here's why:
Get Out Of Your Head
There are very few things more important than being present when spending time with your personal VIPs (no, I don’t mean a cut-out of Justin Bieber): your parents, friends, significant other and even your dog or cat.
Over-analyzing gets in the way of enjoying each moment on its own merits. So much of our lives take place in our heads, anyway; don’t be there when you are with loved ones.
Stop Preparing For The Next Disaster
Trying to predict the future also means contemplating and preparing for bad things that might happen. On the whole, this is good because knowing what’s coming can reduce the shock.
In our professional lives, foreseeing possible pitfalls earns us bonuses. Still, stop constantly preparing for the next disaster to hit your love life. I often catch myself feeling comfort in thinking I have to “brave” something because then, I can allow myself to be in survival mode.
I do not have to be my best self and I can get away with stuff. It’s not a good attitude to bring to your relationship.
Risk And Trust You Won’t Be Eaten
Our brains are amazing, but they are not always correct. Once upon a time, when our ancestors heard the grass rustle and concluded there to be a tiger when, in fact, it was just the wind, the mistake did not cause them much harm.
On the contrary, assuming a sound in the forest is just the wind and being wrong could have been a deadly mistake to make. This simple equation means our brains have evolved to produce false patterns for safety's sake.
One thing we owe the people we love is our trust. So, instead of imagining away, we should consider just asking them whether anything bothers them.
Think Twice Before Developing Weird Biases
Seeing patterns also makes us assign meaning to them, which, in turn, affects our preferences. This can generate weird biases, based on phantom patterns, which makes us miss out on opportunities.
For example, “I never date Scorpios, men with beards, women who dress like hippies” etc. Knowing what you want is great, but we should never stop evaluating our convictions because the “wrong person” might come along and be the right one.
Coincidences Exist; Let It Go
We like order and predictability because it makes us feel secure and safe. When a weird, emotionally-charged coincidence happens, like winning a lottery, our brains go into overdrive, looking for an explanation.
Imagine that a day before your romantic getaway, your significant other suddenly cancels because of a crisis at work. You are shaved, moisturized, flexible and ready to go. How could this have happened? Has the bastard stopped loving me? Am I no longer important?
More likely, there is a crisis at work. Let’s not let our brains construct stories of lies, deceit and abandonment. Our lives are not soap operas.
The Luxury Of Empty Space
Since we have this ability to see patterns naturally, we should learn how to pump the breaks.
Our professional lives are already full of competition, self-generated mistrust, plotting and scheming. We should bring as little of it as possible to our relationships.
Instead, let’s bring stillness to our relationships. Let’s give ourselves the luxury of empty space so that the moments we spend with loved ones are filled with nothing more and nothing less than the complete presence of each other.