One thing my youngest daughter particularly hates is the sun shining through the van window and directly into her face. We have a shade on the window to keep this from happening, but from time to time the position of the sun is just right to allow some rays to sneak through. When this happens, she’ll try to move her head side-to-side to get out of the way, but due to her size, and the angle of her car seat, this only goes so far, and often she’ll end up crying.
Given the rhythm of our week, my wife and the kids often wind up on certain roads at similar times of day each week. And there’s one intersection and following stretch of road they tend to hit during the time of day when the sun is at the perfect angle to make it through the van window and into my daughter’s face. It’s happened enough times, in fact, that my daughter has picked up on the pattern. So now, anytime she realizes she’s going through that intersection, she’ll often just start to cry, since she remembers what’s happened before.
Just the other day, this happened once again. They pulled through the intersection, and sure enough, my daughter started to cry. But then something different happened. A few seconds later she stopped. Why? Because it was a rainy day and the sun wasn’t out. There was no reason to get upset, because no sunlight was shining through. But it took her a while to realize that. The pattern of that intersection and the ensuing rays of sunlight had become such a pattern that she had responded prematurely, based on what she thought was going to happen, not on what actually did.
We can do the same thing in other ways. We can see a certain pattern in people or situations, and then assume the next one that shares any similarities is automatically going to go the same way. And many times we may be right. But that doesn’t mean we’ll always be. Because while there is great benefit in being able to recongize patterns, it’s also possible to rush our response, acting prematurely on what we expect to happen, instead of what the situation actually merits.