Life rarely gives us clear answers about what we should be doing. Most of the time we just try to figure it out as we muddle along, hoping for the best. Do you ever wonder, though, if we really are receiving messages about the best direction for our lives, but we somehow didn’t get the email? 

Maybe it went directly to the junk mail folder with the ads for travel packages and limited-time offers. Or worse, maybe we looked at the message life sent us and disregarded it, thinking it was a coincidence, or too difficult or risky to pursue. 

Often the messages we receive about life direction are heavily coded within the context of our life patterns, the way others respond to us and the areas of our lives that just feel dissatisfying. 

Attention to Patterns

One of the best ways to study your life patterns is through the creation of a timeline. Start at one end of the timeline as your date of birth and the other end represents the present day. 

You may need to ask questions of family members or early caregivers to help you fill in the life events of early years, but this is a worthwhile pursuit that can show patterns that may have emerged for you even before you had conscious, freewill. 

Be sure to note life changes on the timeline, as well as your emotional state during that time in your life. 

  • Do you notice patterns of behaviors, emotions or other changes that are recurring?
  • Are certain types of relationships repeating themselves throughout your life?
  • Is there a familiar theme that can be seen over the years?

Even when patterns aren’t chosen, outcomes can be adjusted. Childhood experiences and other factors outside of our control are certainly not avoidable, but if there are patterns that emerge from those experiences in the present day, these may be impacted by our current choices. 

An example of this could be a tendency to gravitate toward people who have anger issues when one has a childhood trauma involving abuse. The message under the surface of this pattern could be related to being mindful of partners who trigger childhood helplessness. 

Noticing this pattern and the underlying life message can help with noticing red flags and listening to intuition. This keen observation of patterns across a lifespan can tell us more about our behaviors, emotional needs and biases.

Observing the Responses of Others

While we certainly can’t go around dwelling on the world’s opinion of us, it can be helpful to notice the way people react to us over time. These observations can provide subtle insights into ourselves that can inform our decision-making processes and life choices.

  • Have different people at varying points of your life told you something similar? (i.e., about your behavior, characteristics or traits they’ve noticed?)
  • Do you tend to spend time with certain types of people, if so, what draws you to them and how do they react to you?
  • Are you often cast into a similar role between friend groups or family of origin?
  • Ask people you trust in your life to give you honest feedback about what they think of you, your affect and the way you make them feel.

  It can be challenging to objectively determine how others perceive us, as we are constantly seeing life through the lens of our personality, culture and life experiences. In spite of this complex reality, exploring other’s responses to you can be a useful method of understanding the message that relationships are trying to show.

Getting to the Root of Dissatisfaction

Dissatisfaction with life can be quite instructive in its own miserable way.  Pay attention to the areas of your life that bring out your irritability, distress, boredom and disdain. Those are the emotional messengers about your life that can only be learned through misery. 

  • What is causing irritability, distress, boredom or disdain? Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the exact cause; clinical depression has physiological roots and can manifest in similar ways. Even if you can’t identify the exact cause, allow your mind to fully inventory its dissatisfaction. Are there elements of loneliness? Work-related distress? Relationship instability? Maybe it’s simply time for a change and dissatisfaction is the messenger.
  • Ask yourself: what am I missing? What immediately comes to mind? What is that missing piece is trying to communicate about your needs in life? 

Often we receive subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle messages from life about what direction we should pursue. Paying attention to patterns, interactions with others and emotional nuances can help us to decipher these messages and make informed-decisions that reflect knowledge of self. 


Barkman, Robert C. Ph.D. “See the World Through Patterns.” Psychology Today, January 18, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2019. 

Formica, Michael J., MS, MA, EdM. “The Trap of Our Dissatisfaction and How to Fix It.” Psychology Today, April 12, 2010. Accessed December 12, 2019. 


  • Dr. Teyhou Smyth

    Performance Coach, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Keynote Speaker, Licensed Therapist (#115137)

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