Lately, I’ve been looking into the idea of “structure”. I thought I had understood what it is but researching it a bit I found it to be a quite diverse concept.
Structure can be “A building or other object constructed from several parts” just as well as “the way in which it is made, built, or organized”, “the condition of being well arranged or organized” just as well as “the complex composition of knowledge as elements and their combinations”.
It’s a word with so many meanings, that it is necessary to understand what it is being used for to know which type of structure is being addressed.
Diving into systems thinking I found the following description as an invitation to see structure: “Structure is the network of relationships that creates behavior. The essence of structure is not in the things themselves but in the relationships of things. By its very nature, structure is difficult to see.”
One of the helpful ideas in seeking to see structure was the one to distinguish between events, patterns, and structure.
Events allow us to see what happened. It’s useful to see events as they are what we will react to.
Patterns, on the other hand, are what we use to go beyond the reaction in order to plan, prepare ourselves or anticipate other events. We use the known flow of events to see what has been happening. That flow of events allows analyzing existing continuity and changes from one to the other as well as the differences between events. It then leads to an idea of a pattern or trend. Both help us to react on a long-term basis but knowing the pattern we remain subject to whatever is creating it.
That is where structure comes into the picture. We determine structure to explain what caused the patterns. It helps us understand the “thinking” at its base as well as the impact they have. In the moment we understand the structure we start to also find a way to transform that structure. Seeing the way structure, patterns and events link to one another we find ways to design or create new structures. Such a structure enables a system.
The link between events and patterns allows determining the events which are most relevant. Based on this relationship between the events we can describe a network of cause and effect. This network then describes the system resulting from the structure.
And that’s not always easy or dependent on the conclusions we find.
Taking for example goal setting and the habits we need to set up to be successful in reaching our goals.
Looking at goal setting with the idea to use rituals as a method a possible conclusion is that it is all about starting with a small goal. The idea of this thinking is that if we are consistent about the ritual and have it well defined, then the ritual will bring us towards big achievements.
It’s based on the belief that people who seek to reach an overnight success fail on larger goals. It assumes that the best solution is to combine a big goal with a daily sub-goal. Structuring the goal then means to start a daily ritual with a small sub-goal and to adapt the goal every day towards the larger goal. Following such a ritual allows seeing a daily success.
The assumption linked to this daily ritual is that the ritual will eventually lead to a different appreciation of one’s own capacities. It also assumes that the goal as such has been well chosen.
Assumptions as these are the challenge of simple instructions.
They select a set of causes and defines them as the relevant ones.
Instead of rejecting the structure found, it’s worth to revisit the relationships and take a look from a different angle. It might offer a better solution.
Taking my own meditation practice as an example. I would have found it very strange to start with only a few minutes, if not worthless. My feeling is that I need to invest more time to find it relevant and creating space for some learning. I still needed something to help me get into it and that was the positive outlook on the meditation I was doing. For me, it happens as I learn and experience the struggles which are part of the meditation process.
I’ve not changed the idea of establishing a ritual to achieve the goal. What I did for myself, was analyzing the relevant events I had experienced in the past. I saw how they lead to patterns I’m subject to and used this understanding to adapt the structure of a ritual and make it useful for myself.