The Use of Structure

Bill Abbate

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Can you imagine a life without structure and the chaos that would result? Think about it. Structure exists all around us and throughout the universe. There is an order to things from the time we are born to when we leave this earth.

"I thrive in structure. I drown in chaos." Anna Kendrick (1985-present)

We are born into a family structure, reared in an environment with structure everywhere, including going to school, working a job, getting married, having a family, retiring, and ultimately landing at the final part of the structure of life, death.

All of that sounds a bit depressing, doesn't it? Fortunately, there is a lot of life to live between birth and death, filled with great things for us to enjoy. All within certain structures, of course!

Let's examine some of the more important structures of life and how we can benefit from them.

We will start by defining the word according to the Oxford Dictionary:

Structure (noun) - the arrangement of and relations between the parts or elements of something complex. (verb) - construct or arrange according to a plan; give a pattern or organization to.

As a noun, the word structure has many synonyms such as form, makeup, organization, system, arrangement, design, framework, pattern, plan, and setup. It also has many synonyms in its use as a verb, such as arrange, order, organize, design, shape, assemble, construct, and build, to name a few. Structure is so pervasive in life it is easy to miss and ignore. Even in seemingly non-structured things, you will find structure if you look for it.

Understanding structure

How much thought have you given to structure in your life? We human beings tend to thrive in a structured environment. Without structure, many of us would wander through life aimlessly. With structure, you can know what is coming, rather than being surprised, ignorant, or just unaware. Provided you see and understand it, that is!

Yet structure can be limiting as well. If we adhere totally to the current structures in our lives, we may not grow much. Growth often occurs outside of our regular structures. To use a structure to our advantage we must first recognize or see it. As you come to see a structure, you can gain power over it. If you do not see the structure in or underlying something, it usually has power over you. Let's look at something everyone has in common – a relationship.

Structure exists in every relationship. As with physical structures such as a house, relational structures have similarities and differences. While their basic structure can be the same, each structure can look and function quite differently both inside and out.

Many relational structures develop static components, yet these can be changed and more easily made dynamic over time, unlike a physical structure.

For example, the structure of marriage is two people are joined together as one. The Oxford dictionary defines this basic structure as:

Marriage (noun) - the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship.

Beyond the overarching structure of marriage, many substructures exist. Since each marriage is unique, these substructures consist of things like who is the primary breadwinner, who cares for the children, who pays the bills and handles the finances, and many other things that make up the complete structure. Often these substructures can be taken for granted and go unnoticed.

"Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change." Wayne W. Dyer (1940-2015)

Using structure to your advantage

The real value in understanding many of the existing structures in life comes when you can see them and begin asking questions. Questions can lead to changing or modifying structures to benefit you and the world around you.

A few of the many areas you can look for specific structures include your:

  • Career/workplace/interaction with colleagues
  • Marriage/family/children
  • Church/spiritual life
  • Friendships/contacts/other relationships/ etc.
  • Hobbies/sports activities/ etc.
  • Learning/education/interests/etc.
  • Health/exercise/physical condition/etc.
  • Eating habits/foods/caloric intake/etc.
  • Downtime/rest/relaxation/restoration/etc.
  • Entertainment/television/social media/etc.

While I grouped the above items, each can contain a structure and many substructures that you may wish to examine.

Remember, those systems that go unexamined tend to operate automatically in the background, controlling you. To control any of the many systems in life, you must examine, understand, and choose what to do with each.

An example of noticing an often hidden structure was when I started to pay attention to how many hours I worked. For too many years, I put in an extraordinary amount of time each week forsaking vacations because I thought I couldn't afford to take time off. This can be especially bad as you rise to higher levels in business with the great amount of responsibility you feel.

At the same time, I had a structure in my marriage where I put it behind my work, did not give it the attention needed, nearly winding up in a divorce. After some difficult times, I restructured the way I worked, strengthened my marriage and family structure, and worked things out.

Why do I use the word structure instead of just looking at my work and personal life? Specificity!

I find it easier to examine and change a structure rather than an undetermined nebulous thing like work or personal life. Approaching my work as a structure, I could see its components. I could determine what was crucial, what was important, and what was not. I did the same thing with my marriage. I could clearly see where I needed to make changes once I saw the flawed system I had put in place.

It is always true that the better you can define things, the more control you can gain over them. Trying to grab something undefined is like trying to grab water. You only get wet! But when you use a container to capture the water, you can make sense of and make use of it. You can see it and understand it better when you can contain and examine it.

When you can see, understand, and define the structure to begin asking the questions needed to effect change, things can happen for your good.

Final thoughts

One of the greatest things about understanding structures in your life is the order it creates. It is no secret that order is vital to living a meaningful, purposeful life.

"Purpose gives meaning to action in the same way that structure gives meaning to data." David Amerland (1964-present)

The bottom line to this article is by paying attention to the structures in life, you can gain an advantage over them. As you come to see and understand them, you can begin asking the right questions that will inevitably lead to change and improvement.

Yes, the number of structures in life can be overwhelming, but if you choose only one, you can begin changing your life for the better. If you don't examine any of life's many structures, you will remain in their control. If you don't do this work for yourself, do it for those you care about! It will make a huge difference in your life and theirs!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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