If you have been following this blog, you may know that in the new year I like to break out the Ecocycle from Liberating Structures. I think it’s such a helpful tool in recognizing where you are at in the process of change. New Years is often a time where we consider new projects. For this newsletter I would like to consider the emotions that are common at each stage of the Ecocycle. Different people are attracted to different stages (and sometimes get stuck in particular stages).
First there is the Conception (Germination) stage. This is the stage where we have a wish for something new, an idea of a possibility, or simply a change that is going to happen but has no structure or resources yet. When we look at the Ecocylce, it can be tempting for our thoughts to jump over to what this new idea or project will look like in the Maturity stage. The brain just wants to step over to maturity and skip following the path around the infinity sign. This is where many New Year Resolutions start and end. I want to exercise more, to change my diet, a new job, to clean my closet, etc. Some people love the conception stage. So many possibilities. It’s exciting to think of beginning, but frustrating that it takes time and effort to move beyond conception.
The next step in the Ecocycle is the Poverty Trap. This is where we need to understand what we need in order to move the goal into action. Using the Rising Hope language, this is where we convert our wish into a hope. For us to hope for something we need both a path where we can achieve small steps towards our goal and the willpower to do it. In using the Ecocycle this past year to monitor my own change, I realized that as I think about moving something from conception (a wish) to birth (a hope), I need to understand the number of times I need to do something before I feel comfortable just showing up to do it. From other beginnings in my life, I know that it often takes more than 7 to 10 times before my habit brain stops resisting the novelty. Note this does not necessarily make it easier, I just don’t experience so much resistance. This is where willpower comes in. If I really hope to achieve my goal, I need to just do it at the frequency that I commit to, until it becomes familiar and comfortable. Part of this stage is also identifying the time period and resources that I will need to do it.
The third stage is Birth. Regardless of whether we’re talking the birth of a new project, a new self-care routine, or a child, the pleasure of the experience comes from seeing that our hope will have manifestation in the world. However, beginnings can be intermittent or distracted, and we may want to stop just as we’re getting traction. For example, the hopes of “I will attend and finish a beginner’s yoga class”, “I will eat a cup of veggies at each meal for a month”, or “I will turn off the electronics at 8 pm for a week” are not going to feel good compared to our established habits. However, there is a pleasure in keeping the commitment to ourselves and the outcome of it manifesting in our lives.
For changes that support our health, different people are attracted to different stages of the Ecocyle. I see a lot of people who can get through conception, the poverty trap and into the birth stage. They can see that the changes they are making to how they move, sleep or eat is helpful to how they feel, and their energy and mental clarity. However, moving to the Maturity stage, where the behavior is mostly automated, is where they get off the cycle. The reason for stopping varies from person to person, but what is generally true for everyone is feeling ok about not doing the new behavior perfectly. Moving something to maturity means tolerating being consistently inconsistent. Yes, I would love to say that I’m going to commit to doing something everyday - however, as an adult, things come up. So, the question is: what do I need to keep returning to it? For me, I need some social support. This is why lifestyle or personal changes around food, sleep and movement are so hard. We’re usually doing it on our own, within our social groups. Finding a class, an online group, or a therapist who will support our change can be key. The reason support is so helpful is that part of pushing something to maturity is overcoming obstacles, stumbling and starting again. If it’s just our willpower we can feel exhausted from pushing on our own. However, if we focus on what is attracting us to our goals, it is often easier to feel motivated to stick with it. In this stage, it’s really important to name what parts we are grateful for and why, every time we are successful.
The next stages of the Ecocycle are the Rigidity Trap and Creative Destruction. The Rigidity Trap is when we have done something over and over and it is automated AND it’s uncomfortable when we deviate from it. For example, my form of exercise for a long time was Aikido. Overtime I saw that my brain resisted going to a yoga class, going to a gym or any other form of exercise. As I aged I saw that I would benefit from cross training and I needed to add activity that would increase muscle mass. My rigidity resisted going to a fitness class on the days that I trained. After I worked my way through the conception and birth phases with the fitness class and it was approaching maturity, it was easier to swap a fitness class for an Aikido class during the week. But I had to enter into a little creative destruction, where I had to let something else in my routine go (in this case, my TV night) to start something new.
After some creative destruction, we’re back to the Conception stage. As I re-read what I have written, I can see that I have focused on the hard parts of change. I don’t want to scare people off because there is a great deal of individual pleasure in working through the Ecocycle and in seeing that we are capable, courageous to keep showing up for, and that we can each be self-determined. These qualities show up in our small successes, just knowing that we kept trying and kept moving forward is worth tracking. What helps me know that I am making progress is having a visual map of it. I have an Ecocycle in my office that I use to track the progress I make toward my goals by using post-it’s to track the stage each goal is in.