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  • Matt

Imagine + discern + design 2021 with the "ecocycle"

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Winter’s way is dark, quiet, and inward-facing. The Earth lies fallow and many living things rest.

Conversely, the way of holiday shopping season is urgent, gleaming, get-it-new-and-get-it-now. It’s the thrill of buying things. Our brains are rewarded with dopamine and it’s lovely to see others smile when we give a gift.

But eventually the holiday rush brings a letdown, and we can become irritable, listless, bored, even disappointed. Wanting to avoid these negative feelings, we get a latte, alcohol, or sweet treat to rev-up and/or numb out. It doesn’t feel safe to ruminate because…yikes, next year is days away and there’s so much to do. Besides, there’s a post-holiday sale to check out!

We end up in a cycle that’s out of whack, like a banging, mis-loaded washing machine. We may not even notice because...well, everyone’s doing it.

One benefit of Covid is the chance for more gentleness and balance as the year turns. We can create space to bring Winter’s nourishing quiet inside of us. We can foster our own incubation, setting the stage for new growth to gradually emerge with the coming Spring.

The ecocycle is a simple tool to support this inner work. It helps us take stock of our current situation, imagine new possibilities, discern our intentions, and design next steps. It illuminates the interdependent, constantly changing reality of our lives and taps our innate ability to choose wisely.

It does all that, but it’s also easy to use. The ecocycle is based on the familiar stages of life: incubation, birth, maturity, and death. These phases are natural and necessary for any living system to be healthy and growing. A seed germinates beneath the soil, sprouts, matures to bear fruit and thereby creates the possibility of another generation.

And so it goes for humans. Our projects, goals, relationships, interests, habits …most everything we experience moves through this cycle in some way. A relationship with a loved may not “die”, but it will change over time and must be allowed to grow into a new form. We get stuck when try to hold on tight, hoping things will stay the same forever. The ecocycle helps us avoid this tendency in all aspects of life as we plan for the coming year.

Click here to download a version of the ecocycle I created. It includes instructions and a sample to help you get started. I hope it serves your well being in some way!

Meanwhile, I invite you to reflect on the following ecocycle-inspired questions as you take stock and begin 2021:

Explore (incubate). The Explore stage is like casting seeds. It’s a time to search for options, experiment, and discern what new commitments you want to invest in. What is the opportunity you feel called to? What does this moment in life require of you and invite you to become? One word of caution: wanting to keep options open can get can you get stuck in the "indecision trap!"

Launch (birth): A seedling is fragile and requires extra nutrients to establish healthy roots. In the same way, starting something new requires extra care. What are you doing to provide the energy and attention needed for your new endeavors to thrive? At the same time, how might you prepare for what comes after the start-up Launch phase? Be aware that the skills that help you succeed in Launch can hinder your ability to be efficient and systematized in Sustain.

Sustain (maturity): Items in the Sustain quadrant are well-established projects and practices that you’ve developed over time. They are central to what you do and how you operate. Have you created enough structure so these items can be efficient and effective at scale, similar to how a tomato cage supports a tomato plant? On the other hand, beware of the “rigidity trap.” This is when you invest so much into sustaining something that you resist letting it go, even if that’s what’s best. If you’ve built a golden tomato cage and focus more on polishing it than picking tomatoes…well, then it’s likely time to think about how to Release.

Release (death). Forest fires renew forest ecosystems. Without them, a forest becomes unsustainable. In the same way, there are times we need to "burn away" established projects and practices for the sake of our future well-being. Release challenges us to accept the sometimes painful loss of who we are, what we know, and what we do. For this reason, Release is the hardest phase of the cycle for most of us. We tend to have many items in Explore and few in Release. But Release is an essential step in our growth.

How can you finally prioritize the freedom needed for your own growth by making space for it through Release? How might you honor and grieve rather than simply suppress and avoid the pain of a farewell?

Finally, the ecocycle invites you to approach life with a design eye.

What next steps might you consider? Are there actions you can take that can move multiple items through the cycle at once? What sequence of steps will allow for a sustainable and elegant unfolding of growth and change in your life?

This year’s Covid Winter is a great chance to integrate the ecocycle into your personal practice. It’s also a great way to begin working with a coach. Coaching is a tried-and-true way to help achieve goals and develop a new start. I am now offering a package of 3 introductory coaching sessions for the price of 2, a $150 savings. This offer is good through the end of January 2021. Please contact me at if you’re interested, and please spread the word!


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