Ten Rhythm Tools for Life: #2 – CYCLE

This series takes a look at how 10 qualities of Rhythm can help make things easier, both personally and for teams at work.

CYCLE: The Turning Wheel of Time

We began this blog series with Pulse, the foundation of Rhythm — and Life.  But Pulse by itself — a repeating beat ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● without any variation — gets boring pretty quick.

Pulse alone implies a steady state, a constancy.  That makes it is important as our grounding anchor, the thing we can return to when we need to release the swirl of life’s details, and rediscover our center.

But Life moves forward.  And so does Rhythm, with the introduction of Cycle.

Here is a representation of a 4-beat cycle:

◉ ● ● ● ◉ ● ● ● ◉ ● ● ● ◉ ● ● ●

Try playing it with alternating hands, on your lap or desk.  ONE-two-three-four, ONE-two-three-four.  Simply placing an emphasis on every 4th beat creates a repeating cycle. This should feel very familiar — think of your favorite rock song as you play.

Now try playing this — a 3-count cycle — also with alternating hands:

◉ ● ● ◉ ● ● ◉ ● ● ◉ ● ●

ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, RIGHT-left-right, LEFT-right-left.  It feels very different, doesn’t it?  A 3-beat cycle has a “rolling” sense, compared with the back-and-forth of the 4-count.  Even at their simplest, different rhythmic cycles create different feelings and moods.


Life Moves Forward in Cycles

In Life, as in Rhythm, time moves forward in cycles, with each initiation carrying forward from a new point in time.  From the time our ancestral DNA began, we are profoundly rooted in Nature’s cycles, in our days and nights, our seasons and our years.

Yet the constant press of modern life, especially in the workplace, can often undermine or even trample, our sense of cycle.  Push, push, push.  Always striving for more, better, faster.

This is a recipe for burnout.  Instead, if we tune into our cycles and work with them (rather than try to ignore them), we will more easily move into richer, more productive territory.

The Easy Way To Fall Back In

Marys-hands-on-drumWhen drumming in a group, we sometimes lose our place, or “fall out” of the group’s rhythm.  But, like falling off of a playground merry-go-round, the rhythm continues, and “your place” comes around again with every cycle.

When this happens, simply pause, and take a breath.  Listen to the complete cycle of the music, and hear where you want to come back in.  Then, when you’re ready, listen as the rhythm cycle repeats, and “jump back on” when your recognized entry point comes back around.

In Life, it is also common to “fall off” of our natural rhythmic cycles from time to time throughout our day.  “I feel out of sync,” we say, or, “I just can’t get into a rhythm with this task.”

We can react with frustration, and “try harder” to “catch up” to where we thought we “should be.”  But this is like falling off of the merry-go-round, and chasing your empty spot around the circle to try to jump back on.  It’s exhausting, and usually futile.

Instead, use the natural power of Cycle.  Pause, take a breath, notice and let go of the “gotta – gotta – gotta” chatter in your head.  Allow your own energy and attention to realign within yourself.

Then imagine watching your task as that merry-go-round, with your “empty spot” coming around every revolution.  When you’re ready, “jump on” at your entry point with refocused attention on the task.  Perhaps even enjoy the ride!

Let Cycle Bring You More Daily Ease

You can use the Rhythm Tool of Cycle to bring more ease and flow into your daily life.  Here are a couple powerful ways:

Notice and ride your daily energy cycle.  What time(s) of the day do you feel most alert?  Most creative?  Most physically energized?  Where can you adjust your activities and work to align with your natural energy cycle?  For example, if your most creative or high-focus time is late morning, protect it by minimizing meetings and interruptions during that time.

Create short work cycles within your day to “pump” your productivity. Here’s how:

  1. Choose the task you want to work on.
  2. Get clear and specific about exactly what the very next action step is.
  3. Set a timer for a finite amount of time of concentrated focus.  Fifty minutes is a good maximum, especially if you’re sitting.  If you’ve been fighting procrastination with this task, start with twenty minutes, or even ten. You can work on anything for just 10 minutes, right?  That will feel MUCH better than putting it off, and you’ll often find it easy to keep going once you start.
  4. Breathe! As you start the timer, take a deep, refreshing breath, and wiggle your toes to reconnect your mind and body.  Reaffirm your commitment to focus on ONLY THIS TASK for this next time period.
  5. Move. When the timer ends, say “Yay!” for your progress, and envision your specific next action steps.  Then stand up and move around a little.  If you are in a good flow, return to your work and keep going.  Or, treat yourself to a short walk to get a drink of water, or spend a few minutes outside.

By creating these kinds of intentional work cycles through the day, you are harnessing your own natural momentum to work for you. It’s like giving the merry-go-round a push from one spot every revolution, versus pushing by running along side of it all the way around. Which makes more sense?

Cycles are powerful influences in our lives — forces to tune into and appreciate. They give us a sense of renewal, of starting fresh, of having another chance to change, or reach higher this time around.

Life’s rhythmic Cycles nourish Hope!