You would not be alone if you’re feeling at the brink. Talking to students, faculty, colleagues, friends, and family, it seems like just about everyone has reached their limit. Our resilience is being tested – or may even feel spent – but that is what we need more than ever just now.
As always, when I’m facing complex and even seemingly insurmountable challenges, I look to nature. Just going for a walk in the woods is sometimes all it takes to regain clarity, but if you need more than that you can also borrow from nature’s strategies.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen a spiral process mentioned before (Spiraling in Control, Biomimicry, Beyond Inspiration). That’s because many processes in nature take the form of spirals – like cycles, but the ending point is never the same as the starting point.
The “5E Spiral” reflects nature’s process of continual transformation: Explore, Envision, Empower, Execute, and Evaluate. In a chronically stressed out world, we tend to short-circuit this process, and get stuck in an endless loop of Execute and Evaluate. This is true whether you’re a student, a corporate executive, or a sustainability activist. Unfortunately, this becomes a positive feedback loop, meaning that it tends to be self-reinforcing and can spiral out of control.
What is the answer? Look at the other E’s in the spiral, specifically Explore and Envision.
This time of year is an especially good time to pause and reflect, take stock of yourself and the world around you: Explore yourself, your context, and your conditions. You might try using an Empathy Map on yourself. Remember what you value, what is important to you, as well as what is not. How are you being and what are you doing? Does it reflect your values? Does it make sense?
After you Explore, the start of the new year is a great time to Envision. What does really good look like for you, for your world, for you in your world? Allow yourself to look beyond what is wrong with the world, take a break from complaining and blaming, and imagine what could be. This is not a feel-good exercise – though hopefully it does feel good. Envisioning what really good looks like is crucial if we are to create the world we want to live in. We cannot problem-solve our way out of the complex challenges that we are facing. That is as true for your own life as it is for the whole world.
Once you take time to deeply Explore and Envision, keep going. The next steps are to Empower yourself and your people to move toward what you envision, Execute your vision and values, and then Evaluate what you’ve learned, what’s working, and what’s not. And then take another lap. And another. Make the 5E spiral your new habit.
For now, though, as the holidays allow, it is enough to make time to Explore and Envision – and Enjoy!
[image by Stef Koehler in Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Innovation]