Breaking cycles
Thursday, Sep 28, 2006
Over the last week or so I've been really in to breaking cycles. ZeFrank has an excellent vodcast explaining the concept of breaking cycles, but the gist is that by identifying the patterns you follow and deliberately departing from them you can gain new insights, new perspectives, and generally feel more alive.

The concept is well-grounded in science, and has applications everywhere. When you buy a new car the dealer tells you to keep it under 80 for the first thousand miles, and also says you should vary your speed. Keeping an engine at the same speed when it's new (keeping it in a constrained cycle) optimizes the engine for that speed, and makes it worse at other speeds. Breaking that cycle early on makes the engine perform better across its entire range.

The same is true for you and me. Wake up early, stay up late. Or if you're me, go to bed early and sleep in. Throw yourself off and see how you recover. Drive to work a different way. Eat someplace new. Say something out of your comfort zone. Eat breakfast for dinner. Pick a direction and just drive until you're someplace you haven't been.

Of course, by breaking cycles you may end up settling in to new cycles, and that can be fun too. Vacations are just a major cycle break, and when you're someplace new you don't have any cycles there so you're breaking new ground every moment. This is why some people like to stay close to their hotel or the TV or the internet when they're someplace completely foreign. It's a pipeline into their cycle.

Do you use a feed reader? Ditch your subscriptions and start fresh (saving an OPML file first, if you're paranoid). Changing your inputs to get new ideas will churn your brain in a good way. If you read CNN, try reading MSNBC. Gizmodo? Try Engadget. Or try not reading anything digital for a week and see what happens. I promise the world won't fall apart for your not watching it.

Have a friend come in and pick new season passes for your TiVo. Better yet, swap boxes with them for a month, then swap back and see what you change.

Not all cycle changes are voluntary. Most aren't. When my father died three years ago it threw me entirely off my axis and I never settled down until I was in an entirely new place and an entirely new life. Two weeks ago my sister disappeared. Using every resource I knew to track down her whereabouts, throwing plans to the wind and focusing on this new unexpected task broke my cycle and when I came back to work while waiting to hear word I walked around a place that felt completely foreign. Recognizable for what it was but as if it was passed through an equalizer, muted and amplified in different wavelengths. My sister turned out to be fine (at a wilderness workshop I didn't know about) but the cycle turbulence persisted.

Throwing yourself off balance makes you learn how to regain it faster. Dropping yourself into new situations helps you deal with the unexpected ones. Several friends of mine are thinking about or actively trying to have their first child, probably the biggest cycle-shifter there is.

I don't think I'm ready to find a new orbit (or create a moon) any time soon, but I'd like to live like I'm in a foreign country when I'm at home, and see what's hiding just outside my cycles.

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
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