Updated: Oct 22
Being at our best, in our flow isn’t something that we can just sit in a room and ‘do’ to ourselves. We are impacted by our inner voices, our history and experiences, the people around us, past environments, what we had for breakfast and so much more. So here is just one way of looking at how we can create relationships where we and others can be at our best, in their flow, full of grace.
It’s incredible when someone shares something with you or you stumble across something at the exact moment you need it – in this case The Cycle of Grace. On Monday I was feeling weird and out of sorts. I hadn’t felt consistently ‘in my flow’ or at my best for a couple of weeks and despite grasping randomly at reasons, I hadn’t landed on what was going on for me.
And then the a-ha moment!
I was having a cuppa with an old friend and coach and I could see something awesome was about to happen when his relaxed position changed, he flung himself forward, whipped out a pen, grabbed his pad and with the nib poised a millimetre above the paper he looked over his glasses at me and said ‘have you heard of the cycle of grace?’
The Cycle of Grace seems to have been originally authored by Jerry Haas and Trevor Hudson, two American pastors. In their view, it relates to their God and that God’s love. However, remove its religious origins (or leave them in if that’s what works for you) and you have a really interesting cycle of behaviour played out by individuals and by whole organisations for generations.
So, let’s walk through it and see if anything resonates with you.
Imagine a healthy and trusting relationships that we are in, be that with colleagues, friends, a boss, the company itself as an employer or whoever, and we feel ‘loved’ - or if that’s too strong a word let’s say ‘cared for’ or ‘cared about’. That love or care is unconditional; it is never at risk; we don’t need to do anything for it. In a business sense, even at its most basic this may translate into ‘recognition’.
There is a big assumption here – trust. Many people feel that trust needs to be earned but what might happen if we were to assume that we can trust the people around us without them needing to prove that they are trustworthy? What if we assume positive intent in their actions? Hold that thought...
Let’s move clockwise from love down to ‘sustenance’. That unconditional love or care sustains us, it fuels us, it keeps us going, keeps us at our best and in our flow. It keeps our performance high and because the care of the person or entity we are in relationship with is unconditional we feel significant – our next piece in the cycle.
We feel significant in our relationship or in our environment. We feel we matter, we are seen and heard. We are integral, important, we aren’t just loved – we are of value! Our expertise and experience are valuable, respected and invited in. Our social qualities are not overlooked or down played, they are shared and others are grateful for them.
And what happens when we feel recognised, cared for or loved unconditionally? When we are fuelled with positivity and bring value to our relationships and environments?
We may speak up more, we may try things, innovate, evolve ideas, take risks. We challenge others and have more robust conversations without fear of ‘falling out’, we may collaborate more, we don’t pander to unknowns or dial down what we think. We are more open, vulnerable and trusting – we are essentially in a really good space, and everybody around us benefits.
And although the love or recognition is unconditional the cycle continues.
But what happens if that love, care or recognition feels conditional?
What happens if we feel that in order to deserve the love or care of others we need to do something? This relationship is now transactional?
Our agenda and drive flips.
We likely start by needing to achieve things! We want to show them how clever we are, how great we are, we are driven by our need to perform in front of them for their adoration. We feel we need win, after win, after win, to feel significant and even the smallest loss dents and bruises our feeling of significance. We are fuelled by worry, anxiety, imposter syndrome, perhaps even a dislike for the person we are trying so desperately to impress and yet we can't stop. We throw those around us under the bus, or more likely fan the flames of a blame culture.
Like an addict we return to this uncaring entity, this dictatorial boss, or demanding friend needing to be seen for all that you can do – rather than all that you are.
And then occasionally you may land on love. You may receive a nod, a smile, a pay rise even, or just a kind word – the endorphins kick in, and you relax.
But only for a moment.
Because you know that if you relax for too long that will all be stripped away again. The table will turn, the cycle will flip and you will be back in your need to achieve, to prove yourself over and over and over to someone, or something that doesn’t really care about you. Or heaven forbid someone else acheives while you bask in the love that was tossed your way. They are now loved! And in situations like this, love is finite – it's a pie and there is only so much to go around! You better get your slice!
Well, it might be, but we can all slip into this cycle even in the kindest of environments.
I work with the most incredible people who I know Love and Care for me unconditionally – I know that. But over the last couple of weeks, I didn’t see them much, then I went away and then I had Covid and was stuck at home again. I felt disconnected from them, I felt at arm's length and my brain started playing tricks on me.
I misread the tone in messages, I imagined that people were frustrated with me, I drifted into a fear of upsetting them, losing them. I started to dial back on the qualities I know they like and value in me. Instead, I rushed to achieve for them, I attended meetings with a need to show them that I was valuable, to show them my achievements, to prove to them that I was doing all the ‘right things’ and that I deserve to be here.
“See me! And see how clever I am!”
So, it wasn’t a toxic environment that flipped my cycle of grace but my own insecurities and a momentary distance in our relationships.
When I realised this on Monday it was like I hadn’t noticed a fuse had tripped in me two weeks ago and I had been struggling, powering myself with just 60% of my normal energy (I don’t really know how fuse boxes work so just roll with me on this analogy). It felt like someone had flipped the fuse back up and all of the lights went on and the general whirring started again.
Within an hour I was back in my flow, had taken a quick spin around the cycle clockwise and was then performing at my absolute best – not in exchange for my colleague’s love, care and recognition – but because of it.
So how do we avoid drifting into the latter, cycle of transactional grace ourselves? Well, perhaps try to imagine what it feels like; what changes in you and what do you see or hear yourself doing differently when you are driven by a need to achieve and to be seen to achieve in order to ‘win’ the love, care or recognition of someone else? Then try and catch yourself when that happens, have a chat with yourself about if that’s how you want to be and what’s changed or shifted?
But how do we stop creating an environment where these hideous mindsets may flourish? Well firstly, if you are an employer you likely hired someone because you thought they could do the job so assume from day one that they can. They are capable, they have it in them and trust them to. Start from a position of support and belief in them. The opposite, to start from ‘they need to prove themselves’ is actually just you protecting yourself from appearing to have made a mistake in hiring. Or perhaps even your own fear that they may be ‘too’ good?
Secondly, remember that you are human too. Look to other relationships in your life if need be and consider what is going on when you are at your best and when you’re not – what's going on between you and those you are in relationship with?
It’s a big ask to trust and be let down rather than ask people to prove themselves, but it’s a great way to start, and to foster a genuinely healthy relationship.
And as ever, there is always much more going on in us and in others – it’s never just that and nothing more...