When we step back from things we tend to see cycles. Good moods, bad moods. Good and bad times. Seasons. The sales cycle. Maybe our circadian rhythms make this idea comfortable and easy to understand.

It’s the power of the information and opportunity within the cycle we usually don’t see. Not objective enough when we’re there, and not wise enough to devise and implement actionable techniques for controlling it later.

Since I’m a bit of an expert on sales I’ll illustrate with what’s in a sales cycle. In layman’s terms…

  1. Euphoria – The brief time right after a purchase, where there is no thought of making changes
  2. Awareness – The long time spent gradually becoming more aware of alternatives
  3. Decision – The decision to make a change (often triggered by some event)
  4. Thinking – Figuring out what the criteria for success is
  5. Measurement – Searching for and examining the quantifiable characteristics of available options
  6. Investigation – Determining how to acquire it
  7. Close – Final decision to act
  8. Reconsideration – (any) Second guessing (that may take place)

Without going into depth and turning this into a sales class (**), there are some notable characteristics to this cycle. Many people think we do a lot of investigation and then decide. While there is a final decision at the end, we actually decide before we begin the process. We spend by far the most amount of time in #2. Far more than the rest combined. Increasingly aware there is something better, but the pain isn’t great enough to act (yet). Once a decision has been made, things move quickly, but the machinations are more complex. And there are opportunities for setbacks, which can send us back to #2. On some occasions less content than we already were, but often with at least a temporary new and better outlook on the current condition. Without derailment, inertia usually increases as we move toward the end. The decisions, while emotional all along, become more so. Throughout the process there is the fear keeping us in check. And the battle between the unknown and the known.

We call it a “sales cycle” because it repeats. When we think of moods we view them as something temporary, generally in a state of flux.

Within them it’s really more like a whirlpool. The sales cycle eventually leads to a change. A team playing well gets the confidence to risk more, and the motivation to work more. They get better. The downward spiral is all too familiar as well. A drinking problem leads to a job lost, which leads to more drinking. Poor customer service leads customers to choose other vendors, which of course leads to less investment in customer service, which continues the problem. Guilt may lead to overeating, which triggers more guilt.

If only we could control it. We especially want to fix the down cycles. The (too common, obvious, simple) plan is to live with the cycle that caused the problem. “When I get stressed, I freeze up, so I need to figure out how to avoid getting stressed.” Yeah, right! The simple plan really puts the onus on the world to stop contributing the input that leads to the negative output. That’s just not going to work very well.

When it turns for the worse, the answer isn’t to look for the swift and certain solution. The more difficult but more effective alternative is to try to be aware as the cycle begins. Once you find it, understand what triggers it and then learn to use that trigger to initiate a different cycle. The real solution will come into better focus once we replace the down cycle with the up cycle. “This is my down cycle. What will it cost me to replace it with a different one? Who can help me? What do I need to learn? How do I change my habits and my instincts? What feeds it? What about it is comfortable to me?”

This works for organizations and individuals. The restaurant with declining sales borrows money to buy fresher food instead of cutting corners that will lead nowhere good. Or following a client loss not with layoffs, but with hiring of even better staff. The depressed individual engages in work rather than shrinking from it, eventually better able to put things into perspective.

This is incredibly difficult, and it feels overly risky. Afraid to risk, and more afraid to risk more, especially in light of the fact that we’re not sure what to do. But identifying the downward spiral and investing in replacing it with the upward one is the one and only best strategy. The alternative, which is to rationalize and defend the cycle as a law of nature or permanent habit, is tragic. If you’re not optimistic about or committed to reversing it then you’re probably best served by giving up (another risk) before the losses mount.


** Much more to all this. The cycle depicted here is one for consequential purchases. Those that carry some risk, usually by way of costing enough money that we want to get it right and/or are resistant to the change without a satisfying rationale. The above machinations help us make good decisions, but also simply help us feel better about the decision we make.

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