Escape the Pressure Cooker

Are you feeling the pressure of the daily demands of life in the 21st century? Too many things to deal with? Too much difference to navigate in your world? Too many surprises and too few predictable outcomes? In this week’s ATTRACTOR, Glenda shares ways Adaptive Action and pattern logic help you look at underlying dynamics of the patterns that have you overwhelmed.

Engineers know a lot about pressure:  Boyle’s Law, pounds per square inch, and cold fronts that bring thunderstorms in the summer.  You know about pressure, too:  Deadlines, politics, demands, more with less, and forward farther and faster.  Adaptive Action and Pattern Logic of human systems dynamics give you practical and creative ways to relieve pressure. When you feel overwhelmed, these tools help you breathe.  When your team copes with an unrealistic deadline, they give you space to be creative. When your organization faces competitive pressures, they introduce new options for action.  When your community is caught in the grips of violence and inequity, they create space for dialogue and shared inquiry.  What are these magical pressure-relieving models? How do they work?

Adaptive Action moves you forward, no matter how stuck you feel.  Three little questions can release you from any sticky situation. You can always ask: What forces and factors contribute to the pressure you feel?  So what are alternative forces that could give you energy and release your potential?  Now what can you do to free yourself from your most obvious pressures so you can find unexpected escape and freedom in Adaptive Action?

Pattern Logic gives you a new view of your old reality, so you discover opportunities that were invisible to you before. Pattern Logic is the process of seeing, understanding, and influencing the patterns of action and thought in the world around you. It is how you make sense of your world so that you can take informed action. So as you engage in Adaptive Action, your questions are about the patterns you see and the conditions that shape those patterns.  Pattern Logic allows you to recognize new similarities, differences, and connections that have meaning for you and your work.   You replace your “ever and always” stories with clarity about the current reality.  You see how your assumptions and habits held you helpless in the face of difficult situations. You see things in a new light and discover options you didn’t know you had.  You find a path to the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

When we think about life and work from the view of Adaptive Action and Pattern Logic, these are some of the things we discover to relieve pressure for you and your community. 

  • Expand your view.  As pressures increase, you tend to buckle down, focus in, and narrow your views.  Ironically, those options only increase the pressure you experience.  They tighten the containers and amplify the tension. Even if you cannot change real budget, space, or time limitations, you can take a longer view.  Get on the balcony. Revisit your mission. Take a deep breath. Practice a bit of mindfulness. Take a walk.  Do something, anything to push back the walls that are caving in on you.  When you return to your task, you will be refreshed, and your challenges will seem less all consuming. You may even discover a surprising solution to a wicked issue. When you expand your view, you take the lid off the pressure cooker.  
  • Explore differences that make a difference.  Under stress you narrow your gaze to focus on a few things you think are most important.  This may be a useful approach, but it also increases pressure on you and the system.  Such focus is doubly risky in times of rapid change because what was most important yesterday may be completely irrelevant today and destructive tomorrow.  Focusing on new and different differences cuts the ties that bind you to yesterday’s solutions.  When you focus on new and more relevant differences, you blow up the pressure cooker.  
  • Loosen your grip.  It is easy to say, “Hold on tight, it will be a bumpy ride.”  This, too, has a counter intuitive result.  Holding tight requires energy and focus that could be invested in new relationships and opportunities.  In times of high-pressure change, loose connections in many directions will help you conserve energy. Many, loose connections also help you accumulate the information you need to respond in the most effective way when the time is right.  When you loosen your grip, you turn down the heat under the pressure cooker.    

So, the next time you find yourself responding to pressure with physical tension, irritability, anger, or hopelessness, look for your pressure-relieving opportunities.  Open the space, focus on differences that make a difference, and consider letting go.  When you reduce the pressure, you create new space to observe, think, and act.  You will multiply your Adaptive Capacity, and you may escape the pressure that holds you back.   Try it, and let us know how it goes!  Or, be in touch if you simply want to know more about simple patterns in the complex dynamics of human systems.

Glenda H. Eoyang, PhD
Executive Director
Human Systems Dynamics Institute

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