Life Cycles

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown.
The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around.
All my life’s a circle but I can’t tell you why.
The season’s spinnin’ round again, the years keep rollin’ by.”
~ Harry Chapin “Circles”

All Our Life’s A Circle

We don’t live life in a straight line. Life is a series of cycles through which we are going and, hopefully, growing.

In LifeLaunch: A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, Frederic M. Hudson and Pamela D. McLean provide a plan and a model for moving through the varied chapters of adult life, redesigning one’s life at each juncture as we step into the next chapter.

They do this, in part, by providing a series of “maps” to lead the reader through the preparations. I’d like to share my thoughts on the 1st “map”, which Hudson and McLean call “The Renewal Cycle”.

The Renewal Cycle

The authors identify 4 phases in the “renewal cycle”: Phase 1 – Go For It, Phase 2 – Stuck in the Doldrums, Phase 3 – Cocooning, and Phase 4 – Getting Ready for the Next Chapter. Each phase has its own defining characteristics and behaviors.

Phase 1: Go For It

Someone in phase 1 is positive, goal-oriented, and committed to achievement. This is the phase that most of us find the most comfortable, until it isn’t.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (me-high chick-sent-me-high) defines flow as the place where our skills and the challenge of performing are in agreement. Too big of a challenge and we become stressed; too small, we become bored.

Phase 1 gives us the best opportunity to get into flow. But at some point, old challenges become smaller, routines get stale. Subsequently, opportunities for flow decrease. This generally signals the end of phase 1.

Phase 2: Stuck in the Doldrums

A person in phase 2 sometimes feels trapped, and she / he is often negative and reactive. This may be experienced as ennui and a feeling of being “out of synch” with other people and with life in general. You feel “stuck” and are unsure of how to free yourself.

According to Hudson and McLean, “. . . adults tend to remain in Phase 2 longer than anywhere else in the cycle, because they feel . . . immobilized by forces beyond themselves.” [Hudson & McLean 55]

In reality, the person in phase 2 is not trapped at all – she or he has 2 choices: 1) Improve the “script” for your current life cycle (if possible) or 2) begin the move to a new chapter.

Phase 3: Cocooning

In phase 3, a person turns inward, taps core values, and finally awakens – like a butterfly leaving the chrysalis. One begins to disengage from the chapter that no longer satisfies.

This is a time to heal, to reflect, and to begin to consider new possibilities. People in this phase are “quiet, withdrawn, often emotional, and unsure of themselves”. [Hudson & McLean 57]

A person doesn’t have to withdraw from work or life entirely to cocoon, but if you can, withdraw some of the energy you put into these pursuits to put into rewriting your “script”. As the authors point out: “Cocooning has more to do with the regeneration of positive feelings of self-regard and spiritual trust beyond yourself than with ‘doing’ anything. [Cocooning] leads to a profound renewal of energy, purpose, and hope.” [Hudson & McLean 57]

Phase 4: Getting Ready for the Next Chapter

The person in phase 4 begins to explore possibilities, to network, and to train for the next chapter of her life. It is a time of learning new skills and of thinking in new ways. It is an exciting time, a time for dreaming and for creating and for testing out new possibilities.

In phase 4, one tries on new roles but without committing herself to any. Eventually, one path will seem “right”, a good fit, and she is ready to make a longer-term commitment. At this point, “you write the script for the next chapter of your life and plunge into it, leaving your transition with gratitude.” [Hudson & McLean 58]

Outer Journey & Inner Journey

Although we don’t always realize it, the cycles repeat periodically throughout our lives. It is the cycle of change. As envisioned by Frederic Hudson and Pamela McLean, the cycles alternate between outer work, “The Outward Journey” and inner work, “The Inner Journey”.

The outward journey is concerned with work in the world, with achievement and results, with thinking and doing. The inner journey is focused on inner work, with renewal and rejuvenation, with feelings and introspection.

This idea of cycles and phases has helped me better understand my own journey and the current chapter of my “autobiography”.

Upon reflection, I perceive that, for the past 2 to 3 years, while I was dealing with my parents’ failing health and deaths and experimenting with “pre-retirement”, I moved through being “stuck in the doldrums” of phase 2 and the cocooning of phase 3.

Around the beginning of the new year (I am writing this in March of 2016), I began to feel an awakening and I now see that I have moved into phase 4 and am “getting ready for the next chapter”. Other events in my life have borne this out.

Work In The Cycle Where You Are

How about you? Where do you see yourself in the cycle? Are you “living the dream” in the exciting Go For It phase? Maybe you feel in decline and are questioning your life’s routines and purpose . . . you feel Stuck in the Doldrums.

Are you Cocooning, detaching from the old ways and taking an emotional time out to rest and heal? Perhaps you are Getting Ready for the Next Chapter, experimenting and trying on new roles, considering new goals and new paths.

One phase is not better than another and all are necessary. Where ever you are, what ever phase you are in, there is work for you to do to learn and to grow. Then the cycle becomes an upward spiral of personal growth and development. And that, dear Reader, is how you excelerate!

Excelerated Positivity™ — building the skills in positivity that help you flourish — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.

Learn more about the Excelerated Life™ .


Hudson, Frederic M. and Pamela D. McLean. LifeLaunch – A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (4th Edition). Santa Barbara, CA: The Hudson Institute Press. 1995, revised 2006

life cycles and renewal

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