Vicious and Virtuous Cycles

An idea I'm playing with lately is the dichotomy of vicious and virtuous cycles.

A lot of our language reflects this idea:
- Spinning your wheels
- Turning a corner
- Death spiral
- Tailspin
- Talking in circles
- Circular logic

Early in life, Mufasa taught us the Circle of Life. At work, there's the concept of processes and systems, feedback loops. Nature follows cycles, so it's not hard to see the transfer to those living within it.

I remember thinking how crazy it sounded when I read in The Power of Now that people have vibrational frequencies, but then it struck a chord with me since I'm both musical and an electrical engineer. When we resonate with something, in a musical sense, one vibrating string will cause another to vibrate when they have the same harmonic frequency. In school, we go into exacting detail about just how different waves behave, eg. an octave is a doubling of frequency. People have rhythms, women have periods, we all have sleep cycles. When we feel in tune with someone, they become our friends. We vibe together, echoing each other's sentiments.

Similarly, I think we give off a particular vibe when we are trapped in a vicious cycle. Menacing people can sense when someone is damaged, and they can exploit them easier. Just like a merry-go-round, they spin them round and round, and the faster it goes, the harder it is to leave unscathed. When we're on the outside, it's sometimes funny to see people caught in a loop because of their lack of awareness. When we're the ones inside, it's harder to see because everything is moving so quickly. 

In the cycle of violence, there are three phases: tension building, explosion, and honeymoon. Abusive relationships aren't always abusive. To keep the cycle moving, you have to propel things differently depending on the phase you're in, so it's not hard to see how an abusive person can build tension in a relationship, explode, and buy flowers to apologize. How many times can this take place in a day? What's the frequency of the cycle?

From what I can tell, the evil of abusive relationships is that a person is robbed of their resources. Time spent recovering, sometimes in a hospital, spending money on therapy, talking things through with friends -- it's all time and energy invested with no appreciation in value. It's not productive, and you could be doing better things with your life. Time is more than money, and when you waste a person's time on this earth, how can you give that back?

A virtuous cycle sounds cool. It's a self-sustaining process, it feeds into itself. It's a perpetual motion machine. It's self-healing, self-regulating. It rolls with the punches, it compensates with life's surprises. Some examples of businesses with virtuous cycles could be IKEA, Amazon, Braun. 

When you take care of your physical health, you eat right, you exercise regularly, you follow a pattern. You make habits, so you don't even have to think about it. To keep your weight in check, you ingest fewer calories, and you output more energy through activity. You create a system.

What's the goal of the virtuous cycle? Equilibrium. Steady state. Homeostasis. In that sense, it's similar to a vicious cycle, where external factors don't change what happens in the cycle. However, the virtuous cycle is harder to maintain.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le