Harnessing Ultradian Cycle to Transform Stress into Creative Work Performance

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Creating New Consciousness in Everyday Life: The Psycho-Social Genomics of Self Creation
Painting: Lee Lawson

Have you ever gazed in amazement at the incredible brightness of a full moon? In that moon phase,the surface is completely illuminated due its direct opposition with the sun, reflecting its light. A brilliant performance. Then the moon’s apparent luminosity wanes, as it moves seamlessly into the next phase. Nobody gets hurt, but nothing tangible was created either.

The beauty of being human is that when our energy waxes and wanes according to the rhythms of our body, there is an opportunity to trigger a conscious impulse toward greater creativity and performance – if we can gain a better understanding of our inner pulse.

Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk, some of it controversial, about BRAC (Basic Rest-Activity Cycle) also known as the Ultradian Cycle. It’s a bodily rhythm that is said to ebb and flow in our sleeping state and some research would argue has implications in our waking state. Especially in the arena of sports psychology and performance. (Check out the work of Performance Psychologist Jim Loehr at the Human Performance Institute)

Embracing your Ultradian Intuition

The gist is that the body and brain can go full throttle for 90-120 minutes before needing a rest for a good 20 minutes. I’ve been fascinated by the claims made about harnessing the Ultradian Cycle for more energy and better employee performance.  The implications are more crucial than ever before as the global marketplace becomes more competitive, and talent driven creativity and innovation might catapult a company above the rest.

Correlating Well-Being at Work and Employee Retention

With the recent flood of conversation on well-being in the workplace and its impact on employee engagement – companies are starting to realize that  a happy and engaged worker is key to the future, lest they lose the most valuable players in an increasingly competitive environment. And there’s a new research to bolster that argument.

Glassdoor’s recent Employee Confidence Survey suggests an air of concern in keeping those MVPs. The job and company trend tracker site reported that for the first time in five years, “employees’ fear of being laid off has reached a new low (15%), down seven percentage points since last quarter and at its lowest level since Q408.”

Perhaps this might grab the attention of big business as well as provide the beginnings of a new conversation toward retaining highly skilled employees who spew creativity. That brings us back to the Ultradian Cycle and the use of it in the workplace.

Tapping Your Inner Ultradian

To get the real deal on embracing the Ultradian Cycle toward more creativity, I went to one of the original theorists responsible for shedding light on the Ultradian Cycles two decades ago: Psychologist Ernest Rossi PhD who wrote The 20-Minute Break back in the 1991. This was right before Irrational Exuberance took flight with the dot-com bubble, the coming era of corporate malfeasance, the recession which stripped trillions from the economy and the collective collapse of the self esteem of the masses.

Sadly, it was just a prelude for the Digital Exuberance of our current times, which adds to the exhaustion, stress and distraction of the workforce.

Rossi foresaw what was happening around stress in the world, workplace and its impact on creativity. In his new e-book, Creating New Consciousness in Everyday Life: The Psycho-Social Genomics of Self Creation, he along with his wife psychotherapist Kathyrn Lane Rossi PhD, synthesize the research and break down Ultradian Cycles through the more modern lens of neuroscience, and in terms of it being a stress response or a healing response. (The healing perception yielding to creativity.)

I’m still sinking my teeth into it and here’s why: Rossi’s CV reads like an encyclopedia of psychotherapeutic history including his work with renowned psychiatrist Milton Erickson, MD. Rossi’s life has been dedicated to the study of consciousness and certainly the creative impulse. So I figure he has a good handle on this.

The Ultradian Cycle, Stress and Creativity

With the advent of neuroscience backed by technology, in a business culture which is in great need of a human-capital value-reboot (Forbes: 10 Reasons the Human Capital Zeitgeist is Emerging), Rossi’s work is worth a closer look. He recently answered some questions for me on the correlation among the Ultradian Cycle, stress and creativity.

JUDY: How can one best utilize the laws of the 90/20 Ultradian Cycle or as it was termed back in the 1950′s as BRAC, to offset the stress response, especially in the workplace?

ERNEST: Most important is learning how to recognize the same choice point we all come to every hour and a half or so, throughout every 24-hour period. We can choose to dismiss our need to take-a-break as being negative sign that we are just weak or lazy, or we can with great self-sensitivity and self-respect, choose to take-a-break and self-reflect on what new intuitions, insights or self-healing that may be trying to breakthrough to manifest in our brain/mind. It’s important to make a habit of developing a positive context for recognizing our personal patterns of mind/body communication and creativity.

JUDY: Without a rest period after 1.5 hours, are we less creative and productive? 

ERNEST: Yes! And we also make more mistakes. We have poor judgment and cannot discriminate well between good and bad habits that come up during our brain storming sessions. We are more impatient with ourselves, and others. Personal and professional relationships deteriorate very rapidly.

JUDY:  What is the correlation between brain plasticity and the creative process when trying to boost performance? If we form better working habits around the Ultradian Response or Cycle, will we be more creative?

ERNEST: Of course! This is the essence of Rossi’s theory (you can read more about it in his book where he discusses the creative cycle, gene expression and brain plasticity). This creative cycle happens naturally throughout the 24 hour day. This means nature gives us a gift of about 12 creative cycles every day – if we are sensitive enough to listen to her and take appropriate UHR’s breaks throughout the day.

JUDY:  Can you speak to how best to respond when we are tired and hit a roadblock?

ERNEST: Have you ever noticed how often you may initially feel stuck when presented with a creative challenge? This is the time to take an ultradian rest break – perhaps have a glass of water, a little snack, use the rest room, meditate for a quiet moment or take a brisk walk for about 5-15 minutes.  Get free of distractions and learn how to recognize your personal pattern of the comfort that comes naturally when you enjoy The Ultradian Healing Response (UHR).

Comfort is the big secret of the Ultradian Healing Response. Comfort means you are in nature’s recovery room and you are doing your UHR right.  Everyone experiences it a bit differently. What is your comfort zone like?  Realize how it is your unique positive emotional fingerprint. Explore it joyfully.

JUDY: Where does motivational stress or “eustress” fit into the model of innovative creativity?

ERNEST: Eustress is the initially good feeling of arousal or waking up (a natural a form of positive motivation) you have when you are so interested in a new challenge that it actually turns on your genes to make the neurotransmitters that activate your mind-brain to optimize brain plasticity. That is the basis of creating new cognitions and consciousness. (creativity)

JUDY: How do we know when we hit a limit of motivational stress, before we become unproductive?

ERNEST: Everyone has to learn what their Ultradian Stress Response feels like – it’s usually the opposite of what your Ultradian Healing Response feels like.  This is what happens when you get stuck in stage two (of the 4-stage creative process) because your mind-brain needs more time to actually grow more neurons to support the creation of new consciousness.  So you need to be extra nice to yourself with self-supporting attitudes by replaying memories of earlier experiences of successful problem solving. Everyone needs to learn to recognize and respect their own personal rhythms of peak performance and need for healing rest and recovery.

Do you better understand why that break from work is so important? Will you start changing your habits – and if so what will they look like. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. @judyMartin8 


  • Lori Gosselin

    Wow Judy, thanks for this! I’ve added the book you refer to to my Wish List (Got to read what I already have first!) I’m intensely interested in the neuroscience and in this ultradian cycle. I’m playing with it now, setting my iPod for 90 minutes and testing it out for myself!

    By the way, the book I want to read before ordering this one is Spontaneous Evolution by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. I’m glad I found you (we’re Triberr mates) and I’m subscribing!
    Lori Gosselin

    • http://www.worklifenation.com JudyMartin

      Hi Lori,
      Yes, I have you on my radar. I spend some time with @BruceLipton and also read much of his book. He’s a true pioneer. Have a great weekend!

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