Ecology check OR What will my mum say?

16 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on

When we think about, plan and actively start to change something in our lives, we often focus on the process itself and the end goal as a fixed point. Training for a marathon, saving money to buy xyz, writing a book…. there often is a moment when something has been achieved. And often we don’t think much beyond that point.

Our actions affect others more than we sometimes think. Especially when we plan to change something, we sometimes focus too much on what this means for us, without fully taking into account that there is a life beyond that fixed moment and also how others will be affected too.

A useful little systemic technique that often gets used in NLP is called the “ecology check”. During this check, we “go meta”, we anticipate possible future consequences of an action or a change. In line with systemic thinking, the individual is always part of one (and more) systems: with oneself, relationships, family, circles of friends, workplace, neighbourhood, city, etc. The dynamics within a system are influenced by the individuals within it and hence anything anybody does affects others and has consequences.

At least one consequence very often is the motivation that gets us going in the first place. Say I want to earn more money, one consequence of looking for a new job may be a higher salary. I want to lose weight, so one consequence of more exercise and less/different food is a lower number on the scale. Some consequences are more appealing, motivating, attractive than others. Some consequences are more obvious than others. When we are focused on reaching a particular goal, we sometimes only focus on one or a couple of consequences.

Going through an “ecology check” means looking at ALL possible consequences in ALL possible systems when making a change and preparing ourselves for them.

  • What will I lose?
  • What will I win?
  • What will change?
  • What will remain the same?
  • What is the total price of this change and am I prepared to pay for it?
  • What happens after a particular goal has been reached?
  • How will others be affected by the change?
  • How will they react?
  • Are there possible negative reactions?

Perhaps we uncover some unexpected consequences or even potential conflicts (with ourselves or with others). “My sister has been trying for a baby for years. If I now fall pregnant, how will she react? How can I handle a potential conflict?” or “If I get this new job, this means a much longer work commute. What will I now have less time for? How can I use that commute time productively?”.

Going through such a process allows us to become aware of and prepare for potential consequences. This also allows us to see possible good consequences in a difficult change (divorce, unemployment etc.) or also see possible negative consequences in what seems to be an entirely positive change (the cost of new clothes after losing weight). By making these visible, we acknowledge them and we can prepare ourselves and others for what may be coming. Perhaps we never thought about our mother’s feelings when applying for a new job in a different country. Perhaps we never really considered how suddenly cancelling a weekly meeting would affect our best friend, when we decided we needed time to train for a marathon. Perhaps we realise that we actually need many more resources for making this change than we initially thought and that perhaps now is not the best time time for it.

Pro-actively including others in our journeys of change gives them the chance to voice concerns. It can also unlock help and support we never expected. Perhaps our mom just needs to learn how to properly use Skype. Perhaps our best buddy wants to join in. Falling over the finish line and collapsing on the floor together can be a lot more fun than doing it alone!

Picture: TeroVasalainen via Pixabay / CC0


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