Why does a holistic context matter?

Why does it work? How could it be that writing down a few sentences (sometimes only one) about the quality of life desired can change the course of our lives? Spencer and I are diving into these questions this year, so our house is filled with podcasts about paradigms, the sound of The Secret audio book playing as we clean the dinner dishes. The reason a holistic context works, we believe is that it creates a positive image that literally re-wires our brains on a subconscious level, thus allowing our habits and behavior to permanently change.


That’s a lot to digest. Let’s unpack it.

And we’ll start, as most things do (at least in our business), in Africa.

The fabric of a holistic context

I wrote my first holistic context at the age of 23, while I was living with Dick and Judy Richardson at their cattle farm in Vryburg, South Africa. They were holistic management educators and I had come to study and live with them for one month. During our morning rides through the veld to move cattle, check water, soil conditions, and in the evenings as we enjoyed the sunset in the bush with apple ciders and beer, Dick coached me in thinking through a quality of life statement. It must harness our deepest desires, our deepest beliefs. Allan Savory says it expresses the values we are willing to die for–rather than let live unrealized. Being 23 in South Africa was the perfect time for me to pause in my life–completely alone and away from common, comfortable influences–and ask myself what I truly wanted my life to be about. At night, without gadgets or media, I would journal. Outside my open window the cicadas buzzed and the summer breeze brought in the comforting smell of cooling grasslands.

The values surfacing in my quality of life statement and the descriptions of the land in my future resource base were firmly rooted in my childhood (and I was suddenly so grateful to have had a magical, wonderful childhood, where good values could take root, because later I learned, it takes considerable work to overcome the impressions and paradigms we establish in childhood). With  my holistic context I painted a picture of freedom and happiness, vibrant life, deep satisfaction and peace. The land I described was clean and renewing–itself full of diversity, excitement and life. I returned home full of hope. The narrative of agriculture in the United States was one of despair. Growing up on a California commercial cattle ranch in the 1980s and 90s, I have memories of adults talking about plummeting beef prices, ranches being lost, alcoholism, families breaking apart. To underscore this, red meat was written about in newspapers and on TV as a villain–a cause of cancer and destroyer of the environment. Yet these narratives were in stark contrast to the realities I experienced as a child. I wasn’t able to overcome the power and influence of those negative narratives until I locked into the values expressed in my holistic context and wove together a mental image of a future I wanted more than anything else. And holistic management gave me the hope that I could both change and create change for those I loved. I saw those narratives for what they truly were–one possible outcome driven by certain actions that were in turn a product of certain beliefs about how the world works and who has the power to change it.

How change happens

How do we actually bring about change using our holistic context? It has nothing to do with knowledge. It is all about behavior and habits, which are rooted in the subconscious. Learning this recently on a Sean Croxton podcast, was a real “ah-ha” moment for me. I had been contemplating how we plan our futures and felt that there was something fundamentally missing from how we pursued our “passions.”

For example, now in our mid-thirties, I find my very accomplished and professionally distinguished friends unsatisfied with life. Dragging themselves to their high-paying jobs, wondering what is next, am I going to be doing this for the rest of my life?  As I was having one such conversation recently with a dear friend who is about to make a big leap to completely change a career she spent decades building, I flashed on a college-day conversation we had about our careers. What is now a ball and chain around the neck was once the ultimate goal–one she invested significant years of her life and savings into. It mattered a lot. But now it is something to escape. How did that happen? What will prevent the next career from ending up in the same state? Is it simply natural growth and an evolution of our interests? Or are we lacking some critical element from our decision making process? Would having a holistic context that helps us realize our most deeply held values bring about satisfaction and help us gracefully enter into (and exit from)  careers? I think yes, it can.

No matter what change is desired, if it is to be lasting it must include a lot of self reflection. As a fan of paleo cooking and a reader of many paleo blogs, I see this in the health and fitness arena too. Why do diets not work? Why are people constantly trying to lose the same 20 pounds? It is, according to our research, because despite how much we know, change does not happen until we change our paradigms, which drive our behavior, which drives our habits, which drive our actions. Paradigms, the root cause of the patterns in our lives are our deeply held beliefs about how the world works. They are formed when we are children and our subconscious is wide open. Paradigms can be positive (I am a capable person who can achieve goals) or negative (nothing ever changes, wealth is unobtainable, money is bad, etc.). If they are negative and are standing in the way of the life we truly desire, work has to be done to first change or shift these paradigms. Otherwise, change will not happen. So how do we change paradigms? There are books about this, but in our own words, it is about re-wiring our thinking to be positive and in the process releasing the negative paradigms or non-truths.

Here are the methods Spencer and I are using to understand our deeply held beliefs, re-wire our thinking and change our behavior: 

  • Keeping a gratitude journal: becoming aware of and surfacing gratitude creates happiness
  • Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) tapping: this is amazingly simple but has had profound effects on my stress level, because it is changing the way I react (behavior) to certain events, memories and feelings
  • Meditation: being self-aware and self accepting is a daily effort, it is where it all begins. How can you change if you are not aware of your behavior or habits?
  • Exercise and getting outside: We are lucky enough to be in a wilderness area (and/or at a ranch) within minutes of leaving our front door. We exercise outside everyday, no matter the weather. Being in nature has a proven calming effect and exercise improves mood, thinking and cognitive function. Moving in nature is important.
  • Reading: We read the work of people who inspire us. Aren’t books awesome? Reading is like having a conversation with the great minds of our time in the comfort of our homes. I am reading about whole systems investing, the true meaning of health and of course a little Dr. Seuss with Maezy. Spencer is reading about holistic management success stories and how to create healthy soil (of course).
  • Listening: We love podcasts and TED Talks. Sean Croxton, Adam Griffin and Ben Greenfield are some of our podcast/blogger heros. We are listening to The Secret audio book now. These are great ways to get chores done, like cleaning the house or doing dishes.We actually look forward to these mundane tasks now because it is our podcast/audio book time.
  • Surrounding ourselves with positive and inspirational people: thanks to technology today (and books), we can learn from amazing people. We invest our time in people who help us improve.
  • Practicing Holistic Management: writing down a holistic context is step one, the power of it comes in using it to make decisions. We are constantly trying to improve our use of our context and the holistic management testing guidelines. We don’t use the guidelines for every decision, but when we do, our decision is ten times better and we feel satisfaction and fulfillment from the outcome. It works. It is that simple. It truly works.  Our goal this year is to use the guidelines in every decision, from the long-term to the ordinary, so it becomes a habit and thus part of our natural behavior.

Make it happen

If you are seeking true change in your life and want to understand how holistic management can play a role in shifting your habits, behavior and paradigms, contact us for a free 30-minute consultation or join us at a workshop.

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