This article will cover in depth the idea of cycle-optimization. It will explain:
- What it is
- The rationale behind it
- Its benefits
What is cycle-optimization?
Basically cycle-optimizing means planning your life around your cycle so that your plans suit best the time of the cycle.
Cycle optimization is based on two ideas:
- our hormones have an important influence on our day-to-day functioning, and they fluctuate along the cycle
- by planning our life in an adapted way, we can harness the positive influences of the cycle to our advantage, and minimize the negative ones.
The influence of hormones on us
To understand the rationale behind cycle-optimization, let’s explain the profound influence of hormones on us.
Hormones are chemical messengers that circulate inside our body, causing different organs, including the brain, to act in certain ways. The body uses various hormones to coordinate processes like reproduction, metabolism, sleep and more.
The effects of hormones can be physiological, psychological or both.
For instance, oxytocin is involved both in the physiological process of breastfeeding and in psychological processes like romantic attachment.
Not only do hormone influence us, our behaviors can also influence hormones. For instance, you can raise your oxytocin by hugging someone.
The bottom line here is that our body/mind and hormones are tightly intertwined, and by becoming aware of the mechanisms of hormones we can start using that connection to our advantage.
We can :
- use the predictable hormonal fluctuations of the cycle as an opportunity to do certain things (and we’ll explain that in a minute)
- consciously create changes in our hormonal levels to improve our physiology and behaviors (for instance hugging someone to raise your oxytocin and become more sociable)
Do the right things at the right time
Think of your life as the training of an athlete: there are appropriate times to train, eat, stretch, rest etc.
A professional sprinter wouldn’t train right after eating a huge meal, because his body is focused on digesting the food at that moment, making him less apt at sprinting.
Likewise, there are appropriate times to do certain things along the cycle. For instance, taking life decisions during the worst week of PMS, when you’re anxious and depressed, is not the best idea.
On the other side, there are positive edges to each phase of the cycle.
For instance, during ovulation women experience a peak of testosterone, making them more self-confident and competitive. This is a great time for risk taking, confrontations, and adventure.
Hormones can impact virtually any part of our life. Appetite, cognitive functions, mood, sports performance, social skills, bodily functions, emotions are all things that are affected by hormones.
Some examples of cycle-optimization:
- Schedule tasks that require high social intelligence around ovulation to benefit from the ovulation oxytocin peak. Oxytocin makes us more apt at reading social situations.
- Want to eat less sugar ? Start your new diet habits just after menstruation to benefit from higher insulin sensitivity. Higher insulin sensitivity makes you more satisfied from meals, increases satiety and makes you less attracted to sweet stuff.
- Keep tasks which require introspection and silence for the week or two before period, when progesterone makes you eager to loneliness and reflection.
- Need some “balls” to accomplish something risky? Schedule that around ovulation, to use the testosterone peak, which increases self-confidence, risk-taking and aggression.
Still not convinced? Let’s dive into a detailed example to understand better the mechanisms of hormones and how we can harness them.
The Oxytocin example
Here’s a detailed example of cycle optimization, using the ovulation’s peak of oxytocin.
Properties of Oxytocin
Oxytocin, aka the cuddle hormone, is a lot more powerful than just making us want to cuddle.
Oxytocin is a fascinating hormone which is deeply involved in most social behaviors. It plays a role in group cohesion, trust, maternal behavior, aggression, mating, social memory, coping with anxiety and more.
Oxytocin facilitates social interaction by making us better at picking up and responding to social stimuli, like facial expressions, body odors or response to threats. It also raises trust, empathy and the ability to collaborate with group members.
In other words, oxytocin makes us more socially intelligent.
Harnessing Oxytocin to our Advantage
Let’s see how we can use the properties of oxytocin in our daily lives.
As we’ve already mentioned, there is a natural peak of oxytocin during the days around ovulation. That means that women are naturally more socially intelligent at that time of the cycle.
If you pay attention to your behavior along the cycle, you may notice that around ovulation you tend to be more sociable, and more sensitive to the people around you.
From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense: at the time a woman is the most fertile, higher social intelligence is an advantage to select the right mate.
That social intelligence can be useful for modern life situations where you need to communicate, be charismatic, negotiate, network, or read complex social situations.
For instance, having a hard conversation with your manager around ovulation, at a time when your brain is better at being social, is a big advantage: it will enable you
- to express yourself better
- to read your interlocutor better
- to cope better with threat and anxiety
- to have higher trust and empathy
On the other hand, doing that kind of conversation while having PMS symptoms could result in a bad outcome for both parties.
Here are some common PMS symptoms and how they can affect the said conversation with your manager:
- social anxiety makes you shut down and affect the way you express yourself
- low self-esteem will make you settle for less
- the tendency to create conflicts will make you react to the smallest trigger from the other party
All those symptoms of PMS can potentially make you suck at having difficult conversations.
A good outcome to that conversation, and you improved your work-life. A bad outcome, and this can sap your motivation at work, progress, and ultimately your happiness.
That’s just one example of how to harness the cycle to your advantage. There are dozens of ways to do that in many areas of your life.
Planning important events of your life around your cycle can help you accumulate small victories in many areas of your life, pushing you forward faster than if you didn’t use your natural cycle-granted abilities.