Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


The C-P-C cycle
The C-P-C Cycle is described by Kelly as the cycle of construction involved in decision-making in which the self is involved. He defines it as
"a sequence of construction involving, in succession, circumspection, preemption, and control, and leading to a choice which precipitates the person into a particular situation".
(Kelly, 1955, pp 379-390/Vol. 1, pp 261-263/Vol. 2)
Circumspection is the stage in which we consider issues propositionally, from a variety of angles. In the preemption stage, we select what we believe to be the critical issue and eliminate the other options from consideration. Finally, in the control phase we choose the alternative action through which we anticipate the greater possibility for extension or definition of our construct system.
In everyday terms, Kelly may appear to be doing little more than describing decision-making as a process of considering options, choosing one, and making something happen, but this simplification ignores the difficulty many of us regularly experience in moving smoothly through the three stages.
The circumspection phase may be bypassed if we construe preemptively, considering few, if any, alternatives to our first ideas. Our construction of the situation may be so simple that we "quickly run out of angles from which to view it". Interestingly, Kelly warns us that the decisiveness we observe in those who preempt prematurely means that they may often be perceived as leaders, since the tendency to speedy preemption is seen to characterise the "man of action".
We may also find ourselves exercising maximum control by choosing from a constricted range of possibilities as a way of dealing with the anxiety and threat involved in opening up to more multidimensional construing. We construe the situation preemptively, casting it into a single issue in an impulsive attempt to escape anxiety.

Alternatively, if we construe relatively loosely, and habitually dilate our world to allow more and more variations, the preemption stage becomes the difficulty. The more we consider, the more implications and possibilities emerge. Fascinating and significant though they may be, staying in circumspection too long holds us well back from any form of action. Kelly describes vividly the soldier who, remembering his other roles in life and considering a variety of ways of construing his actions, may find himself unable to crawl out of his foxhole.
A reasonable balance of circumspection and preemption allows us to assume control – to design and undertake an appropriate behavioural experiment. A clear choice and robust experimental design are the features of the control phase. While we are encouraged by Kelly to jump in with both feet, we are also cautioned to make sure there is somewhere to land. We aim to elaborate our predictive system through action, but we also need to maintain its essential features, rather than find ourselves thrown into chaos.
As we consider the process of decision-making from a variety of angles (that is, as we take a circumspective view of the C-P-C cycle), we begin to see that, far from being a simple and rather obvious process, it might be unusual for us, individually or collectively, to go through a well-balanced cycle. Kelly's insightful descriptions of the three stages can help us discover what might be happening when decision-making becomes problematic, and the cyclical model enables us see how we might move forward (or indeed backwards) with creativity.  


  • Kelly, G.A. (1955). The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton.

Mary Frances

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004