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Stuck in a Rut?

Here’s how to evolve for the better.

Key points

  • If you're in a rut, diversifying your behaviors helps you learn what works best in a given context.
  • Pay attention to what new actions bring you vitality, give you meaning, and support your values.
  • Once you get the ball rolling in a values-based direction, keep it going by reinforcing it.

I love routines. I could eat the same breakfast, run the same route, and read the same books for years. When I hold too tightly to things staying the same, I stagnate and block growth. To evolve in your career, relationships, health practices, or spirituality, you need to stretch beyond what’s comfortable.

If you are stuck in a work rut, need to spruce up your relationship, or get out of an exercise funk, you can use the principles of evolution to get moving again.

Evolution isn’t just about genetics; it applies to all kinds of change—genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, psychological, and cultural.

Three Ways to Help You to Evolve Psychologically

Here are three principles of evolution that researchers Steven Hayes, Stefan Hofmann, and Joseph Ciarrochi use in Process-based Therapy to help you get unstuck.

  1. Variation. Like Darwin’s finches with a diversity of beaks, you need a variety of behaviors to learn what works best for you. Pick a domain you are feeling stuck in (family, work, spirituality, etc.). List all the different ways you could change things up in that domain: Think of things you haven’t tried but seen other people do, something that your mind says you “can’t do” and things you used to do but have given up over time. Behavioral stretching builds psychological flexibility and offers you a mood boost to keep at it.
  2. Selection. As you are trying out new ways of acting, pay attention to which ones bring you vitality, give you meaning, and support your values. Do you feel like you are making a difference? Use scientific self-help to track your progress toward values-based goals. Let go of your ego (it’s not about what looks good or what other people think) and choose activities that bring you psychological richness and health.
  3. Retention. It’s a lot easier to maintain a new habit than to start one. Once you get the ball rolling in a values-based direction, you can keep it moving by reinforcing it. Use intrinsic reinforcers like telling yourself, “I am building the life I want by doing this,” and savor the good feeling of making a change for the better.

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More from Diana Hill, Ph.D.
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