How To Leverage Punctuated Equilibrium For Personal Growth

Have you heard of the Term Punctuated Equilibrium? It’s the term evolutionary scientists use to describe a widely held theory related to evolution. According to this theory, evolution happens mainly in short bursts of rapid and sometimes massive changes that “punctuate” long stretches of “equilibrium.”

It’s also sometimes, and affectionately I’m sure, called Punk Eek! (I think it’s safe to say that those evolutionary scientists have a darn good sense of humor and maybe a bit too much time on their hands!)

Here’s the official Wikipedia definition:

Punctuated equilibrium is a theory in evolutionary biology. It states that most sexually reproducing populations will show little change for most of their geological history, and that when phenotypic evolution does occur, it is localized in rare, rapid events of branching speciation (called cladogenesis).

Got it?

This theory is not accepted by all scientists: Another school of thought embraces what they call Phyletic Gradualism (these guy s don’t have a catchy nickname) which states that evolution happens gradually and continually.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition:

Phyletic gradualism is a macroevolutionary hypothesis rooted in uniformitarianism. The hypothesis states that species continue to adapt to new challenges over the course of their history, gradually becoming new species… During this process, evolution occurs at a slow but constant rate; for this reason, it is known as “evolution by creeps” (as opposed to punctuated equilibrium, or “evolution by jerks”)

Phyletic gradualism has been largely deprecated as the exclusive pattern of evolution by modern evolutionary biologists in favor of the acceptation of occurrence of patterns such as those described on punctuated equilibrium, quantum evolution, and punctuated gradualism.

Note that this theory “has been largely deprecated,” meaning it is no longer accepted by a large portion of the scientific community.

And that makes sense to me, because in my personal experience and observation of others, personal growth and evolution seems to happen more like Punctuated Equilibrium than Phyletic Gradualism. And it makes sense that our personal evolution would follow a similar pattern as our macro or societal evolution.

There are times, most of the time in fact, when we are coasting along, making gradual, incremental changes in our lives. We are in a homeostasis or equilibrium state. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, these times are important because they allow us to rest and integrate and prepare for the next round of punctuation!

Because, once in a while, our equilibrium is punctuated by something that throws us into a rapid state of growth. It could be a job loss or a divorce, an illness or the death of a loved one. Or it could be something internal that just bubbles up to the surface ready to be acknowledged and healed so that you can move to the next level of your life.

So if you accept that personal evolution flows in a pattern of Punctuated Equilibrium pattern how can you leverage this knowledge to accelerate your personal growth? Here are some suggestions:

1. Learn to recognize when you are in a phase of equilibrium or homeostasis and when you are in a phase of punctuation or rapid growth.
If you want to leverage this pattern to accelerate your personal growth the first step is to become aware of which part of the cycle you are presently in. Begin to recognize the symptoms and signs of equilibrium and of punctuation. There will be physical, mental, and emotional patterns indicative of each phase. In general, if you notice you are having more resistant emotions than usual, it is a sign that you are either in or moving towards a period of punctuation.

2. Ideally, learn to recognize the signs that you are beginning to move from a period of homeostasis into a period of rapid growth.
A more advanced form of awareness provides you with an early warning system. You begin to recognize the signs and signals that indicate you are preparing to head into a period of rapid personal evolution.

3. Take full advantage of your time in the equilibrium state.
For leading edge thinkers, the equilibrium state is not a time for twiddling your thumbs. This is a time of integration, rejuvenation and sharing. During these periods of homeostasis you put into action the insights and new awareness you have gained from the last round of punctuation. This is also a time for sharing and modeling what you have learned with others. And finally, this is a time to truly enjoy and appreciate our life experience.

4. Don’t rock the boat of equilibrium.
This is a tough one for me. I was affectionately given a charter membership in the “Gluttons for Growth Group” while working through the Master of Intuition Program I was going through the Academy of Intuition Medicine. For some of you, like me, the equilibrium times will be the uncomfortable phase. If there is no crisis or upheaval or rapid growth happening, you’ll want to shake things up and jump right back into a period of punctuation. Don’t do it! Both phases, equilibrium and upheaval, are necessary for your personal growth. And trust me…your equilibrium will be punctuated without your help.

5. When your equilibrium is punctuated, ask for support.
Let go of the Lone Ranger approach to personal growth. It doesn’t work! When you find yourself in a period of rapid growth or approaching one, call in the cavalry. When you ask for and allow support into your life during these times of rapid growth, you can dramatically accelerate your return to equilibrium. It’s important to have support systems in place before you enter a period of punctuation. I just launched a new program, the Rapid Evolution Mentorship, for times like this.

6. Just say “NO” to the sweep it under the rug school of personal evolution.
During times of rapid personal growth, crisis and upheaval, it is tempting to do whatever you can to return to homeostasis as quickly as possible. During these times of potential growth, issues will most likely come up that are uncomfortable and downright painful. Sweeping them under the rug does not make them go away. It just causes them to go back into hiding and regroup for the next round. And when they come out next time you can bet they will be even more potent! And even if you are able to return to equilibrium it will be at the same level as before. You will not have stepped up to the next level in your personal evolution and will have, therefore, wasted the time you spent in the punctuation period.

7. Mine the moment for gold.
It is during these periods of upheaval and rapid evolution that you will find the true gold in your life. Carl Jung called this the “Gold hidden in the shadows.” During these periods of rapid evolution higher levels of personal awareness are available to you if you’re willing to do the work. In this case, doing the work means being willing to look at and explore whatever is coming up. When you dive into the underlying elements that are bubbling up from your subconscious mind, you will facilitate a faster return to equilibrium AND a higher level of personal awareness. In other words, you will bring that gold back with you into your next period of equilibrium. And that gold will help you create a better life for youself and for those around you.
8. Know that it’s all good!
This is a tough one for some people. Most of us want to claw our way out of those periods of punctuation as quickly as possible. A few of us slightly strange folks (yes I’m one of them) can’t wait to dive back into the punctuation. In reality the most enlightened approach to Personal Punctuated Equilibrium is to enjoy both phases. Think of it this way: At an amusement park you’re not on a ride the entire time. You walk around, grab a snack, wait in line, and then get on a roller coaster for a short, thrilling ride. Punctuated equilibrium works the same way. You need both of them if either of them is to be truly effective.

Both the periods of punctuation and the periods of equilibrium are necessary for our personal growth. And if you judge either of them as bad or negative, you will minimize your ability to grow and the overall quality of your life.

So enjoy all of it and always be ready for your next ride!

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    3 Responses to “How To Leverage Punctuated Equilibrium For Personal Growth”

    1. Josh on February 14th, 2008 9:39 am

      Great post Ed. Have heard the term, but never really understood it’s meaning. Great tie in with your field of interest as well.

    2. Ria Kennedy on February 15th, 2008 11:10 am

      Hi, Ed, great post and punctuated equilibrium seems an accurate description.

      Might I add though this seems to be an all-over effect, and not localized to one area. For instance, for me, my personal life, writing life and promotional life are all going through major leaps and bounds simultaneously, as opposed to in sequence.

      The catalyst? I gave up on trying to make it go how I wanted and it started all going how I wanted. I’d like to hear your theory on that!!!

    3. Jack Tally on May 19th, 2008 9:33 am

      I was thinking of the term punctuated equilibrium the other day and it’s relationship to education theory, specifically, transformative learning.

      Your understanding is close to what I was thinking when I put the two together. Nice.

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