How to Tell if You’re in an Evolutionary Bottleneck (and What to Do About It)

author: david collura Jul 02, 2021

An evolutionary bottleneck is a period of personal restriction or difficulty that we may experience when we are undergoing some growth or change process. Like a literal bottleneck, it makes free movement more difficult and tends to force a choice: forward or back. Knowing that we are in a bottleneck can be crucial in helping us to navigate it with maturity.

Bottlenecks occur because we are connected to our ecosystems. Our patterns of acting, thinking, feeling, and so on do not exist in a vacuum. We are adapted to our environments. We adapt to external environments like society, our relationships, and our surroundings. We also adapt to internal environments like our biological systems and rhythms, our psychological states, and so on. This interconnection becomes more complex when we consider multidimensionality: there are energetic layers, fields, relationships to which we are connected and many different ways.

When we change ourselves, we change our connections to our ecosystems. This does not mean that every single connection must be reformed entirely. But insofar as our personal change disrupts an established pattern with an ecosystem, that relationship will have to adjust accordingly.

As an example, consider someone who wants to stop a bad habit. In stopping the bad habit, they may be losing a psychological crutch that must be replaced with new (ideally healthier) behaviors. If the bad habit was a way of connecting with certain people, they may need to find new ways of connecting to those people, or connect with other communities that do not require that bad habit in order to connect. On a personal level, our behaviors are entangled with our very identities; so the person may find they even need to think of themselves differently in order to move past the bad habit. (Note that while this example may sound like someone making a large change to reform an addictive behavior such as substance abuse, in many cases it is smaller and more incremental. For example, someone overcoming traits of passivity, rigidity, or insecurity.)

So, personal change often means persisting through internal and external pressures. These pressures do not identify themselves for us. So, when we experience the pressures associated with personal growth, most acutely during an evolutionary bottleneck, it is often not clear why we feel the way we do, or what we should do about it. For this reason, understanding that we are in an evolutionary bottleneck can be an essential foundation for getting us through it successfully.

How to Tell If You Are in an Evolutionary Bottleneck

You have made a decision or an intention to change for the better. The catalyst for an evolutionary bottleneck is some personal evolutionary growth process. An evolutionary process is often initiated or faciliated by a personal decision to change or grow some aspect of ourselves. Note that the bottleneck can be so confining that we might lose some connection with that choice. However, the evolutionary catalysis triggered by the choice is still in effect, which is why we are experiencing the bottleneck.

Good times become worse overnight. Usually an evolutionary bottleneck occurs when we have already made some strides toward a meaningful personal change. We may have experienced some euphoria and a sense of self-determination in reaching our goal. Then, some days later, we wake up feeling stressed, sick, depleted, bent out of shape. We were on a roll, and now we are in a rut. This is a signature characteristic of an evolutionary bottleneck.

In the first, happy phase, we are connected to a personal evolutionary flow. We feel optimistic about ourselves and we may be doing a terrific job. In the second, difficult phase, things become hard, because our connections to our ecosystems are responding to the change. We find that previous sources of energy become complicated, and warm relations become strained. In a sense, the first part connects us to the hope and possibility of the future, while the second part connects us to the fear and the limitations of our past and present. In this case, it can be essential that we remain confident, remember the first part, and persist. We will explore this more in the next section.

You feel overwhelmed. The stressors imposed by a bottleneck can seem like they are too much for us to handle. We may experience unpleasant feelings or sensations, interpersonal conflict, even negative synchronicities (unhappy, unlikely coincidences, such as a mechanical failure at a crucial time). In a way, these stressors are too big for us to handle, because they come from the ecosystems that we had relied upon in the past. However, the point of the evolutionary bottleneck is that we move through it and thereby become a stronger, more capable version of ourselves. So if we are not capable of handling the stress, that is all right - because we will become someone who is.

You find yourself avoiding good habits. By ‘good habits’ I mean anything that serves to make you more balanced, capable, or self-sufficient. Some of our good habits will help to keep us connected to our evolutionary process and moving smoothly through the bottleneck. The constrictive forces of the bottleneck can make us feel averse to these good habits. This aversion often operates on an energetic level, so it can manifest in various ways - we may feel tired, forgetful, or just feel we don’t want to do something.

Regular things become harder. Because the bottleneck is imposing a restriction on us, daily life can seem strangely difficult. It can be hard to think clearly or accomplish simple things. We may feel amazingly incapable in these moments - we can remember, however, that this is not our default state, but that we are enduring through a challenging bottleneck.

You are tempted to back down. We may feel that, given the difficulties of the moment, our best option is to take a step back and focus on ourselves, simplifying our affairs and letting the storm pass. The complication in this line of reasoning is that it may impede our continual evolution in this life. Evolutionary bottlenecks are often a fixture of evolution, so developing the capacity to navigate them will help us to have a more evolutionarily-enriched life.

How to Handle an Evolutionary Bottleneck

The choice between forward and backward can seem trivial and easy. From the outside, it is common for us to think, ‘I would never move backward; I would always move forward; I believe in growing and improving.’ But in the complicated experience of an evolutionary bottleneck, the choice can be difficult. It is not uncommon that we do not manage to get through the bottleneck.

Recognize that you are in a bottleneck. The main reason we fail to get through evolutionary bottlenecks is that we do not recognize them as such. If we always had an elevated, multidimensional perspective, we would see ourselves struggling between new patterns and an old, established ecosystem of lifestyle. We would see that a breakthrough is not far off. We would see the need to persist and even to be single-minded, in some respects. Without this perspective, however, we can become bewildered and simply try to alleviate the discomfort, which often means retreating into old patterns.

Remember what you decided when you were more lucid. Before an evolutionary bottleneck, we often feel a clearer sense of who we are and what we want in this life. During the bottleneck, however, we are tempted to rethink our decisions due to the difficulties of the process. Remember if you decided something for yourself when you were in a clearer, more lucid condition, and consider honoring that decision. During the bottleneck, our thinking is usually much fuzzier, so it is likely not the best time to make larger life decisions.

Consider that persistence may be the right option. It is a common human behavior to avoid or retreat when difficulties arise. This type of prudence is very helpful in many areas of life. In the case of an evolutionary bottleneck, however, we may wish to lean against our programming and press into the fray. Remember that the pressures of the bottleneck usually make us feel like things are worse than they really are, so moving through it may be much wiser than it seems in the moment.

Prioritize good habits assertively. Determine which habits help you to stay balanced and self-sufficient, and stay proactive about keeping them up. These will keep us in a stronger state and keep us more in alignment with our evolutionary process, which makes us less prone to the pressures of the bottleneck and our old patterns. Some good habits that I personally find helpful are: drinking copious amounts of water, staying physically active, and eating plenty of healthy food.

Practice energetic wellness, if you have such a practice. Keeping our energies clear, flowing, and balanced will allow us to think, feel, and see more clearly, especially during the difficult times of an evolutionary bottleneck. Practicing yoga, tai chi, or the energy work we teach at Mosaic can be very helpful in this regard. You can learn more about energy work at one of our live or pre-recorded classes.

Identify key evolutionary actions and do them. There are certain activities that may positively reconnect you to your evolutionary flow, such as a specific project or practice which we have felt is key to our evolution. Because the bottleneck operates on an energetic level, we may find ourselves feeling very averse to such activities. In such cases, there is no way to think around it, since the bottleneck is restricting our thoughts. In such cases, it can be extremely liberating to just do the activity. You may find positive results quickly and unmistakeably.

Evolutionary bottlenecks are a natural part of life, although they challenge us in powerful ways. By understanding them in general, identifying them in the moment, and navigating them successfully, we can bring more evolutionary richness and practical enhancement to our lives.

Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

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