4 Steps to Start Living Your Life in Process

December 27, 2021

If there is one word you should embrace in 2022, it’s “process.” If you are a striver, you probably love words like “product,” “outcome,” and “finish line.” But these words […]

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Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion


If there is one word you should embrace in 2022, it’s “process.”

If you are a striver, you probably love words like “product,” “outcome,” and “finish line.” But these words have less meaning in a shape-shifting pandemic that has no concrete end in sight. They also don’t ring true when it comes to parenting when every developmental milestone your kid reaches opens the door to a new set of challenges. And there is no finish line when you are in recovery from an addiction or mental health struggle, where lapses are part of the process.

I’ve interviewed dozens of leaders in the fields of psychology and wellness and the one word that rises to the surface in our conversations is “process.” Whether it’s Kristin Neff talking about developing self-compassion or Helen Neville sharing how to heal racial trauma—it’s a process.

There are two important things you should know about the word “process” when it comes to your mental health:

  1. Focusing on process over outcome helps you be more present and adaptable, and it fosters a growth mindset.
  2. The future of psychology is a process-based one.

What does that mean?

Process Over Outcome

If you could draw a line representing the ups and downs and twists and turns of your life thus far, it would be a squiggly one. When I work with clients in recovery from eating disorders, I often show them a picture of a labyrinth. Recovery’s never a straight shot and no matter how long you’ve been at it, you can take a turn that ends up feeling like you are at the beginning again. Tending to the process helps you stick with it when an old pattern shows up. You refocus your awareness on the present moment, the task at hand, and take a step forward.

Carol Dwek has shown us a lot about the benefits of process-based, growth mindsets. With over three decades of research, she’s helped us see that kids who are told they are smart, “tend to give up sooner on difficult tasks compared to kids who are told they are ‘working hard.’” Health behavior research has similar findings. When you focus on outcomes like weight loss when starting a healthy behavior, you are likely to give up sooner than if you shift your attention towards the process of pursuing your values or the positive feeling of moving your body more. If you solely focus on the outcome of a scale, what happens when we don’t see the results we want? Do you give up?

Viewing your life, your behavior change, and your struggles as a process frees you up to enjoy the journey and to find your way back when you inevitably get off track.

Your Psychology Is Based On Processes

The second reason process is the word of the future is because it maps onto where psychological science is headed. There’s a ground-breaking paper by Steven Hayes and Stefan Hoffman called, The Future of Intervention Science: Process-Based Psychology. In it, these two leaders argue that the field is moving away from what Hayes has called “the alphabet soup” of discrete protocols to treat diagnoses (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for OCD, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for borderline personality disorder(BPD), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)) and toward underlying processes that promote human flourishing and change (e.g., acceptance, perspective-taking, committed action toward values). Healing from your addiction, depression, or anxiety involves engaging in processes such as the willingness to be open to discomfort and stepping back from unhelpful thoughts and behaviors toward values goals.

There is no one perfect technique or strategy that will solve your problems, but rather it’s the processes you engage in that matter. As psychological research continues to evolve, we will increasingly understand the core processes that underlie living well and be able to apply them in an idiosyncratic and contextual way.

4 Steps To Start Living Your Life In Process

You can develop a process-based approach to living each and every moment of your life. Here are four strategies to try today:

  1. Tend to the moment at hand: The foundation of living in process is being in the present moment. When you notice yourself getting focused on the outcome or product, bring your attention back to the task you are engaging in. What does it feel like in your body to be in this moment? What is happening in the world around you?
  2. Zoom out: Sometimes being in process involves seeing the big picture. Stepping back and looking at your journey this far gives you a fresh perspective, like an airplane looking at the mountains and cities below. Zoom out from time to time and see how parenting, the pandemic, and your relationships are evolving and changing over time.
  3. Look for themes: What are the core ways of engaging with the world (processes) that have helped you most in life? What about ways that you engage that trip you up? For example, when you are more accepting, compassionate, and courageous, how is your experience different when you are more rigid or caught in critical thoughts?
  4. Savor the journey: Savoring is one of the key psychological processes that promote well-being. Savoring is also key to dealing with uncertainty. Tending to the process of your life slows it down a bit so you can savor it more. Give yourself the time to savor the sweet moments today, even if they are embedded in uncertainty about the outcome.

For more strategies from clinical science and contemplative practice to grow more psychologically flexible and flourish in your daily life, listen to my podcast Your Life in Process.

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