If you’ve ever had a pet hamster, then the chances are at some point you might have bought it a hamster wheel.
Then you probably enjoyed watching it having fun running round and round, faster and faster.
Have you ever stopped to consider this from the hamster’s point of view though? We assume it’s a great toy for them, that brings them hours of endless fun, yet is this truly the case? Or do they have fun to begin with, until they realise it takes a lot of effort to keep the wheel moving and somewhere along the way the fun has departed? Not only that, there’s no easy way to get off without the whole thing grinding to a halt.
Have you ever considered that rather than enjoying the experience, the hamster actually feels under pressure to keep the wheel moving?
Some may argue that it’s a great form of exercise, but that’s because the hamster is restricted to exercising in a cage. If it had complete freedom, it’s exercise would come from other activities.
The hamster wheel metaphor has often been used to describe the human condition. That’s because it’s so apt.
Running just to stand still
This is how it goes. We step onto the hamster wheel as we grow up. At first it seems quite easy to keep going and it’s even fun, as we start to acquire some of the trappings of adulthood. Yet as we reach each new stage in our lives, we add more and more onto our load and before long, we find ourselves having to run faster and faster just to keep the wheel in motion.
The crazy thing is that we’re not going anywhere. We’re stuck within a wheel that revolves but doesn’t move forward, it just goes round and round. Eventually, we start to realise that it’s quite stressful and perhaps even pointless, but by then we don’t feel able to jump off because we have this overwhelming sense of having to keep going or our whole life will derail.
That’s not to say that having some kind of routine in our lives is a bad thing. It’s not at all. Routine helps us be productive and get things done. However, when we don’t consciously think about what we’re doing and what we want from life, it can lead to an unfulfilling existence.
A recent Gallup study showed that over two-thirds of Americans admit that they’re not passionate about their jobs. While the study focuses on the US, there’s no reason to believe that the results would be much different in the UK or many other parts of the world.
We find a good job so we have a steady income coming in. Then we get caught up with having the benefits of that job, such as a company car or a pension. Then we take on more expenses such as rent or a mortgage, credit cards, holidays, cars the list goes on. Because we’re receiving a regular salary, we don’t have to think where our money is coming from. So we lose focus and end up on a hamster wheel without being consciously aware it’s happened.
Losing sight of who we are
Then there are the endless distractions bombarding us daily, making us exhausted as we try to keep up with the demands of life. We get swept along by our routine, leaving little time left to question whether our actions are in line with our values and goals or completely at odds with them. We can quickly lose sight of who we really are, leaving us feeling unfulfilled, dissatisfied and uncomfortable.
We tell ourselves that we can’t step off the wheel and that then leads to feelings of being trapped too.
Yet we can always step off and even leave the cage.
If you’re feeling stuck on the hamster wheel of life, then it’s really time to take action. Here are 7 steps to help your jump off the wheel and into a life you love.
1. Pause and do some self-reflection.
Slow down and remove yourself from some of the demands on your life. Put your phone on silent or airplane mode and put yourself at the top of your to-do list. Check in with yourself and take some time out to take stock. Are you focusing on the right priorities? Remember that what your priorities were six months ago, a year or 5 years ago may have changed because you and your circumstances have changed. As a general rule, we don’t spend enough time asking ourselves if our goals are still the right ones. So, take the time to look at the big picture and to reflect on your goals so you can be in a better position to redirect your efforts.
2. Make space to assess your life.
Review what’s going on in your life, what’s working and what’s not. Again, set aside time to come up with ideas for creating the life you want, keeping your eye on your end goal. Think outside the box. There is always more than one way to accomplish something or reach the same destination. Don’t assume you know the only way. Find ways to see other perspectives and adjust your course if need be.
3. Be creative
Indulging in something creative every day can have a lasting impact on your ability to think more clearly and deeply. And it brings fun into your life too!
4. Spend time in the fresh air
Many of us don’t spend enough time outside – because we’re on that hamster wheel! Yet being in the outdoors and breathing in fresh air will help to energise and inspire you as well as being good for your physical wellbeing. Being outside can help to clear your mind as well as help with problem-solving and decision-making.
5. Make meaningful connections
Building professional connections that go beyond small talk or work-related conversations allows you to create supportive relationships and put things into perspective.
6. Focus on joy and appreciation
Being on the hamster wheel often means being conditioned to focus on productivity. We want to get everything done more quickly and more efficiently. In fact, often we just want to get things done, period. Because then we can relax, right? The thing is, the to-do list never ends so we end up working at an increasingly frantic pace just to stand still – like being on a hamster wheel…
How often do we take a step back, slow down, and do something just for fun? How often do you catch up with friends, spend time with your kids, play games, or laugh? Practise mindfulness in the small, fun moments and carry that over into other parts of your life. Those who can stay mindful, especially in stressful times, are more productive and better thinkers.
7. Ask yourself questions
Self-questioning is a powerful way of establishing if you’re on the right track and realigning yourself if you’re not. Here are some great examples to ask yourself when you’re feeling caught on the hamster wheel:
- Am I able to change my thoughts?
- Am I able to change my situation?
- Am I able to change my perspective?
- What do I really value?
- What can I do differently?
- Who can I seek help from?
- What else can I do to get me to where I want to go?
- What can I do to find relief from what I’m feeling?
If you spend time refocusing and reminding yourself what your goals and priorities are, you’ll be back on track to create the life you want.
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