Many of us think if we do more, we'll have more, so we can be more. This is a myth. The world we live in is focused on results, data and left-brain dominance. We get caught up in doing, run by a "to-do" list. Life has become very complex, and as the scope becomes broader, we go faster and faster. But we don't know where we're going; we're just treading water, trying to keep our head above it. But running faster in the same direction isn't going to get you somewhere else. When you live this way, the doing is not in relationship to anything else, so you lose your relationship with meaning.
Despite knowing this well, I find myself doing it sometimes. I get caught up in things and start running really fast. I just want to be finished. But listen: You don't want to be finished. That means you're neither present nor inspired. In fact, it's a sure sign you're on The Hamster Wheel!
The Hamster Wheel is a pernicious condition we can slip into as humans where we lose relationship to context -- that is, what meaningful reason we're doing something. This tendency comes from the Western view that our value is based on what we do or make. The Hamster Wheel is an unfulfilling lifestyle because you can never do enough to get a lasting feeling of real satisfaction from it. The wheel goes round and round and there's no end in sight. There is not adequate reward to be good enough. That "good enough" feeling can only come from inside us.
We need to be in action to make dreams real in the world, but action needs to be connected to a larger sense of meaning. Why are you doing what you're doing? Are you doing it because you should or is it coming from inside you from a genuine desire? The Hamster Wheel approach: If I exercise three times a week, I'm "good." Or, if I go to see my mother-in-law twice a month, I'm "good." The Co-Active approach I am advocating for you: I care deeply about my health and well-being, so I devote time to nurture my body. My relationship with my mother-in-law is important to me, therefore I'm going to invest in it. See the difference?
You may have heard the story about the three bricklayers working together to build a cathedral. Someone asks each of them, "What are you doing?" The first one says, "building a house for Joe so I can put food on the table." The second one says, "I'm a master bricklayer making sure I'm doing a good job." The third one responds, "I'm building a cathedral for the glory of God." Clearly, the third one is the most inspired by his work while the first two are probably on The Hamster Wheel. When Co-Active coaches have a client who needs to do something they don't want to do, sometimes the coach will try tying the task to a value of the client's to make it more inspiring. This technique is called the Compelling Way, which it certainly is. They take the desired action and elevate it into something that is nourishing. You can do the same in your own life.
Getting off The Hamster Wheel is about bringing a level of spiritual awareness to whatever you're doing so that everything becomes a spiritual practice and life feels richer with meaning and purpose.
How can you tell if you're on The Hamster Wheel? Your focus narrows and becomes singular. You get reactive instead of proactive. You're not breathing deeply. Your shoulders are tense. Your jaw may be gripped. Your heart is beating fast and you feel frantic. You experience chronic fight or flight syndrome, your adrenaline is pumping like crazy. You stop really 'seeing' people and they start to become objects. There is tension instead of expansive thinking or creativity. You're not prioritizing or in relationship to what's important to you. You get less done. There's no sense of completion with what matters most. You're just running. In short, your life does not look happy.
I see it all the time in organizations. Why are we doing this? I hear people ask. There is a story in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People about a team hacking their way through the jungle. They're hot and sweaty. One decides he's going to climb a tree to get a higher view of things to see where they are versus where they need to go. He calls down to them, "Stop! We're in the wrong jungle!" The team responds, "Shut up! We're making progress. At least we're moving forward!"
Here is how to get off The Hamster Wheel:
1. Understand your value doesn't reside in what you make or do.
2. Decide that you want to get off The Hamster Wheel and live inside out instead of the opposite. Make who you are in your relationship with people more important than what you make or build.
3. Do an inventory and get clear on what's most important to you.
4. Develop a morning practice of some kind that helps you connect to what's most important to you. It can be just a few minutes. Do the same each evening before bed.
5. Practice staying grounded and centered inside yourself during the day.
6. Throughout the day, pay attention to your physiology. When you notice a treadmill feeling, stop and breathe. Look out the window. Walk around. Look at nature. Better yet, go outside for a short walk if you can. When you resume what you're doing, slow down a little.
7. Accept that everything is never going to be done. Tasks are infinite. So be mindful of where you choose to put your attention -- put it on what's important rather than just what's in front of you.
If you "be more," you can have greater access to your own resources and creativity, and then you can make more or build more sustainably.
Karen Kimsey-House, MFA, CPCC, MCC, is the Co-founder and CEO of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the oldest and largest in-person coach training school in the world, and the co-author of the best-selling Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Karen was one of four pioneers of the coaching profession, and in honor of its 20th birthday this year, she is sharing her insights about human transformation in a ten-part HuffPost series,"Disrupt Your Life in a Good Way".