Five Tips to Help You Get Off the Hamster Wheel

Five Tips to Help You Get Off the Hamster Wheel
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 14 January, 2023

Think for a moment about a hamster running on its wheel. He’s in a cage, locked up, and can’t get out. Also, as much as he tries to move forward, he can’t. Unfortunately, this image is the perfect metaphor for some people’s lives: they’re full of constant, unproductive, and automated wear and tear that paralyzes them. If you think you may be in such a situation, here are some tips to help you get off the hamster wheel.

In these circumstances, self-compassion is especially important. Several factors may have contributed to placing you in this unpleasant position. On the one hand, the competitive society in which you’re immersed. On the other, your own personal baggage. For instance, it might contain many limiting beliefs but not enough resources for you to act in a different way.

The good news is that by becoming aware of the situation and understanding its causes, you can reverse it and start living in a freer, calmer, and healthier way.

Woman thinking
Sometimes, you get stuck in routines and loops of automatic behaviors that alienate you and keep you from what you really want.

Are you trapped on the hamster wheel?

You’re on the hamster wheel if you’re trapped in a vicious circle in which, no matter how much you move, you don’t get one iota closer to your objectives. It can affect you in many different areas of your life. For example:

  • You’re in a position of stagnancy in your job, despite being overloaded with work.
  • Your financial problems don’t improve no matter how hard you work.
  • You feel down, irritable, anxious, or dissatisfied, and no matter how hard you try, you don’t feel any better.
  • Your relationship is going through difficulties and none of your attempts seem to be improving the situation.

The previous experiences all have two things in common. Firstly, the lack of results, and the frustration that this entails. Secondly, and more importantly, the fact that you’ve tried really hard to move forward but haven’t succeeded. This is usually due to the fact that you’ve fallen into an automated and repetitive pattern of which you’re not even aware.

Somehow, you know what you want to achieve, but you don’t know how to achieve it. You simply repeat familiar but unhelpful patterns of behavior. To a certain extent, this is natural. That’s because your brain likes the familiar and is afraid of uncertainty.

However, doing what you always do, even if it doesn’t work for you, gives you a false sense of security. You need to introduce new stimuli and ways of proceeding to end this unproductive cycle.

Why do you get trapped in the hamster wheel?

In each individual case, the circumstances are different. That said, there are several elements that may be contributing to you always arriving at the same destination that’s a world away from where you really want to be.

Consumerism

Consumerism is often the basis of financial stagnation. You want to increase your income. Therefore, you work frantically, with ambition and commitment. However, when you get paid, you squander your money buying goods and services you don’t need or paying off previously acquired debts. Thus, you quickly find yourself back where you started.

You misunderstand productivity

You may have become trapped on the hamster wheel because you need to feel useful. In fact, you tend to equate your worth as a person to your performance, the number of tasks you complete each day, and how much you do, without thinking about the quality and purpose of those activities you carry out.

For the same reason, although you know that you want to prosper and succeed, and despite the fact that you’re constantly in action, you only achieve greater dissatisfaction.

Low emotional intelligence

This automatic dynamic is  used by many people to escape from their own internal world. When negative emotions are present, and you don’t know how to deal with them, staying busy may be the only apparent way out. You know you want to feel better, but this only increases your discomfort. Moreover, you feel exhausted.

Lack of personal resources

You might keep repeating the same behaviors and attitudes because you don’t know any other way to conduct yourself. For example, you might want to improve the quality and status of your relationship, but you have an insecure attachment style learned in childhood. This leads you to behave in ways that only make the situation worse.

How to get off the hamster wheel

There are some steps you can take to escape your vicious circle, start getting closer to your goals, and improve your well-being:

1. Identify your repeating pattern

First of all, you must recognize the fact that you’re acting on autopilot. Then, identify which behaviors or attitudes you’re repeating and maintaining without obtaining any results.

Ask yourself why you keep doing the same thing. It could be for reasons of comfort, fear of the unknown, or lack of resources, for example. Once you’ve identified the cause, take action.

2. Concentrate on the way you are, not what you have

If you believe that success is related to what you have or what you can acquire, you should review this idea. Consumerism can result in addictive behaviors and hide emotional deficiencies and difficulties that require your attention. Stop focusing on what you have and start valuing and working on who you are.

3. Learn to slow down

You might find it difficult to rest, enjoy your leisure time, and simply do nothing. You may feel guilty linking your personal worth with your productivity. However, silence, stillness, and calm are extremely important. That said, there’ll be times when you have to look for them because the world today doesn’t exactly encourage these qualities.

4. Reconnect with yourself

To escape the hamster wheel, you must stop looking outside and turn your eyes inward. Connect with what you’re feeling (even if it’s unpleasant), with what you need, want, and fear. Learn to manage your emotions so that you don’t need to continue forever running away because this only takes you further away from yourself.

Woman with eyes closed
In order to break with automatisms, it’s essential to get in touch with yourself and reflect.

5. Try new ways of behaving

The most important thing is that you try new ways of doing things. After all, your established patterns have been shown to be useless or insufficient. Therefore, you need to integrate new beliefs and habits and risk the unknown.

Start projects that you’re passionate about. Look for a new way to manage your finances. Learn to communicate with your partner in a different way. Start dedicating a few minutes a day to conscious breathing. The change you need will depend on your particular situation, but you must have the courage to carry it out.

Lastly, you must bear in mind that the process won’t be that simple. Indeed, it isn’t easy to stop running on the hamster wheel when you’ve spent so many years doing so. In fact, you might find it useful to enlist the support of a professional. They’ll be able to help you detect your limitations, enhance your strengths, and design a plan that brings you closer to your goals.

 



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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.