So how to get OFF the hamster wheel?
When things are working well in business (as in my life) I feel like I am dancing. Moving in time to some kind of rhythm and twisting, spinning and stomping to a beat – sheer energy coming out through me, and the movement itself giving me energy back. Exhilarating.
Or I feel like some little forest creature venturing out and sniffing around, meandering from here to there based on intuition and need. Part of the landscape. Doing what needs to be done. Free. Not longing to be anywhere else. Acting in line with its whims and character. Sometimes mundane. Gentle, peaceful, in synch with surroundings and all the other parts of the forest.
So how to get from ‘stuck on the hamster wheel’ to here?
There are lots of paths off the hamster wheel – you might have others. But for me rest, delight, creativity, learning, vibrancy and connection are paths that work. More on each of these below.
– Use rest to recharge those batteries and get natural calm. For the love of all that is holy, don’t push through. What I mean by this is checking in on exhaustion and doing something about it. After years of going through cycles of stress overwork and burnout (I’ll delve into that more at a later stage) I now try to work in a way that is more gentle on my body. I do less, take on less, and make sure I am not accidentally drifting into stress-driven work. What I am still learning to do is listen to my body’s signals that tell me when I am tired an need to replenish. Let’s say I’ve had a busy week and delivered brand new workshops to a new type of client, had groups to deliver, had lots of time in noisy public places with jangly energy*, had minimal time alone, or had a bunch of meetings with new clients. My tendency is to minimise the impact of any of that because I think I ‘should’ be able to do all that and more and not have a blip in my energy levels. What I’m practicing is rolling with what is rather than what I think should be there. So if I’m tired and it’s a work day and I need a few hours resting and reading my book in the morning before I do anything else, I try to do that. Or if I need too lay in the sunshine on green grass I give myself time in my day to go do that. Or if I want to spend time sorting out art materials rather than jumping into the next big thinking thing, I try to make space for that. Forcing myself to be productive when I’m not feeling it, ignoring the signs of exhaustion, and minimising the effect that certain draining activities have on me just doesn’t help me in the long run. I am still practicing the idea that I am important, what I feel is important, what I need is important – not just all the things on my to do list and the needs of others are important. And you know that tired kid who is crying and saying ‘I don’t need to go to bed’ but can’t be rationalised with, and is wiggly and tantrumy – sometimes that is me. EVERYTHING feels harder when I am exhausted, I feel stressed more easily and I find it hard to make decisions. If you can relate to this then I suggest: rest!! Recharge. Give yourself a permission slip to not figure out all the things right now – take a sick /wellbeing day if you need one. And trust that the creative energy will bubble back up to the surface and productivity will return naturally once you are rested and you have broken the urgent-action cycle.
– Use delight as a path from fear. When I feel fear about lack in my business I find creativity helps flip the switch back into abundance. Some people think that at our most fundamental there is an ongoing struggle between fear and love. I kind of agree with this. When I am overwhelmed and on the hamster wheel I am often thinking big loud thoughts that are fear based. They go like this: ‘oh my gosh I’ll never do this! What was I thinking this is a terrible idea I’ll never be able to make a living from his! Everyone knows how to do this better than me! Oh no I don’t have all the shiny things I need to make my business work, I’m doomed!’. When I do things that focus on delight (my regular flower photo practice, working in letter journals, gardening, picking flowers, reading a juicy fun book, listening to great music) I am feeling love – appreciation, beauty, delight, amazement, wonder. It’s hard to feel fear and wonder at the same time. I’m not sure what it is for you – it might be listening to a piece of great music, playing with your dog, watching the waves roll in at dawn. Do that thing. Every time you feel overwhelmed go do that thing until your attention shifts and you are focused on wonder or delight or beauty or something outside yourself.
– Indulge your favourite strengths and PLAY. Creativity shifts my mood and makes me feel good again. Making more lists of all the things I ‘need’ to do sure as sh*t doesn’t make me feel any better in times like this. But taking time out to write a blog post does. Sharing photos does. Making a video sharing something useful I’ve learnt does. If I can engage myself with a creative task I slow down, the panic subsides, I move my focus, I look outward, I use some of my favourite skills, and I feel recharged. I’m not saying any and every creative activity does this for me – but those that are comfortable, familiar and possibly in my zone of genius do this for me. If this speaks to you maybe ask yourself, what tasks can you ALWAYS find energy for? Which tasks ALWAYS make you feel more calm and productive afterwards. Are there any? They might not be the big and fancy things you think you should be doing.. Maybe it’s something simple and easy but engaging. It might be taking photos, or visiting people face to face to tell them about your program, or researching articles. Maybe filing is your special superpower and spending a few hours sorting paperwork or rearranging a cupboard will leave you refreshed and happy. Do it! Give yourself a break and do something that comes easily to you and feels like play, uses your favourite skills, and shift your feelings about yourself and your business. And in the longer term, maybe these are exactly the things you need to do more of on a regular basis. Even just as a self-care activity.
– Invest in learning. I personally LOVE learning. It’s my top strength (see VIA character strengths for a quick and free survey to explore yours) and it makes me feel happy like a horse jumping through grass. And I mean deep immersive learning. Attending a one day course in just about anything leaves me feeling refreshed and inspired. The attention required stops me ruminating and the feeling of understanding new things lights me up. As a bonus I get to see a bunch of people also learning, and observe what teaching methods work best and notice body language and interpersonal dynamics – all of which I find fascinating. So booking in some semi regular face to face training on anything is a really smart way to keep me feeling on track, positive and empowered.
– Do what it takes to feel vibrancy in your body. This can seem obvious but sleep, sunshine, feet on dirt, vegetables and more vegetables, fruit, movement, sweating, seeing new places – all make me feel better in my body. Makes my cells zing and I feel better. Even just focusing on one action like having a colourful raw salad lunch for three days in a row shifts my mood and affects my mindset if I’m feeling sludgy.
– Connection is key – don’t go it alone. It sometimes feels like no one else could possibly have as many self critical thoughts as we ourselves do. Or that no one could possible take you and your business seriously if you were to confess and tell them the guilty little secrets about the things you still haven’t done. Or that everyone else has their act together and isn’t stumped by the things that we are. Not so. Letting people in behind the facade is critical for our mental health (I think) – having at least one person you can tell the ‘cruddy stuff’ to and have them hear you, accept you, and not judge or try to fix you. To be reminded that we are not uniquely flawed or defective in some way is something I think we all need regularly. Like an emotional ‘detox’ the guilt and ‘should do’s’ need too come out and be held; they look smaller and more benign in the light of day with a friend by our side. That feeling – when we confess our failings and get absolved – makes us feel lighter, expanded and more full of possibility. Get that! A coach, a success team, a business meet up group, a mentor. Someone who wants to hear this stuff and might have ideas and their own experiences to help you, it really helps bring you back to reality. Having people to bounce ideas with, to wail about how sh*tty everything feels right now, to confess normal human imperfections and to reflect on practice has helped me get through the more difficult days or weeks as a new business owner.
So there you have it. Rest, delight, creativity, learning, vibrancy and connection: my personal recipe for shifting mindset when I feel stuck, despondent or panicky in my business. Routes to higher ground or a clearer vista. Paths I sometimes forget are there but I have noticed are useful paths to take when things feel ‘eek!’ Or’blah’.
And over all of this – making space to be OK with all the landscape of my life. To know that sometimes I will feel stuck on the hamster wheel and sometimes I will not. I won’t be at all sad if I find myself on it less often, but finding myself there occasionally doesn’t define what I’m capable of or who I am.