One thing is for sure: we spur on the hamster wheel out of our own volition; even though we don’t like acknowledging that. It’s tempting to blame outside forces: the company, the colleagues, the partner, the family, the circumstances, the economy… But today, there’s no slave driver with a whip standing behind us, and we’re no longer subjects of an aristocratic despot. We live in a time and in a culture in which many options are open to us. We push our hamster wheel because we decided to do so at some stage, consciously or subconsciously. Our drivers have been internalized and our actions have become a habit.
What are the drivers for your hamster wheel?
Fear is a main driver.
Fear of failure, fear of missing out, fear of not being seen, fear to take wrong decisions, fear of not being loved, fear of being seen, fear of financial collapse…. What is your greatest fear?
Fear locks you in, prevents you from finding solutions, makes you insecure and controllable.
Our paths in life are widely mapped out by the culture and society we live in. They allow for an easy and mindless ticking-off-the-box of life sequences: School, training, work, retirement, death. Success in each of those sequences (excluding death) is also mapped out. From cradle to grave, we participate in the game of higher-quicker-faster and run after the pack. It’s not necessary to think autonomously. Society, economy and marketing steer us perfectly.
The herd instinct reduces individuality and creativity, especially if group pressure is exercised.
Are you yearning for more spontaneity and individuality?
More money, more power, more status, career development, body toning, hobbies and leisure time – all perfected and optimized. In order to benefit from the rewards in an achievement-oriented society, you have to achieve – more and more. But your achievements are never good enough – once you reached a goal, the next one starts beckoning. As with economic growth, the next career step can never be big enough.
Your constant self-improvement may seemingly raise your standing in society, however you pay a high price for being a part of the higher-quicker-faster game. Can you devote sufficient attention towards family and friends? When was the last time you set aside some time for yourself – time that was not filled with activity and action?
The driver “Be Perfect” is especially sneaky and affects women in particular. Managing job, family and household in addition to travel and leisure stress puts extra pressure on women. In addition, the demands on themselves – for example with regard to attractiveness and intellect – often cause them to push themselves over the limit. Perfectionism also stops people from becoming visible and from presenting their work or talents to the outside…. There is always someone who has done it before, or seemingly better, or both.
Perfectionism prevents activity. It drains your energy to respond to all possible demands. You are left with a feeling of inadequacy and of not being good enough.
This one’s an interesting driver: being stuck in a golden cage. You have worked hard to reach your high standard of living and you want to maintain it. Moving up the career ladder meant that your status – and the relevant expenses – increased as well, and the status symbols need maintenance and care. Which luxury would you not want to miss and why?
A life in the golden cage comes at a great cost. You may lead a life in luxury, but do you feel splendid as well? Or are you aware of the feelings of emptiness and disconnection?
Are you always seeking out that next rush? Always ready for new trends that internet and our leisure industry propose as the next big thing? One project finished, next one already started? Stress is something positive for you, something that challenges you and that is fun.
Life on the fast line, with the foot on the gas pedal and without a break, will lead to a crash in the long run. Body and soul will remind you of their limits. In the worst case, you might end up in a clinic or with a burnout. When will you step on the brakes?
The longing for recognition and love is a very strong driver. How much of your time do you push the hamster wheel not for yourself, but for others? Not only for family and close friends, but also for acquaintances, colleagues, the company, or people you don’t even know?
If you burn yourself out in order to get it right for everyone else, you’ll give yourself up. When was the last time you said “no”?
Ah, you do not rush for career or materialism, but for your safety-net? For your retirement, for your insurances, for the worst case scenario, for the event of all events, for ….? Better safe than sorry – do you review all of life’s eventualities and protect them with a wall of insurance premiums, objections and doubts? Financially, materially and psychologically?
There’ll be no compensation for the event that you’ll miss living your life because you were too busy insuring yourself against it. Building up a strong safety net is reassuring, but it won’t make you happy.
Each hamster wheel is pushed by a combination of several drivers. You first need to acknowledge them in order to be able to analyze them further and eventually move beyond them. Are there any drivers that are essential for you and you can’t live without? Fine, then focus on the other ones. Can you replace them, let them go or adapt them? This is your chance to start working on exactly that.