In interviews and in the Courageous Living Program, I often refer to the “self-help hamster wheel.” It’s that space where you’re spinning furiously in the world of self-help, reading books and going to workshops and trying to learn about yourself…but going nowhere. Each year it’s a new date on the calendar, and last year’s problems are still there. There’s a futility and exhaustion that starts to set in, an increasing sense of doubt.
Successful people understand how to recognize when they’re wasting time. The self-help hamster wheel? It’s a massive waste of time. Rather than endlessly searching for the “right path,” which often only ends up exactly where you started, here’s how you stop the furious race to nowhere.
The First Step
If you want to get off the self-help hamster wheel, the first step is recognizing that you’re on it.
A few clues: you endlessly buy personal development workshops/books/programs without really seeing results. You’re finding yourself more skeptical of your capacity to change, instead of more confident. If you think of a situation that you were angry about a few years ago, you can still tap into that old anger if you think too long on the circumstances. When you have a bad day or a few bad weeks, old patterns quickly resurface: the late-night binge eating, the return to that ex-boyfriend who always made you feel like shit, the inner critic bashing you for even bothering to try something new, in the first place.
Oh, and you’re tired (I firmly believe that being tired is the first sign that something in life is amiss).
Gently, get honest with yourself: if things are basically the same, then there’s relief in just admitting that. The efforts thus far haven’t panned out. When you get honest about that fact, you’re poised to change.
Second step: get ruthless
Start understanding what’s pulling your attention, and get ruthless about cutting anything that isn’t serving your vision. (Don’t have a Life Vision? Time to get one–they up the clarity and purpose factor, big time).
As an example, I recently found myself feeling stressed about how much was on my plate and like there was not enough time. At a certain point, I had to just get ruthless: it was time to start cutting out time-wasters and anything that I wasn’t ecstatically excited about.
It was not easy to cut certain things from my agenda. For reasons ranging from vanity to practicality, I had justifications for why I was doing what I’d been doing–and now I needed to get ruthless about cutting things that didn’t fit my highest vision.
If you know that your soul’s calling is asking you to shift, you’ve got to look around and see what’s currently pulling your attention. If it’s not something orienting you towards what you know you want, most, then you’ve got to cut it. These are hard choices, but it’s part of keeping yourself aligned with a life lived in ecstasy.
Third step: See one thing through.
If you really think about it, most paths are saying many of the same things. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Know what your priorities are, and make choices that align with those priorities.
The self-help hamster wheel can only keep turning because you bail. This time, finish. Review your notes from that last workshop, implement action steps for thirty days. Read the book, cover to cover, and discuss it with a friend. Complete the program. Finish every single exercise, and be 100% invested.
The chances are that it’s not the guru, the program, or the message that’s amiss. It’s your commitment to it. If you’re fully committed, you’ll get something out of it, no matter what. Buck the trend of bailing on something, and instead see it all the way through with a fervor. Tell everyone what you’re up to; ask them to join in. When you’re done, ask yourself if this time, something’s different.
All Paths Lead To You
At the end of the day, the things that aren’t working in your life won’t change because you do external things, differently. They’ll change because you feel a shift, inside. When you’re no longer on the self-help hamster wheel, your energy gets redirected towards your courageous purpose, and it’s living with a sense of purpose that will light you up and make even the challenges feel lighter.
Stoke the flames. There’s something burning within you, desiring change. That desire is healthy. You won’t get there through repentant exhaustion–only through committing to yourself.
Imagine this: a small hole in a wall, perhaps only a half-inch in circumference, and it needs to be patched with spackle.
If you try to repair a small hole with a ton of spackle, it’s useless. As soon as you cram some in, the excess slides out. It won’t fit.
Widening the hole to accommodate more spackle, of course, would be lunacy.
But this was what we do with our desires for more time. We try to subvert the laws of seconds and minutes and hours that turn into days, weeks, months, years. We tell ourselves that we can cram in more than we can actually cram in.
In the meantime, this pattern makes us miserable.
In the meantime, we don’t enjoy anything of what we have, what’s here now.
Two Truths About Time
We all have the same amount.
You cannot create more.
Meditate on that for just a moment. We all have the same amount. You cannot create more.
If you really “got it,” deep in your bones that this is true, what would you do differently with your life?
Would you stop saying yes to the things that feel like heavy burdens of obligation?
Would you buy less, so that you’d have less to monitor, pay for, clean, or otherwise take care of?
Would you feel less stress, and more ease, because you clearly saw the fallacy of believing that if you JUST organize, focus, and quadrant your time into categorized blocks, there would me more of it?
Getting Organized and Focused
Funny thing, this “getting organized and focused” story line–some of the people who get the most done are constantly saying to themselves and others, “I’m so behind; I just need to get more organized and focused.”
They believe it, too.
This borders on something like a disorder. You know how someone with anorexia is unable to see how very thin she actually is? People who get a ton done, who are actually very efficient, tell themselves that they don’t do enough and that they need to do ever more.
Tired All the Time
By the way, are you tired, all of the time?
This “trying to cram more spackle into the tiny hole” pattern is fucking exhausting.
If you’re tired of being tired, at some point you’ve gotta just drop it–all that you’ve been trying to hold, organize, categorize.
You rest. Then you look around, and you ask yourself: “What’s actually important, here? What’s worth picking back up?”
“Organized and focused” is actually a feeling. It’s a feeling that has little or nothing to do with the cleanliness of your house or whether you have reached inbox zero.
When you know what your priorities are, it’s a lot easier to “get organized” or “feel focused.”
So what are your priorities? (Try writing them down).
Then ask yourself: Do I actually live this way?
If you don’t, then consider that what stops you from living in alignment with your priorities probably isn’t that you haven’t found the right time management system, yet.
Also, it’s probably not that you need to organize your desk drawers or trick out your office.
Finally, it won’t really make much difference whether you write out a meal plan every week, or wing it each night in the kitchen.
What will make a difference? What will have you living in alignment with your priorities? How you treat yourself as you go through your day to day. Deal with the inner critic voices, and you’ve officially put yourself in the express lane to feeling more “organized” and “focused” in your life–because your laser focus is poised for happiness. You’re not going about your day, trying to do your thing, all while beating the shit out of yourself in the process.
Getting Things Done
Getting things done is, on many levels, over-rated (I never knew this until I became a mother).
What’s more important–what feels better–is being clear what your priorities are. Not someone else’s obligations are; not what your priorities are “supposed to” be. Yours. What are your priorities, the things that uniquely make you feel more like…well, you? The things that, when you honor them by giving them a central place in your life, bring you joy?
My priorities are my kid, my partner/our marriage, writing.
My priorities are reading as many books as possible, roller derby, and travel.
My priorities are working my way up to CEO in the company, yoga teacher training on the weekends, and
My priorities are doing as little as possible, just breathing, just being.
There are infinite ways to do thing called life. It’s miserable to try to endlessly cram things in; it’s joyful to pare back.
You actually have plenty of time, if you get clear on what you desire most.
(Not clear on what you want to prioritize? Check out the Shift Plan, a free download just for YCL subscribers).
Discernment: “the ability to see and understand people, things, or stituations clearly and intelligently” –Merriam-Webster
Discernment is a key tool when practicing courage. It’s the razor’s edge between the kind of crazy that pulls a few all-nighters to proudly meet a launch deadline…and pulling all-nighters until you run yourself into the ground.
It’s the kiss of space between needing to push yourself for just a bit more compassion in the face of someone’s bad behavior…and being a pushover.
It’s knowing the difference between having some debt and making an investment…and having some debt and rationalizing creating more debt because instant gratification is leading the way.
In every decision we make, every response, there are polarizing extremes, and then there’s the murky middle. That’s where discernment is key.
Want to trust yourself, more? Want to have more capacity for taking risks? Feeling shaky when you make decisions?
You need yourself a dose of discernment.
Here’s the kinda-sorta bad news: you learn discernment by completely fucking up discernment.
Translation? You gotta get in there and sleep with the wrong guy, spend more than you have, quit the job and spend your savings and take the job back.
In other words, discernment is learned through making mistakes. Royally. That’s how you start to pick up on the cues that tell you THIS GUY IS A LIFETIME MOVIE WAITING TO HAPPEN versus THIS GUY WOULD BE AWESOME TO HAVE A FLING WITH–NO HARM, NO FOUL.
This means, by the way, that there’s no need to ever be intimidated by anyone you perceive to be good at making decisions. If they are good at making decisions, if they generally trust themselves, if they are more or less grounded in who they are? Well, then. They have screwed up in life, a lot! They are imperfect, just like you and me! They learned from it. Huzzah!
Your Next Brilliant Move
No one can give you the 1-2-3 steps for learning discernment, absolutely–we’re all too individual. For one person, it’s HELLO OBVIOUS that you don’t spend money you don’t have when you also have debt, but those same people might have trouble not giving time that they don’t have, to every person who asks.
But people can help you with this: deciding how you’ll treat yourself in reaction to discernment thrown wildly off-kilter.
Do you stop taking action? Do you tell yourself awful, critical things?
In the Courageous Living Program, I’m not teaching anyone “how to live.” I’m really teaching you a skill-set for discernment. I want people to learn to trust themselves by doing (so the program pushes taking action like it’s a street drug, for reals). I want people to reframe their past mistakes (so we get into the “Stories” you tell yourself that limit your life, and working with the inner critic voices that get so loud when mistakes happen).
The courage of discernment is that when your compass isn’t so finely pointed, and you miss the mark, you decide that the response is not to hide out or beat yourself up.
The response is to get back in there, so that you can learn more of the nuances. You become a better picker and chooser–of people, of circumstances, of telling your true yes and your true no.
If you want to learn discernment, your next brilliant move is to make any move at all and decide that you won’t berate yourself for the outcome. Instead, you’ll pay attention. You’ll get clear, so that you can figure out what your barometer of discernment is trying to tell you.
The fear is there–you might need to fuck up discernment a few more times–but the courage is in the paying attention.