Stop the Hamster Wheel, I Want to Get Off!

How to Break Free from the Vicious Cycles that Keep You Stuck, Stressed, and Overeating

BIG (1)I hear it over and over—you know what to do, you just can’t seem to make it happen. It’s spring once again and you are not alone if you find yourself still struggling with overeating, overload, and an endless to-do list. Does life feel so busy that you don’t have time to stop? Are too many days spent simply chasing your schedule but never catching up? Did your New Year’s resolutions get left in the dust?

When we’re stressed and busy, we tend to revert to the familiar—old habits, automatic-pilot thinking, behaviors and routines that we know well and that are quick no-brainers. New habits, lifestyle changes, and all the positive stuff we’ve worked so hard to incorporate, often goes out the window.

Lots of women know how to get started with weight loss, healthy eating, and better self-care, it’s finding the ways to make changes that last that can be the biggest challenge. It’s all-too-easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle of starting fresh and then losing momentum or motivation and feeling like you are back at square one all over again.

Unfortunately, wanting to make changes—lose weight, get fit, lower your stress, carve out more me-time—isn’t enough. Without the right tools and strategies, the best of intentions will likely be swallowed up by your busy life and your full calendar. Are you determined to end overeating patterns, find a workout plan that sticks, or stop your personal hamster wheel of “too much stress” or never enough me-time?

Here are some tips to help you break free of vicious cycles that keep you stuck with overload, overwhelm, and overeating:

Before you start, know this: you are a smart woman and you keep running on that hamster wheel for a reason. What keeps you moving forward (and round and round), even though what you are doing isn’t working? Please notice that this is a question that is meant to trigger curiosity—not shame. In fact, leave your guilt, blame, and shame about past failures at the door, because they are the number one emotions for keeping you stuck. Ask this—“What are the forces that have kept you on the hamster wheel?” Have you been operating under a mindset or belief that you “have” to do things a certain way? Is your inner perfectionist telling you that you just need to keep trying the same old, same old until you get it perfect? You never will. Are you stuck in a vicious cycle because you are bending to the expectations of others? Are you trying to do it the way “everyone else” is?

Or, like so many of us, do you keep on doing the same old thing that doesn’t really work because it works a little bit or for a short time and you don’t know what else to do?

The more clarity you can get about what has kept you in this rut, the better you’ll be able to address the feelings, circumstances, and relationships that draw you back to it.

Breaking free of a vicious cycle, or getting off a hamster wheel, requires stepping sideways instead of pushing forward harder and harder. This means doing something different and stepping outside your comfort zone. Don’t feel like you have to take a flying leap. Even a small sidestep will start breaking the cycle and getting you out of the rut.

What does a sidestep look like? It might be trying new tools, asking for help, changing your routine, or making the decision not to ignore something that has never worked when you’ve tried to make changes in the past.

When you are ready to step sideways, ask yourself, “What can I do differently this time that will help me be more effective? What hasn’t worked well in the past, and how can I address this?”

Note that the two most common mistakes I see people make here are:

  1. Mistaking “I’ll just work harder” as “doing it differently” (it’s not)
  2. Completely neglecting the option of asking for help. Nothing will help you step sideways and create a new approach faster than getting fresh expertise or a new perspective. All too often, we can’t see how we’re stuck because we’re wearing blinders and we don’t even know it.

You need structure and accountability to keep you in action until your new approach is fine-tuned and familiar. I know I’m not the only one out there who has started something that I loved, enjoyed, and knew was a winning approach only to realize four weeks later it had completely slipped off my radar and I’d forgotten about it completely.

Establishing new habits takes work and persistence. You’ll benefit from strategies and support to keep new intentions “front of mind.” Support or guidance is invaluable for reminding you why this new way is important and how the old way didn’t work. A system for checking in or holding yourself accountable helps you measure progress, catch motivation problems, and stay on track.

Decide what you will do to keep your new approach “front of mind” and on track. Where will you post reminders, how will you stay inspired, and when and how will you track your progress? Don’t neglect these steps. They are the actions that winners take.

You’re in it for the long haul, not a few short weeks. Creating new pathways for success requires tools and strategies for course-correction and honoring success. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who make it off the hamster wheel, get grooving in a new routine that is bringing them the results and satisfaction they used to dream of, and when I ask them about celebrating their achievements, respond by telling me how far they still have to go.

Not stopping to absorb your success and celebrate your progress is leftover residue from being on a hamster wheel. On a hamster wheel, you never get anywhere, and you always have farther to go. There is no reward, only pressure to work harder or move faster.

If you want to break free of vicious cycles and create changes that last, it’s critical that you learn how to recognize your accomplishments and celebrate the milestones along your journey—because you are planning on staying on this path for a very long time. Equally important is finding flexibility to tweak your approach on a regular basis so that it continues to fit you, your preferences and your life.

If this sounds like a foreign language, that’s because, I may be describing skills, strategies, and tools that you haven’t used much or don’t even know about. Creating a new approach when you’ve been stuck in a routine or pattern that didn’t work for you requires a much broader perspective. If you can’t see it yet and feel at a loss about what to do, don’t keep struggling alone, inside your head. That’s the road straight back to the hamster wheel.

Phone a friend. Find a mentor. Hire a coach. Reach out for new tools that expand your possibilities. Change IS possible, but in order to change you must do things differently.

Take good care,