Get Off the Treadmill – Exit Your Rat Race!
We can all get in a rut from time to time. Who hasn't had a moment in their lives where you've asked yourself the question: "Why am I doing this?" Whether it's who who you've become, the business you are in, your career, relationships, where you live or all of the above – sometimes you realise you're just not where you want to be – and you're not sure how you got there! It sure feels like your own version of a rat race though.
If where you want to be in your life is not where you are, then maybe it's time for you to drop out of your very own rat race. We are conditioned into believing that we must continue to strive, to take more on, and to do more, in order to be "successful". But this is a limited and ultimately self-defeating definition. If we can only be more successful by what and how much we do, then we have created our own treadmills to run on.
1. Redefine Success
Redefining success for yourself can be the first step in taking a fresh perspective. Try this exercise by completing the following sentence. "I know I am successful when ……." You may not complete the sentence with anything to do with work or material goods.
Here are some examples. I know I am successful when ….
… I laugh every day with my children
… I bounce out of bed enthusiastically every morning
… all of my relationships give me great joy
… I inspire others to make positive changes
By redefining what we believe makes us successful, we begin to strive for different things in our lives. This can be instrumental in slowing down the treadmill enough for us to take stock of where we are.
2. Springclean your mind
If you feel as though you don't have time for anything, especially thinking about ways to do things differently, it's time for a time-out. When we are busy and occupied all the time, we are usually reacting to things going on around us, rather than acting out of choice. So make an active choice to take a rest, a vacation, talk it out with someone you trust, blow off steam, do whatever it takes to get some perspective about your situation. Just this simple step will make you feel more in control, and can help to streamline the energy you'll need for the changes ahead. The idea is not to just get out of your rat race but to go towards a more fulfilling way of living
3. Get real
The reality is that you can't change anyone else's behavior but your own. So it's a good time to stop wishing that people would act differently so that you could feel better. Also, it's time to make alternative plans just in case you don't win the lottery or get a salary increase. This sounds harsh, but people who wait for things to happen to them are usually waiting a long time. Don't wait for chance or fate to step in. Figure out what it will cost (in time, energy, money, etc.) to make the changes you know you need to make. Then figure out what it will cost not to.
4. Pack light
There's something very cathartic about taking time to clean things out – getting rid of the old to make way for the new. You could start with a room in your house, your email address list, or old beliefs that aren't adding value to you any more. In every situation there is a good lesson to take with you, something of value to keep. Even if it's only, 'Well that's a place I know I never want to be again'; there is something worth keeping.
Any situation, and your perception of it, is part of who you are. Identify specifically what it is you want to keep and what you'll leave behind. Be brutal. You may even miss some of the things you choose to leave behind – that's all part of the process. What you will find is renewed energy for new things that you want to include in your life – a great start to exiting your rat race and beginning on a new journey.
5. Create a map
When was the last time you thought about where you wanted to be in 5 or 10 years time? We get so caught up in "doing" things – for the business, for work, for others – things we think we should be doing, that we take no time to consider what we really want. Forget the race. Think journey.
Take the time to think about yourself, and where you would like to be. Nobody else's map will do here -it's time to do some hard thinking for yourself. What are the core values that you'd like to base your life around? What do you love to do or to be? What gives you a sense of purpose? What do you stand for? What could you not be dissuaded from believing in, no matter what? If you had one life to live this time round what would you do with it?
These are tough questions and their answers are part of the journey. Don't freak or feel guilty if you don't know the answers straight away. For the impatient and perfectionist people reading, this is not a test – there is no pass or fail. So don't treat it like one. The more you know about yourself, the more you will be able to start drawing your own map.
6. Head for the Life! (not the lifestyle)
Do you know what the difference is between having a life and maintaining a lifestyle? A lifestyle is something we are told we need by society, advertisers, and parents. Life's luxuries, although nice to have, can be expensive financially and in the energy spent getting them. Perhaps the energy spent maintaining a lifestyle might be better used turning your life into an expression of who you are. A lifestyle buys comfort. A life buys satisfaction and contentment. The best bed in the world only makes for a comfortable sleepless night if you lack contentment. If your lifestyle impedes you being who you are then dump it.
7. Go for your ideal
If it turns out that you drop out of your rat race and into your perfect life, would you even know it? Create a vision of where it would be, who you're with, what you're doing. Design it around your passions, beliefs, values and loves. Remember, just like spending your money, if you don't know what you want from your life there's plenty of people around who will be only too glad to tell you.
8. Look out for the rough bits.
Choosing to live your life in your own way is tougher than staying in your rat race. People you know may be understanding or incredulous, and won't hesitate to give you their opinion. Temptations will abound to take a few laps round the old racecourse when the going gets tough. Our old comfort zones are traps waiting to lure us back into our old ways. By being aware of this and planning for how you'll cope you will get through. Anything different can be scary. But it can also be fun too!
9. Enjoy the trip!
You've recognized where you don't want to be any longer and identified where you do. Now live where you are. Learn from the past and move on. Plan for the future but live in the present. You can't do anything about yesterday, so stop worrying about it. If you spend every minute think about tomorrow then you'll never enjoy today. And that's where all the action is!
10. Go for it.
No more excuses. Nothing more to say. Just do it.
Sometimes the only way to "win" a race – where there can be no winner – is to just stop running.