Step Off the Hamster Wheel: How to Stop and Savor the Moment

Hamster sitting in a cage in front of wheelWhen we look at life in simple terms, it might be viewed as a continuous chain of events, most of which we have little or no control over. But some of these events are more impactful than others and do feel capable of influence, and you may be devoting much of life to hitting certain milestones that will shape your story. This is a part of finding “life’s work”: committing our lives to something meaningful. Achievement or time well spent is often a benchmark of finding meaning in life.

However, hitting milestones and checking off boxes is a double-edged sword, and you may notice yourself “running the hamster wheel” when it comes to how you use your time or view success: One accomplishment is obtained, but rather than marking it with celebration, you spend your time planning or hunting for the next thing. Where is the line between dedication to life’s work and a lack of appreciation for the present moment and present achievement?

In your day-to-day, do you notice yourself:

  • Queuing up the next album before the first is even finished on your walk to work?
  • Anticipating your reply to help with a friend’s problem before they are done explaining it?
  • Checking your watch multiple times per event, even if you are enjoying yourself?
  • Scrolling your phone while watching a movie to make sure you don’t miss an email?
  • Planning your next vacation while your toes are still in the sand?

We all fall victim to forward-thinking many times throughout the day, often without recognizing it. As you are reading this, think back to the course of your day, or check in with yourself at this moment—has there been a point yet today where you were just “being” in the present moment without scrolling, planning, moving, or checking in on your next move? If not, you may be caught in the habit of spending your time scheming the next big thing rather than enjoying this thing, which can lead to a lack of gratitude, appreciation, and reflection of how beautifully important the present moment can be.

We also fall victim to this trap when it comes to achievement. When you observe your successes, do you notice yourself:

By getting into the habit of slowing your pace, making room for gratitude, and increasing your comfort level with just “being” in the present moment, you may create new opportunities in your life to simply enjoy the journey.

  • Receiving a promotion at work, then instantly scheming how you could achieve a title change or annual bonus?
  • Finishing one goal or task, then beginning to plan another without celebrating your present accomplishment?
  • Creating endless to-do lists, where a new obligation is added as soon as you check something off?

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with striving for upward mobility, it becomes a problem when we don’t stop to recognize and sit with our current successes. This is compounded when looking for “the next big thing” becomes a habit, and we may set unrealistic expectations for ourselves or find a lack of satisfaction in the work we are doing right now.

By getting into the habit of slowing your pace, making room for gratitude, and increasing your comfort level with just “being” in the present moment, you may create new opportunities in your life to simply enjoy the journey. Rather than viewing life as a long, continuous timeline, what if we saw it as a fluid series of events, with pauses to appreciate our successes and ample time to breathe in the stillness of just being?

Right now, this very second, I encourage you to take a step down off the hamster wheel. Breathe in the power of this moment; it will come only once in a lifetime, and it’s here waiting for you right now. Let yourself enjoy it, and stay for a minute—learning to celebrate this moment may be your greatest achievement of all.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, NCC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • harper

    harper

    March 27th, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    I feel like the only way I can ever make something of myself is to work work work until I drop, and then by the end of the day I am usually too tired to even enjoy the fruits of all that labor! But it feels like it can’t stop because I have gotten kind of caught up in the good life stuff, and seeing that I can’t have all that without the work, I foresee no time soon ever being able to hop off that hamster wheel. It is a situation of my own making I guess.

  • Lindsey Pratt, MA, NCC, MHC

    Lindsey Pratt, MA, NCC, MHC

    March 28th, 2017 at 6:54 AM

    I agree, Harper – it’s especially tough when success has gotten us to a place where we are accomplished and fear losing that stability. Something that helps clarify the “want” vs. “need” for me is to picture myself my most content – it usually evokes a simple image of me sitting outside in the sunshine, spending time with the people I love, or just hanging out with no place to be, Sunday-morning style! My own “good life stuff” is represented by vacations, dinners out on the town, being able to buy gifts for my family during the holidays, etc. but I find it helpful to remind myself of the former – that I can be truly content without a whole lot, and anything beyond is just an added bonus :)

  • harper

    harper

    March 28th, 2017 at 7:54 AM

    I guess that the big problem has become even though things are technically wants I have become so accustomed to them that they have in my mind instead become things that I need

  • jade

    jade

    March 28th, 2017 at 3:10 PM

    Good grief my husband is always trying to finish my sentences and it drives me crazy!
    I think that this is one of the things that we argue about the most but maybe he needs to find some other outlets for his energy.

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