Is it possible to beat the hamster wheel?
If we want to achieve the goals we have set, there is hard work and steady effort ahead. But that doesn’t mean it has to be joyless spinning on a hamster wheel. In fact, it’s better if it isn’t. My workout on the treadmill yesterday was not something I relished, but by the end, I was really glad I stuck with it. Here’s what I learned, and how it can help you achieve your goals.
The Dreaded Hamster Wheel
The work day was over, time for the Tuesday run. It was 16 degrees out and getting dark. The treadmill was the only good option.
Many years of repetition has transformed running from willful act to habit. This run was going to happen, without a doubt. But ten miles is a long way on a treadmill. I wasn’t really looking forward to it.
After a quick change in the locker room, I headed upstairs, equipped for the run: water bottle, hand towels, earbuds, and phone. The plan was to listen to some podcasts to help pass the time.
On a previous podcast run I learned about the idea of friction – good habits are easier to build if we reduce the amount of effort (friction) it takes to do them, and/or increase the difficulty of doing the things we shouldn’t. We’re more likely to go to the gym if it’s close by, and less likely to eat bad food if it’s hard to get.
Yesterday I was feeling the friction.
The gym was busy, and most of the treadmills were occupied. It’s good to see everyone still at it, chasing whatever fitness goals they are after, but my favorite spots were taken.
I finally found an open machine and jumped on, but after some button pushing, the screens weren’t working like they were supposed to. Friction.
Grabbed my things and moved to another one. At least the second one worked. On the treadmill next to me was a woman doing a rapid-pace fitness walk.
My run begins with a slow jog. It always feels a little creaky at first, but gradually the hitches and kinks subside. By the end of the first mile things start to smooth out.
As has become my practice, at the end of each mile I take a sip from the water bottle and bump up the pace a notch just to keep from falling into a speed rut. At this point it is still more slog than sprint.
Jeopardy was playing on one of the televisions – a favorite mental pass-time, but it was just ending, and I didn’t know the question to the final answer. Another challenge to my will to persevere?
The second mile passes. Sip the water, bump the speed.
I fumble with the phone to get a podcast started. There are a few newsy ones I want to listen to. After several false starts, I find one that seems useful and start to settle in.
More miles ease by: sip the water, bump the speed. Finally finding the groove now.
I start a second podcast that takes me to mile eight, but I’m tiring of them now. Listening was a good use of the time, and I might be a little more knowledgeable, but I’m ready for a change.
The pace has come up nicely, legs are churning steadily, and the sweat towel is proving handy. Let’s finish this thing off with some music.
Even then, there’s friction.
Hitting my Stride
With sweaty fingers I fight the app on my phone, struggling to find the playlist I’m looking for. It’s not where it should be, and searching for it is not easy to do while running. After several screens and lots of tapping I finally locate the one I want, creatively named “Workout 1.”
I set it to random, and hit play. One of my favorites comes on right out of the gate: Ramble On by Led Zeppelin. A smile breaks out on my face; everything changes.
The simple acoustic guitar and drum intro greets me like an old friend. The rhythm seems to grab my legs and propel them forward. It’s early, but almost involuntarily my right hand bumps up the speed again.
As the bass joins the other instruments and the lyrics begin, my head becomes light, my legs lighter, and the smile becomes a grin. Bump.
The song builds to the hard-driving chorus just as the endorphins kick in, the “runners high” perfectly timed to the song’s crescendo. I bump up the speed again. And then again.
“Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I’ve got one thing I got to do.
Ramble on. Now’s the time, the time is now…”
At that point I can’t be certain I wasn’t singing out loud, and I’m pretty sure I’d have been playing air guitar if doing so didn’t threaten to shoot me off the back of the treadmill. Instead, I helped John Bonham with some of the drum fills even as I seemed to float a few inches above the machine.
Mile nine came and went but I was way ahead on the pacing plan. More great songs followed, and I bumped the speed a final time for the last half mile, the treadmill belt whirring under my feet.
Finally, at mile ten the run is over; I drop the speed to a fast walk to recover, the music still thumping in my head. I glance at the woman on the treadmill beside me to see if she’s noticed. She’d been doing that strong steady walk the entire time. We are partners in fitness. I almost want to give her a high-five to celebrate.
The good feeling stays with me after changing, on the drive home, and into the evening. A great ending to a good day.
What did I learn, or re-learn from this experience? Five Quick Takeaways.
Beat the Hamster Wheel – The Takeaway
The power of habit. Every time we do that thing we told ourselves we were going to do, we strengthen our ability to do it again. Do that enough times and you remove the decision from the equation and it becomes a habit. Sometimes, the simple act of climbing on is a way to beat the hamster wheel.
Fight the friction. Make the path to the desired act as simple and smooth as possible; the less we have to fight through, the easier it will be to keep going. Next time I’ll pre-load those podcasts and practice with the playlist.
The beginning doesn’t dictate the end. The way things start out does not necessarily predict how they will end. Get started, and keep going. A shaky start doesn’t mean the effort is doomed to fail.
Find the joy. If we can find ways to make the necessary grunt work more enjoyable, then we are more likely to get it done. Change the scenery, add variety, mix in some music. If I can find joy in treadmill running, just about anything must be possible, right?
The doing can be its own reward. Often the things we have to do are stepping stones to something else we want to achieve. It can help to look at completing those necessary things as reasons to celebrate. In keeping that promise to ourselves we have become mentally stronger, so feel good about it, and go ahead and give your neighbor that high-five.
Want to learn more about how to achieve your goals, even if they involve time on a treadmill? My course on Goal Setting Mastery can help.
Whatever goal you are after, it is possible to beat the hamster wheel; the first step is to climb on.
By the way, if your goals happen to take you to the gym, please save me a treadmill.