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Getting Off the Treadmill of Life

Getting Off the Treadmill of Life
Treadmill

    Do you wish you could slow things down, especially your mind? Life is hectic and harried, but there are several ways you can jump off the hamster wheel of life to get some much needed respite. You only need to mentally commit to it and you can make it happen. Here are a few ideas.

    1. The Bathroom Break
    You may laugh at this idea, but it isn’t called the rest room for nothing. For many of us, our day is a never ending stream of requests for our attention from others. When you find yourself hitting the wall, go take a bathroom break whether you need to go or not. Go into the stall and have a seat, close your eyes, take a deep breath (if it’s safe), and relax. Try putting your hands over your eyes and rubbing your temples. You’ll feel better even though this is a short break. Use the time to think about what you really need to do next instead of just reacting to every request.

    2. Meditation Nap
    This has been featured on Lifehack before. Here is a very quick synopsis: take a 5-20 minute break where you stretch, close your eyes, and empty your mind in a relaxed but wakeful state. You will be amazed at how much this can rejuvenate you!

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    3. Appointment with Yourself
    Set aside a one hour appointment with yourself during your day. No one needs to know that the appointment is only with yourself. Where? Library or a bookstore are both nice quiet places you could retreat to. What should you do during this time? Since it is not a huge amount of time, I would suggest using part of the time for a meditation nap, and then use the remainder to think about your dreams and how you can move towards them. You might want to schedule this kind of time once a month or once a week even.

    4. Play Hooky for the Day
    Sometimes when you’re working hard, it can be easy to feel like you’re never going to reach your dreams. You may feel tired, down, or frustrated. This is when you should take a whole day for yourself! If you are doing work that is not towards your dream, use the day to redesign your life. Where do you want to go? How do you want to live life? Map out how you will get there. Start today! If you are already working towards your dream and you are simply exhausted, use it as a day to play and relax. Go see a movie, visit a museum, anything that will allow you to forget about work and enjoy life.

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    5. Change Your Perspective
    Sometimes we can’t get our minds off our work, even when we come home from work. So how do you slow down your mind? Many turn to TV to help turn off our minds. But how about doing something totally different? You could: go to an art opening, do some volunteer work, visit a lecture at the local library, go see a live play or live music, or anything else that will help you forget about work for a while, but at the same time open your mind to other ideas instead of turnig your brain off the way TV can.

    6. Change Your Location
    Another idea for freeing your mind is to go to a place you don’t usually visit. Or go to a place that you do go to frequently, but this time really take notice of what’s going on around you. For example, a great place to go is simply out in nature. The woods, the beach, the mountains, the park. As a child how did you feel when you were in these places? Can you notice those things again today as an adult? Go ahead and take some time to enjoy fond memories. Let them take you away from it all. Do the smells, sounds, and scenery of a place talk to you? What do they say? What do they motivate you to do differently going forward?

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    7. Play!
    Take some time to play some games, sing, or dance with your children or with friends or family. Make it a point to become really engaged. Tell yourself that all your worries and thoughts will still be there when you’re done playing. Commit to letting it all go while you do so. If it’s hard for you to do this, then schedule it with someone with whom you won’t be able to break the date. Have fun for a change. A good warm up is to play some music before to get your fun self moving and grooving and leave your work-a-holic self in the dust!

    8. Going to Sleep
    At night, there are a couple things you can do to get off the treadmill of life. First be kind to
    yourself by going to sleep when you’re tired! Find a way to turn off the TV an hour or more before your target bed time. TV is a stimulant, even if you think it helps you fall asleep. Better yet, leave the TV off except for your favorite shows or educational TV. Don’t be afraid to be alone with yourself or alone with your spouse. When the TV is turned off you can begin to think, to unwind the day. Try it or a week. If that’s hard for you to do, you could try putting the TV in the garage for a week to failproof it.

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    The second thing you can do when going to sleep is, if you find yourself thinking too much, try this mantra, “Empty the Mind.” Just repeat that as often as is necessary to release your mind’s clinging to work, worry, and ceaseless thinking. Remind yourself that by releasing your thoughts and succumbing to rest, your subconscious mind will continue to work on the problems for you while you sleep. You will wake up refreshed and with the energy needed to tackle your challenges anew.

    Which idea will you try today? What other ideas do you have for escaping the treadmill of life?

    K. Stone is author of Life Learning Today, a blog about daily life improvements. A few of her most popular articles are How to Stop Being “Busy” and Live Your Dream Life, Creativity Blocks? Bash Through in 15 Steps, How to Nap at Work – or Anyplace You Need a Rest, and The Cure for Overworked, Overtired YOU!.

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    K. Stone

    The founder of Life Learning Today, a blog that's dedicated to life improvement tips.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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