Have you ever stopped to think about what we mean when we say we feel stuck?For me, feeling stuck implies that I am living “day in and day out” in a hamster-wheel-like experience. Instead of waking up with excitement or even just mild positivity, I wake up like Bill Murray to Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe” in the movie Groundhog Day. Ugh.
STUCK VS CONNECTED
I feel stuck when life feels like I have no agency or choice and what I’m doing doesn’t feel significant in the grand scheme of things. In an effort to change this experience, I find myself wondering if the routine itself is the culprit. I imagine that if I just change the routine, I will experience something different. So I change something up and that works for a little while. Eventually, however, I begin to identify with Bill Murray’s character again and wake up wanting to smash the alarm clock.
If this idea of “stuckness” resonates with you, you’re not alone. Millions of people report feeling the same way, resulting in a whole industry of “routine busting” life hacks.
But I wonder if instead of searching for that new element like a new exercise program or eating habit (I’ve been there! Tried them all!), what if we were to focus instead on “feeling connected.” For me, when I feel connected, I experience a sense of agency and purpose. I know that what I do matters, even when I’m still engaging in a similar routine. What changes is that the routine seems to flow.
“Always Rising” by Elliot12trees Instagram: elliot12trees )
WHAT IS FLOW?
According to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the psychologist who popularized the term “flow state” in his book, “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life,” flow is “complete immersion in an experience.” It can occur during various activities such as singing in a choir or reading a good book. It can also happen at work if you love your job, and in social interactions when talking with a good friend or enjoying your children. “Moments such as these,” says Csíkszentmihályi, “provide flashes of intense living against the dull background of everyday life.”
When we are experiencing flow, we feel connected and empowered in our lives. We feel like we’re hitting our sweet spots or “in the zone.” As Csíkszentmihályi notes, experiencing flow is different from passing moments of happiness that may come from a favorable set of circumstances (like getting the perfect parking spot or our kiddos bringing home an awesome report card). Instead, flow is a kind of happiness that occurs when a person responds to a clear set of goals that require specific actions. Flow is something you can create.
But don’t run off to get that newest goal-planning bullet journal just yet (although I LOVE those and am always looking for good recommendations!). Getting off the hamster wheel and achieving a state of flow takes more than just becoming “goal-oriented.”
Sometimes our goals can be so lofty that we set ourselves up to fail. In so doing, we overlook the impact of small successes. There needs to be a balance. To become connected rather than stuck, our goals need to be challenging enough to push us out of our comfort zones but not so big that we can’t track our progress.
According to Harvard professor and writer, Teresa Amabile, this is borne out in the workplace. She points out that sometimes when we think about progress, we imagine long-term goals or major breakthroughs. Achieving these things is great but relatively rare. “Ordinary, incremental progress,” however, “can increase people’s engagement in [their] work and their happiness.”
Abstract painter Elliot12trees finds some flow in her studio in downtown Columbus, OH. Photos in the background are from photogrpaher Colin Dearth (Instagram: colindearthphotographs)
Managing a life full of hard work and responsibilities without burning out is a tall order. In a recent discussion with Elliot12trees, abstract painter and small business owner in Columbus, OH, emerging from any rut has depended on such “small wins.”
“When thinking about any personal struggle I have come through, focusing on small, every day, even personally ritualized practices of connecting to life is essential for survival, then ‘thrival’.”
Elliot’s secret to “staying motivated and hopeful” while working in a profession that is full of emotional and career ebbs and flows, she recommends taking a break from pushing your Sisyphean rocks up the hill. “If you’re not pressured with an immediate deadline and can press pause on a task that isn’t showing progress, go do something else that’s totally unrelated. Turn your forward focus elsewhere and rely on the rest of your consciousness to do the work.”
With a little bit of innovation and reflection on our daily routines, there is a way out of a Sisyphean life: Add just enough challenge that breaches your comfort zone and set small-win goals!
If you’re looking for a way to step out of your comfort zone and connect to the world:
- Consider just how much what you do matters.
- Learn about how living out your values builds resilience in your kids.
- Find out how you can form more meaningful friendships in your life.