Stuck in a rut? Your ability to change your life today is in your grasp right now. You have a unique perspective on life born of years of experience, the ability to look at the big picture from where you are today. So, what’s holding you back? And what is your magic wand?
The trick may be to know when our ‘big picture’ has become an unchanging photograph of a world that once was, when the world is a multimedia presentation of change, disruption, and progress.
Bridge Closed Ahead
If you follow me on Twitter, you may know that I am a walker. Using my walk, the city of Minneapolis taught me something about myself. I saw the lesson coming, but I didn’t know it would be a lesson. My route is to walk down do 8th Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, cross the bridge, and make a circuit bringing me back towards home across another bridge across the Mississippi. Or that same walk backwards.
All told, about 3 miles.
About a week ago, maybe a little more, I saw city workers looking over the edge of the bridge. They had a cherry-picker truck with a man-hoist on it. Someone was on that contraption looking at the underside of the bridge. Then, without consulting me in any way on a Friday, they closed the bridge.
They closed my damn bridge. Imagine that.
Now, Minneapolis actually means City of Lakes, and there are plenty of them, there is the Mississippi three blocks from my house, and an abundance of parks, walkways, running and biking paths all close at hand. It’s not like I don’t have choices up the wazoo.
So, it surprised me how upset I was at the bridge closing. I know this sounds a little weird, but I was actually a little disoriented. “What do I do now? This really screws things up,” I chided in silence, “and I don’t like it.”
Whining. Never like that about myself.
A Path Becomes a Rut
Then it struck me. Wow, this route had become a habit, a dependency, a routine, a brain rut, and having it taken away from me gave it brand new noticeable dimensions.
My path had become a rut. Literally, it was a physical rut.
Doing something over and over again, related pathways in our brain get activated. It’s like practicing a tennis serve or a free throw, or the lines from a play. Except of course, with those practices, we have a positive outcome in mind.
Practicing something mindfully and on purpose will often get us results we want. Each time we take a swing, try out a new chess move, or write a blog post, this substance called myelin starts wrapping itself around the neural pathways that are related to that thing we do. Done on purpose with an end in mind, the result is getting better at some desired behavior. These practices are like bridges to our dreams and our purpose.
And in my experience, as we age we need more of these purposeful practices, except maybe – just a little – more open ended.
It’s just as easy to get caught in our own under the radar traps when we do something mindlessly. As I get older, like others in my baby boomer generation, I notice sometimes a little bit of rigidity in my thinking. I feel stuck – in a rut, so to speak. Myelin is smart stuff, but not that smart. It will insulate and clear the neural road for less than desirable habits, too.
Your Brain (or mine) of Wax
Think of it like this. If your brain were made of wax and from above, we start dripping hottish water onto the top, for a while, the drip would hit, and then trickle down randomly. But at some point, it would find a path of least resistance and start following it. Over time, a groove would appear on our wax brain, and then all the water would roll down that same ‘rut.’
Sometimes a good thing, sometimes not so much.
The older we get, the easier it gets to get trapped in one of those ‘not so much’ ruts, doing the same thing, reacting the same way, over and over again.
So, What To Do?
Possibilities abound, so, not to worry. Not to say that this isn’t work. It is. Here are a couple of things I am trying to do –
When I catch myself gripping the way I do things like I have a choke hold on them, I try to loosen the grip a little bit.
On my walk, I am taking this as a challenge. There are dozens of ways that I can go, four directions and everything in between. I am thinking of flipping a coin or something like that to choose a direction.
I am trying to ask more questions and have fewer answers.
I am staying away from news shows, pundits, and political talk. It seems like I get a little more cynical with every word I hear.
And I am working at noticing when I am doing things out of rote memorization, rather than from a creative, mindful stance.
How about you? Do you find yourself reacting tightly and rigidly? What have you tried to change that? Is it something you want to change?