Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 42;   October 17, 2001: Running Your Personal Squirrel Cage

Running Your Personal Squirrel Cage

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

As Glen rounded the corner behind the old oak, entering the last mile of his morning run, he suddenly realized that he was thinking about picking up the dry cleaning tomorrow and changing his medical appointment. Physically, he was jogging in a park, but mentally, he was running in a squirrel cage. How does this happen? What can we do about it?
A squirrel running a cage

Have you ever noticed yourself running in a mental squirrel cage? A squirrel cage is a rotating toy for small caged animals — hamsters, mice, and squirrels. They climb aboard, and as they run the cage spins. They run, but they get nowhere.

When your mind runs in its squirrel cage, it too runs but gets nowhere. Pick up the dry cleaning tomorrow, call the doctor to change my appointment, get the lawn mower fixed, return Philippe's call, call Josh's teacher about his homework load, make reservations for vacation, pick up the dry cleaning tomorrow, call the doctor…over and over, but none of it is getting done. Each item in the list is a rung in your mental squirrel cage.

If this sounds familiar, think of the personal cost. Running the cage prevents you from being fully present with the people and things you love — your morning jog, your loved ones, the books you like to read, or even this article. Running the cage keeps you from focusing fully on what's happening right now.

To learn how often this happens for you, carry a pen and notebook or index card for a few days — everywhere. When you notice that you're in the squirrel cage, record the time and a few of the items you remember. If you're a habitual cage runner, you'll soon know it.

Running your personal squirrel
cage prevents you from being
fully present with the people
and things you love
To spend less time aboard your squirrel cage, deal with the items that you run over and over in your mind. Eventually, you'll find methods that work for you — meanwhile, here are some to get you started.

Make a catalog of the rungs of your cage
Whenever you recognize that you're in the cage, make notes of any of the items you can remember. You can't deal with them unless you know what they are.
Recognize the hidden cost of procrastination
When we delay dealing with minor tasks, they become available to serve as rungs in the squirrel cage. Procrastination thus drains our energy and blurs our focus. Next time you're considering postponing something, remember the squirrel cage.
Make conscious choices
Once you know what items make up your personal squirrel cage, you can choose, for each one, whether you'll take action, or keep it in the squirrel cage. If you can't act right then, pick a date. If you choose consciously, you'll most likely choose to act rather than keep it in the cage.

After a while, you might notice a time that you aren't running in your squirrel cage. Congratulate yourself. Celebrate your progress in some concrete way that you really enjoy. See "Celebrate!," Point Lookout for February 21, 2001, for some ideas. Go to top Top  Next issue: First Aid for Painful Meetings  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Don't rely solely on your spell checkerEmail Antics: III
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
A light bulb, the universal symbol of creativityAsking Brilliant Questions
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain ForestTeamwork Myths: I vs. We
In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
Perceptual illusions resulting from reificationThe Reification Error and Performance Management
Just as real concrete objects have attributes, so do abstract concepts, or constructs. But attempting to measure the attributes of constructs as if they were the attributes of real objects is an example of the reification error. In performance management, committing this error leads to unexpected and unwanted results.
A forest pathThe Goal Is Not the Path
Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Representative Don Young, Republican of AlaskaComing June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
Filling a form in hardcopyAnd on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.