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6

Escape the Hutch Mentality

Friends of mine used to have a rabbit called Badger. He was black and white, with no ears due to a birth defect. He was anti-social, and not a fan of the hutch he was given, so moved out. He dug a burrow (sett may be more appropriate in his case) and was rarely seen by the family, only emerging to eat the food left out for him.

This may seem an odd introduction for a life and business coaching blog article, but stick with it. We’re exploring the hutch mentality together, its potential pitfalls, and the opportunities that come from understanding and reframing it and ourselves.

Typically, domestic rabbits seem happy to live in the hutches or cages we give them and quite content to be looked after. Consider house rabbits: They live in an environment far removed from their natural habitat, yet don’t tend to run out of the front door when the opportunity presents itself.
A possible explanation for this is that as a small prey animal, with big ears and wide-set eyes to look out for danger, rabbits feel safe and secure in a sociable, protected environment. Instead of the hutch being a confining environment that keeps them trapped in, it’s a protective environment that keeps threats out.

An alternative explanation is that domesticated rabbits have become conditioned to captivity. They don’t know anything else, have no concept of what life might be like in the wild and are blissfully, ignorantly content to remain caged by their owners.

I don’t know which option is true for rabbits. For humans, however, I’m inclined to think both can be correct. What’s more, they can be correct in the same person, at the same time, depending on the area of life being considered, with positive and negative side-effects.

It would be easy to think “humans are intelligent, so we know when we’re being trapped”. That may be true in clear cases of restricted liberty, such as being imprisoned, but what about less obvious, subtle circumstances? For example:

  • The person who has no control over their own life because of the coercive behaviour of an abusive partner.
  • The working class boy from a former mining town who wants to be a ballet dancer, but is told “boys don’t dance”.
  • The person who doesn’t pursue their career dreams because they’re comfortable with the easy, familiar role they currently have.

 

Clearly, these hutches aren’t all alike. The first is horrible manipulation; the second is restrictive social conditioning; and the third could be considered quite a nice situation to find yourself in if your career isn’t the most important thing in the world to you.

There are four steps to breaking free from your hutch:

  1. Recognising you’re in a hutch;
  2. Deciding if you actually want to change your situation;
  3. Planning your escape;
  4. Putting the plan into action.

 

Thinking about hamsters, rather than rabbits, for a moment, they appear to be “all-or-nothing” in their approach to life with a high, nervous energy. They’re either hidden away, sleeping for hours, or running flat out on their wheels. They’re putting in a lot of work, but not going anywhere. Why is this?

Anyone who has pulled up floorboards searching for a pet hamster that has gotten free will likely agree that hamsters seem to have an urge to escape. This could be from an instinctive understanding the cage is not their natural environment. Yet without direct experience or knowledge of the outside world a hamster is not going to know where to go, how to get there, or even how to survive.

Again, this can apply to humans. You may have a feeling your current circumstances are not the best environment for you. You may even be putting in a lot of energy trying to escape from those circumstances, or change that environment. Without a clear sense of direction or understanding of what you need to move on and thrive, you run the risk of getting stuck on the treadmill – putting in a lot of effort and getting nothing in return – or disappearing under the floorboards – making a change, but not the right one.

To a degree, this is an inevitable challenge that has to be overcome. Any new venture, or big life decision, is a leap into the unknown. That can’t be avoided entirely, but the risk of failure can be reduced.

Known-unknowns can be filled in with research and training. The unknown-unknowns are trickier, but there will almost certainly be someone out there who can help make you aware of the things you didn’t even know you needed to think about. This is where the guiding hand of a trusted friend, loved one, colleague, mentor or coach can make your path clearer. Even with support, it can still be scary. The most important steps in life often are.

Taking a simplified, somewhat altered version of Plato’s cave analogy, imagine you’ve been confined to a cave for your whole life and have only ever seen pictures of the outside world. One day, you’re given the opportunity to leave the cave, but the light of the sun is so blinding you want to retreat back to the comforting familiarity of the darkness. Stick it out and let your eyes adjust, however, and you’ll be able to enjoy the sights and sensations of a whole world you didn’t know was out there.
It’s hard to achieve this on your own. A good team or coach can support you to get through the overwhelming blinding light stage. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with the right people, whether they provide practical, financial, or emotional support.

The strategies above assume you need to leave your hutch for good. Yet it’s also important to recognise there are instances when it’s more than OK to stay in your hutch, or to come and go. As long as it’s not holding you back, a hutch can provide you with the tools to get out there and achieve great things.

If your current hutch doesn’t help you, seek out a new one, or work to improve the one you have. Unless you are trapped against your will, you hold the keys to your hutch. If you want it to be, you can make your hutch a home, not a cage.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with cultivating an environment that provides comfort, safety and security. Indeed, I’d recommend it. It could be a physical safe space, the support of others, or even a mindset you cultivate within yourself.

To my mind, that’s what Badger did. He may have moved out of his hutch, seeking freedom, but he didn’t venture too far. Every day he emerged from his tunnel for fresh air and to eat the food left out for him in an area of the garden he knew to be safe. With his essential needs met, he could focus on his life’s work: tunnelling under the garage.

Viewed through this lens, a hutch isn’t always a negative place to find yourself. Provided it isn’t a cage, it can be a mental or physical refuelling or repair station. Or better yet, it can be a launch pad. A base from which you plan and prepare before taking off, escaping the gravitational pull of everything that holds you back, to soar higher than you dared dream was possible.

For coaching and guidance on how to reach escape velocity and achieve your dreams, please get in touch. I’d love to join you on your journey.

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