As a society, we go and go and go; we do and do and do. We fly from one event to another with little time to truly enjoy either. We work a lot, but accomplish little; we’re over fed, yet under nourished; we spend all day running errands, but never even get off our bums. We work for the weekend, but when it gets here we’re too zapped to enjoy it, so we let screen time take over family time.
In short, like a child stepping off a merry-go-round , we seem to have lost our balance.
I have not yet mastered the art of “balance”. In fact, just yesterday, I found myself conducting a phone interview whilst cooking dinner, scrubbing dishes and simultaneously refereeing an argument between my children using only facial expressions… the antithesis of balanced!
So, for the record, I do not write on this subject from a place of authority; rather, as a student – reading, researching, learning, trying, failing and trying again.
According to the experts, the first, and perhaps most important, step on the road to finding balance is pretty simple. To achieve a thing, we must first know what that thing is, so we must define it.
1: DEFINE BALANCE ON YOUR OWN TERMS
I’ve only recently come to accept the fact that “balance” – as it pertains to our lives – is an amorphous and slippery thing. Our idea of what it is and what it should look like will differ from person to person and will likely change from season to season. That is to say: we must define for ourselves what OUR balanced life will look like, and then we must remain flexible enough to allow that definition to expand and contract as we move from one life stage to the next.
Regardless of how you decide to define balance for yourself, there are a few things we can all do to increase the likelihood that we will achieve it.
2: LEARN TO SAY NO
To overcommit is to actively steer your life out of balance.
People overcommit for so many different reasons and to so many different things that it can be difficult to identify a specific area for improvement. We over commit to family, to work and to church. We overcommit to causes that mean a great deal to us. We do favors for our friends and our coworkers. We volunteer in the community and at our children’s school. The list goes on and on!
While our commitments are certainly commendable, they add hours to an already over-scheduled life. They also add a great deal of stress to both mind and body. In the long run, overcommitting does far more harm than good.
People who regularly overcommit often struggle to set appropriate boundaries. Defining boundaries and setting limits is one of the biggest problems professionals (especially women) face today. More often than not, if a person has trouble setting appropriate boundaries, that person likely has trouble saying “no”.
A person’s inability to say “no” can often be traced back to their childhood. As kids we were taught to be helpful and accommodating. If we could help, we were told that we should help. Period. Even if it pulled us away from something that we were already doing. Our refusal to be pulled away often resulted in a scolding: “Don’t be so selfish.” or “Do you not care about this?”
As children we were told to be “Good little boys and girls”. Thus conditioned to buy into the good/bad binary. To help was good, to refuse help was bad. Our reward system was equally simplistic: do good, feel good; do bad, feel bad.
As adults we recognize that the world is not quite so black and white. However, those of us who habitually overcommit, tend to be the same people who have trouble letting go of the bad feeling (otherwise known as guilt) associated with falling short of expectations.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
While practice may not make “perfect”, it does make improvements!
Often, people overcommit because they’re caught off guard when a favor is asked. They say “yes” because – in the moment – they can’t seem to come up with a good enough reason for saying “no”. Although you really don’t have to have a reason to turn someone down, a blanket “no” can feel cold and rude. For this, the experts recommend developing a prepared response.
To deliver a prepared response without sounding robotic or insincere will require some forethought – and some practice.
Say the word “No” out loud and then deliver your response. Hone your words and tweak your tone, so that when the time comes you’ll feel more comfortable delivering your response. For example, practice saying, “It’s so nice of you to think of me, but I just don’t believe I can add anything else to my schedule right now.” Or maybe, “Oh how nice! I’d love to! But I simply do not have the time to devote to it right now.
Negotiate for terms that work for you.
If you feel strongly about a particular request, but don’t currently have the ability to take it on, perhaps you could try to negotiate for a time line that will work better for you. The trick, here, will be to make sure that you allow yourself enough time. It’s better to negotiate for more time than you need, than to cut yourself short.
The truth is: we simply cannot be all things to all people. Recognizing and accepting this fact is a major step on the road to finding balance.
3: SET A GOAL
Many a book has been written on the nuanced art of goal setting. There are those who would have you close your eyes and listen for voices on the wind. There are others who suggest you talk to your pillow and imagine it’s response. While I value a creative suggestion as much as anyone, I prefer – simply – to sit, and think, and write. I give myself three criteria: my goal must be specific, it must be measurable and it must be realistic.
Perhaps you think, “Good health is key to finding balance. So, I want to get healthy.” Mmkay… but how? Will you eat better? Eat less? Work out more? Will you meditate? Will you take a class? There’s nothing wrong with a general goal. However, to be successful, experts suggest identifying a specific outcome and narrowing your focus.
Make it Measurable
Let’s say that you decide “finding a healthful balance” means that you will eat better and work out more. Alright, what does it mean to eat better? And what does it mean to work out more? How much better? How much more? Perhaps you’ll start by eliminating soft drinks. Maybe “more” means an additional 30 minutes in the gym each day. Whatever your goal, make sure that you are able to measure your own progress.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re not going from “Couch to 5k in 2 weeks”, you’re not going to lose 20 pounds in 10 days, and you’re not going to master your schedule in 24 hours.
Change – meaningful, lasting, healthy change – takes time and work. It requires honest self assessment and a willingness to try and fail and try again.
To rush, to reach too far, or push too hard… to be unrealistic will surely tip the scales and further your imbalance. So, give yourself time. Take a measured approach and implement change incrementally.
4: MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
I know. It can be hard to take the disciples of the “self care” movement seriously. But aren’t you a better you after a good nights sleep? Isn’t your body stronger when it has been properly nourished, and your focus sharper when your mind has been cleared?
So… even though it may feel silly or self indulgent, do it. Take care of yourself. Take time to be still, to rest your mind, to find your center and to organize your thoughts.
I’m conclusion, I believe it is highly unlikely that we will ever take stock of our lives and say, “Yes! This is perfectly balanced.” There are just too many curve balls in the game of life; too many opportunities to fall out of step. However, by learning to set reasonable limits, establishing smart goals and taking time to wrap our minds around them, I believe it is very likely that we will be able to say, “Yes! This is much better”!