The Balancing Act
In this article I talk about ‘balance’. It’s a word we use a lot, especially in the context of wanting a ‘balanced life’:
Have you got a good work-life balance?
I’d love a more balanced life!
I’ve not got any balance in my life!
Many of us think that achieving this balance is the ideal, the utopian state, having all our ducks in a row, having ticked all the boxes – then we’re done, off we ride into the sunset.
Doesn’t sound too realistic does it, when you look at it like that?! Reality is the constant battling, fighting fires, making no progress, frustrated because there’s no time to fit everything in, or because feel you’ve lost control over your life. Sometimes it feels like everyone has got it sussed (think Facebook highlights), whilst you’re still playing catch up.
Rest assured…..you are not alone. Many of us, particularly women in our 30s, 40s and beyond have this dilemma: How do I achieve balance in my life?
What is Balance?
1. 1. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.
2. 2. a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
So have you ever felt like this, like you have an ‘even distribution of weight’ in your life? Completely in balance with equal amounts of energy spent on every aspect of your life? Probably not. And that’s because we have to wax and wane as life changes.
Life is dynamic, not static, and we move with it. Which means that our ‘perfect balance’ will always change too. ‘A situation in which different elements are in the correct proportions’ sounds more like it, and the ‘correct proportions’ really depends on you, the individual.
Over the decades (centuries), life has changed dramatically – especially for women over the past 50 years, as we have gained greater equity in various arenas, and for everyone over the last 20 with the advent of internet. No one can ignore the internet’s huge influence – positive and negative – on business and social connectivity. We live in a world so different from anything that’s gone before. We face different challenges. We have taken on new roles.
Yet somehow, in many cases we haven’t yet let go of the old ways, beliefs, expectations and roles. It can be hard to find our own personal route through this, and we can feel like we are constantly ‘battling’ through the forest.
Life is full of challenges, ups and downs, changing situations, some out of our control. We have to be prepared to face these changes, so rather than getting frustrated, it’s likely to be more productive to simply accept that we are entering a new phase or time in our life, and respond to the new situation by adapting our focus – and therefore the balance.
Balance v Busy
It’s important, however, not to confuse balance with not being busy. To some people, the utopian balance is like the work hard/play hard ethic – you work hard all day, then chill out with Netflix and a takeaway in the evening. But it’s not necessarily this for everyone. Likewise balance doesn’t mean being all things to all people. Balance is about you choosing where and how you spend your time, and prioritising what’s important to you.
The first step is to consider and be aware of what the ‘ideal’ balance looks like to YOU. So have a centrepoint, a balanced scales, as a reference point, from which point you can be fluid, but not deviate too far – as this where great frustration can set in.
It’s in our nature as humans to be hopeful and optimistic about the future. According to an article in Time (1) “a growing body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain…Hope keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress and improves physical health”.
It is this that keeps us battling forward, making progress in our own lives and in the wider world, which is a good thing. But if we don’t have an awareness of what we’re working towards and what we want to achieve, then it can have the opposite effect and increase the pressure we put on ourselves and take its toll on our health.
Finding YOUR Balance
Think about the things that make you happy and most fulfilled. What gives you pleasure? What can you get excited about? Is this already in your life and would you like more of it, or do you need to introduce it? Set yourself a goal to bring some or more of it into your life. Then develop a positive mindset around it: increase the positive self-talk around it, start to visualise yourself doing more of it, write it down on sticky notes as reminders.
On the flip side, are you feeling unbalanced because there is too much of something that is tipping you the wrong way? Notwithstanding that we need to tweak our balance with the ebb and flow of life, is there something in your life that is draining your energy right now? How would you feel if you removed it or reduced the time spent in that space? It could be as varied as you not delegating enough at work, or spending too much time with a friend who complains continually, or always saying yes to volunteer roles that don’t actually float your boat.
But of course, thinking, dreaming and visualising is only part of the picture. You’ll need to take action too. Removing something from your life can be difficult and confronting, it may involve letting people down in the short term, but if it’s for your longer-term health and mental wellness, it’s worth it.
If you’re introducing something new, you’ll need to be persistent with it. You won’t feel ‘in balance’ the first time you do something that makes you happy. You need to do it consistently. Maybe it’s connecting with your girlfriends more often; maybe it’s volunteering at a charity; maybe it’s taking your children on a day out once a month and being fully present with them; maybe it is walking along the beach twice a week; or maybe it’s studying so you can make a career change. It is such a personal journey – celebrate it and commit to it.
Balance is about tweaking your focus to find your norm, your centrepoint, and then you can weave the ins and outs of life around it. Don’t expect it to feel in balance all the time, rather accept your focus will shift to different areas of your life at different times. But by setting your own centre of gravity, you will feel more in control.
If you start to think about this and make small changes, you’ll be amazed at the results. It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s one change at a time. But once you’re aware of what brings you the greatest joy, and working out how, step by step, you can bring more of it into your life, you’ll start to feel more positive, more productive and more at peace with the decisions you have made.
And I am confident that other people – whether friends, family, colleagues – will be inspired by the passion and happiness they see in you.
1. Make peace with the fact that a balanced life is not a static one, and be prepared to tweak your focus/energy according to life circumstances
2. Understand that balance isn’t necessarily about not being busy – it’s about choosing where you spend your time
3. Everyone’s balance looks different – define what your ideal is to help guide your actions and responses
4. Develop a positive mindset, take action and be persistent
5. It is YOUR journey – enjoy it and acknowledge the inspiration you will be to those around you.
Footnote 1: http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2074067,00.html