We hear this phrase a lot these days. It’s sometimes tossed around like it’s easy to achieve. “Is this even possible?” you ask. More than ever before, we play many different roles in our lives. We are workers, parents, spouses, friends, caregivers of elderly relatives and volunteers. It’s not easy to achieve balance among all these competing priorities. New technologies designed to ease our work lives often increase the expectation that we are available 24/7, making a work-life balance even more challenging.
Creating equilibrium among all the priorities in your life is going to look different for every person. A moderate amount of stress is a good thing. It can improve our efficiency and keep us sharp. But our everyday juggling act can quickly go from a motivating challenge to a full-on state of “overwhelm”, harming our health and how we live our lives.
Most of us know when we are out of balance, but sometimes we don’t really pay attention until it’s too late. So watch for the signs:
- You feel like you’ve lost control of your life.
- You often feel guilty about neglecting your different roles.
- You find it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.
- You’re always tired.
These signs are telling you that your life is off balance. But they can motivate you to make positive changes.
Here are 5 ways to go from wishing your life was more balanced to making it and keeping it real:
1. Take an Eagle Eye View
This is a great place to start. Close your eyes for a few moments. Imagine you are an eagle with wise, intelligent, curious, all-seeing eyes. You are soaring high above your life, surveying the landscape. What’s the first thing you notice? What do you see next? Look carefully at all the different aspects of your life: work, family, friends, relationships, home, leisure activities, passions.
As you are doing this, notice what is happening in your body. Perhaps a knot in your stomach? Tightening of your throat? Warmth or coolness; lightness or heaviness? Simply notice with a sense of curiosity, without any judgement. You are taking stock of your life and gathering information.
2. Sharpen the Saw
There is an old parable about a young man noticing a woodcutter straining to saw down a tree. The young man suggests that the exhausted woodcutter take a break and sharpen the saw so he could cut down the tree faster and with less effort. The woodcutter answers, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. Don’t you see I’m too busy?”
Sound familiar? Sometimes we are so busy that we don’t take time to slow down and do something that could actually make things easier. In his top-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey uses this as an analogy for personal renewal, or taking time to “sharpen the saw”.
The greatest asset you have is yourself. Take a good look at these 4 areas:
Does one area feel more unbalanced than the others? What would bring more balance? Commit to writing down one specific “sharpen the saw” activity in each of the 4 areas. Set an intention to establish a “tiny habit” related to each activity.
3. Start a “Tiny Habit”
The idea of a tiny habit comes from Stanford habit researcher BJ Fogg. (www.tinyhabits.com). In her book, The Sweet Spot – How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, Dr. Christine Carter applies this idea to making life changes. She suggests that to make a change, start with the easiest thing.
The tiny habit needs to be something that you do every day (no exceptions), takes less than 30 seconds and requires little physical effort and money. Think about a tiny habit related to one of the “sharpen your saw” changes you would like to make. For example, “After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day” or “After I get home from work, I will go for a ten-minute walk”.
Start with the easiest possible habit – something that would make you really happy if you did it every day. What habit would have the biggest built-in reward?
4. Contemplate Impermanence
Well that’s kind of morbid. Are you serious? Yes! We all know that we will die one day but we have a tendency to deny this awareness. We can go through life on automatic pilot, often waiting for the “right circumstances”, as though we will live forever. Everything that we are attached to or hold dear will change; that’s a given.
Allow yourself to bring the thought of “everything changes” into your daily life. This practice can serve as a poignant reminder that we have only one life. Life is not a dream; this is it. How do you really want to live it?
5. Imagine 20 Years from Now
With your eagle eye view, look back at all the different aspects of your life from the perspective of 20 years in the future. What stands out? What are you most proud of? Is there any aspect of your life that you would want to change? Was there a healthy balance? What was most meaningful? What filled you with joy? Imagining the future can help you come back to balance in the present.
As the poet Mary Oliver so eloquently asks in her poem “The Summer Day”,