We aren’t born able to balance. We learn to sit up, to crawl, to walk. We learn to run, to ride a bike, perhaps to skate or ski. Part of the process is wobbling, falling over, picking ourselves up, and starting again.
Life itself is a balancing act. We’re constantly negotiating between different pressures and demands – work, family, friends, volunteering. And we’re also seeking balance within ourselves: a balance between short-term gratification (that giant slab of chocolate cake) and long-term rewards (our health).
You probably want a greater sense of balance in your life. Sadly, most adults in the Western world do. (Even more sadly, teenager and kids are leading increasingly busy, unbalanced lives as well.) You might have tried various activities or tactics aimed at bringing you more balance: retreats, meditation, spa days, time management courses, even life coaching.
Perhaps some of it worked. Perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps you go through spells where life’s going smoothly, where you’ve found your balance – however precariously. And perhaps that never seems to last.
Balance isn’t a one-shot trick, and there’s no quick fix.
Your Sense of Balance
What does “balance” mean to you? It’s worth spending some time thinking through your own definition of balance – how it looks, and more importantly, how it feels.
When it comes to life, the right balance for me might be the wrong balance for you. Your values, your personality, your particular situation in life – all play into what your balance state will be like.
One of my key themes here on Aliventures is that we can’t live our lives by someone else’s standards. If you’re trying to find a better balance, don’t do it by trying to emulate your spouse or best friend or parents. Maybe your priorities are different. Maybe you need more down time. Maybe you need to give more importance to your creativity. Maybe you need to work on lots of different projects so that you don’t get bored.
Take five minutes, today if you can, to write a paragraph about what your life would look and feel like if it was in balance. Don’t be constrained by what other people might think … your sense of balance is yours, and it’s unique to you.
If you’re stuck, try these prompts:
- I feel like I can relax when…
- The biggest thing which would make my life feel balanced is…
- I’d like to feel…
- A good week (day/weekend/month) would be one where…
- The last time I felt really balanced and grounded was when…
Don’t tell yourself that there’s no way you can find balance in your life, because you’re too busy, or you have too many commitments. Ever had to walk along a narrow ledge, or cycle over bumpy ground? Sometimes external factors make balance harder – but it’s not impossible.
Balance and Speed
Most of us are used to getting results fast. I know I am. I get impatient if the internet is slow (though, six years ago, I was still using dial-up). I like ebooks and MP3 downloads because I get what I’m after straight away.
The danger of living life at a breakneck pace is that the faster you go, the harder it is to balance. If you’ve ever fallen off a bike going downhill, or taken a tumble ski-ing, you’ll know just what I mean…
On the other hand, we need to maintain a certain momentum in order to balance well. If you cycle very slowly, or try to stop on skates, you’ll fall over too. And in life, you may have gone through periods where you made very little progress and felt lacklustre and apathetic for a long period of time – you’d slowed down so much that you lost your balance.
How do you find the right speed for you? If you’re going slow, don’t try to accelerate to top-speed straight away. And if you’re going fast, be aware that slowing down to a standstill probably won’t work:
It is very hard to pare down our schedules, our homes, our lives. It can feel excrutiating. As much as we want it, we also avoid it.
(Tara Sophia Mohr, Braking Without Breaking (Or, Why It’s Hard to Slow Down), Wise Living
I’d suggest making gradual adjustments to your speed. If you’re going too fast, try these:
- Drop one commitment
- Give yourself permission to do whatever you want for one hour a week
- Look for one routine task or chore which you could delegate to someone else
- Block out one weekend in the next couple of months to rest and recharge – and refuse to make any commitments on that weekend
- Pick one thing which you love but “never have time for” – and find an afternoon to spend on it
If you’re going too slow:
- Pick a goal which matters to you (don’t worry about what the world might think) and spend half an hour each day working on it
- If television, online gaming, going out, or other leisure activities are taking up a huge amount of your time, try banning these on one day each week
- Get up half an hour earlier
- Write a list of simple tasks which you’ve been putting off – and do one each day till it’s cleared
Speed and balance aren’t the same thing – but they’re definitely linked. Going too fast can be exhilarating, but it can leave you feeling stressed and out-of-control. Going too slow might feel attractive in the short-term, but it can leave you frustrated and down about your life.
Of course, once you’ve found a balance, you’re not going to just effortlessly keep it. In every activity which involves balance, we’re constantly making adjustments (whether or not we consciously notice them). When you walk, you pick up one foot and literally start falling – until your next foot touches the ground and pushes you back in the other direction. When you cycle, you naturally lean sideways when you go around a corner or when you’re compensating for the wind.
It’s the same with life. Internal and external factors can knock your balance. Perhaps you’re ill or tired, and you need to compensate for that. Maybe some family emergency demands your time and energy, and you need to factor this into your balancing.
Learning to balance our lives doesn’t mean drawing up a plan for the “perfect” day or week. It means recognising the symptoms of a lack of balance (like stress, tiredness, sudden bouts of anger or unhappiness) – and making appropriate changes. Balance may mean making difficult choices and saying “no” to demands on our time, whether those demands come from other people or from our own whims.
But the rewards of balance are huge. Greater – and less effortful – productivity. Far more creative energy. More patience and compassion for the people around us. More time spent on the things which we truly enjoy, and less time wasted on activities which are unfulfilling or draining.
Balance isn’t always easy. But it is achievable.
How could you start to bring more balance into your life today?
Several of you have written comments to say how much you’ve been enjoying this series on balance; thanks! I’ve got good news for you: there’s something special in store for Friday – don’t forget to check back then…