Life: A Balancing Act

by Ali on June 8, 2010

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This is the third and final part in a series on “balance”. If you missed the earlier posts, they are #1: Rethinking the Idea of “Work/Life” Balance and #2: Balancing Work and … Work.

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.

Life-Long Balance

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… :-)

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Abubakar Jamil June 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Great series.

As for me i tend to think that it is the sense of being off balance that plays the vital role in wanting to balance our lives. It is always a juggling act perhaps.

A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life. -William Arthur
.-= Abubakar Jamil´s last blog ..Are You Really Living? =-.

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Ali June 9, 2010 at 8:45 am

Nice quote! I agree that being able to laugh occasionally at life/yourself is a good way to get your perspective back. And yep, I’m with you about that off-balance sense … for me, it’s about learning to notice when I’m starting to get off-balance, and making corrections as soon as possible.

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Julius June 9, 2010 at 12:39 am

I personally try to visualize myself in a balanced state when I see that I’m losing focus and balance. This normally consists of remembering a time when I realized that I’m able to balance all aspects in my life.
.-= Julius´s last blog ..What Can a Musical Genius Teach Us About Accessibility? =-.

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Ali June 9, 2010 at 8:47 am

Nice tip, thanks Julius! I think one of my most balanced times was as a student, where I was basically just working on my degree (and had long vacations…) I’ve not yet figured out quite how to emulate that in the “grown up” world..!

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Dia June 9, 2010 at 2:02 am

For me, I have 5 categories that I try to make a balance for. Personally, I think the best way to make a balance is by managing my time accordingly. If I don’t manage my time, my days will be in chaos. Thanks Ali for sharing
.-= Dia´s last blog ..Program your mind for success =-.

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Ali June 9, 2010 at 8:50 am

Yeah, time management is definitely a big part of it — I think getting your time in balance (and, crucially, having enough time to relax and to allow for emergencies/interruptions/etc) is a huge part of feeling like you’re in control of life!

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Terry June 9, 2010 at 3:25 am

I think it is more about paying attention to the moment when you decide to do, than balance. We can’t have it all. Once you have decided on what is most important in your life than make sure you are 100% present while doing it. Although it would be wonderful to have it all – the great kids, a fabulous home, money, health, retirement funds, peace of mind, meaning and purpose, wonderful friends, fantastic family gatherings….well we have to decide where we put or efforts. Maybe we can choose a few important areas and concentrate on those with a balance. But for the most part it is about staying in the present moment and licing it to the fullest….balance is kinda a myth.
.-= Terry´s last blog ..Do You Know Your Deeply Held Values? =-.

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Ali June 9, 2010 at 8:52 am

Interesting points, Terry. I think you’re getting at what I meant when I said we have to develop our *own* sense of balance. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that we should all be trying to have it all (far from it!)

For me personally, balance means having time for my family, and time to do creative work (even when it doesn’t necessarily pay). I’m not particularly bothered about loads of money or a big house, and I don’t ever want to retire!

But I do agree with you that being present in the moment is important — I think one of the reasons we get off-balance is because we’re constantly thinking about the next thing on our list, or conversely, because we’re clinging to a past which has already gone.

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Haider June 25, 2010 at 1:34 am

I see life balance as the ability to deal effectively with every area of our lives, and to take a holistic approach to what it means to be a human being, rather than focus on a single pursuit, while ignoring everything else.

Yes, our career is important. But does it mean that we should ignore our health or avoid our family to advance our career? Life balance not only recognizes the important of health and family in our lives, but also the role they play in advancing our careers! Running on low energy supplies because we’re neglecting our health and vitality doesn’t do a great deal of service to our work, neither does the guilt and frustration that comes with “not having the time” to be with family.

By being aware of the importance of each life area to us, and the many ways in which our life areas are interconnected, life balance becomes a necessity to achieve progress in every pursuit, and not a by-product of financial success (which, sadly, is the formula many people live by).

Thank you for raising the issue of life balance, Ali, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the subject. ;)
.-= Haider´s last blog ..4 Simple Steps to Taming Your Work =-.

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Laura Elliott July 4, 2010 at 2:46 am

Thanks Ali – great series on balance
.-= Laura Elliott´s last blog ..What is making you feel good right now =-.

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Elizabeth @ Life Coaching Courses December 3, 2010 at 9:16 am

I think you have to possess the attitude of perseverance
to achieve the all good balance in life. Thanks for
sharing your insights. Great post!

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