Many of us rush a lot in an effort to get everything done – at work and at home. We speed up when all we really want to do is slow down; we work harder when what we really want is freedom. For most people, achieving a satisfying balance between their personal and professional lives seems impossible. There is a common misunderstanding that goes like this: if we could achieve full control over every part of our lives, all of our problems would be solved. In fact, this kind of expectation leads to burnout, not a sense of mastery.
When we rush all day at work to meet deadlines and then skid into home base in the evenings, we arrive breathless and harried. We might be happy to be home, but here too, there isn’t enough time and too much to do. When we respond to this pressure by speeding up some more, we actually increase our stress. Likewise, we increase the sense we are out of control and that we are inadequate because we are not managing better. It is a powerful negative feedback loop.
“Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?”
– Carl R. Rogers
What Is the State of Balance in Your Life?
A client once asked me, “Why can’t we be like other families and do things on the weekend? We are so tired that we just want to stay in bed, wake up late, and do what we feel like. But then the end of the weekend comes and we feel we missed out on an adventure or fun ski trip with the kids.”
Can you relate?
Consequences of Being Out of Balance
You already know intuitively that being out of balance does not feel good, but did you know that it can lead to very unpleasant consequences over the long run? Here are a few:
The good news is that you can improve your experience by finding the right balance between the demands of life and what really matters to you.
Time vs. Values
It may seem counterintuitive, but achieving work-life balance is not about time; it’s about values. Making choices that align with what matters to you leads to increased energy and a sense of purpose. When you prioritize your values and set clear boundaries around them, you will be confident that you are living with integrity. This is a win-win situation.
Live in sync with your values:
To coach yourself through this process, you can follow these guidelines.
1. Identify Your Values
You could look at a long list of values and choose a few—but I have not found this to be helpful. Instead, I would invite you to defer to your feelings and past experiences. Values live in our bodies, memories and senses and cannot be identified by logical thinking alone.
What have been your peak experiences?
What were you doing when they occurred? What were your feelings? What did you value about that experience?
What have been your low experiences?
What was the event? What were you feeling? What need was not being met?
Choose 3 or 4 top values from your list. This may be hard to do as there are likely many values that feel equally important to you. You could ask yourself, “Which of these would be most fulfilling if I used them as my primary way of being? Which would support me best on the inside? Which would be absolutely necessary for my fulfillment? Which would be my must-have value?”
You might also notice that several fall into one category. Could they be summarized as one value? For example, if eating well, exercising and meditating are your values, could they be expressed as “wellness”?
Some related values, like fairness, openness and integrity, might be more abstract. Your core value could be integrity, with fairness and openness in parentheses.
3. Set an Intention
If you set an intention to live by your values, you will have more energy because your actions will make sense and come with a feeling of reward; this will motivate you to continue with changes to your behaviour and habits. Intentions are powerful magnets for attracting what we most want because an intention is more than a goal: it is a clear determination to bring about change.
4. Bring Your Values to Life
Create Inner Calm
Cultivating a calm mind is like raking the soil in a spring garden: it sets the foundation for all other growth. Like garden soil bringing seeds to life, inner calm is the medium out of which your intuition will emerge. It bridges the gap between conscious and unconscious knowing, giving you access to both logic and gut feelings. These are the two key ingredients to good decision making.
Act with Conscious Awareness
Just before making a decision, take a deep breath. At that slower pace, ask yourself if the choice you are about to make is really coming from you or from someone else. Is it coming out of fear-based thinking? Will it lead you to increased well-being and a sense of purpose?
Being consciously aware is the skill of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It is not one we readily perfect in our Western culture where everything moves quickly and success is constantly evaluated. Cultivating this skill allows us to make choices that line up with what is best for us. We need to learn how to be non-judgmental observers of our own lives. Mindfulness meditation is an excellent practice for developing this skill.
You are allowed to set your own boundaries! In fact, setting limits is a sign of good health. Boundaries are the way we meet our own needs and protect our values. Have you ever noticed that when you allow your boundaries to be crossed, you feel disempowered? Perhaps even off-center? “Going along with it” can seem like a good idea at the time, but you have probably noticed that it usually feels worse in the long run. In contrast, when you set boundaries, you experience more confidence, vitality and inner strength.
5. Recognize When You Are Not Aligned with Your Intention
Take your foot off the gas regularly and ask:
6. Accept That There Is No Perfect Balance Point
Life is a process of continually choosing, reflecting, evaluating and re-evaluating the everyday details of our lives. Take the pressure off! Know that as life ebbs and flows, so will you. There will be moments where everything feels just right and moments when you notice things moving in the wrong direction. Setting a course correction IS the work of a balanced life. Celebrate your process and commitment to living your life fully.
Identifying your values can be a complex process. Living consistently with them is even harder. Talking to someone objective can make this process more clear, deep and lasting.
I invite you to dip your toe into this experience. It will be my gift to you, at no charge. I want you to have this experience.
Are you ready to experience balance?
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
– Stephen R. Covey