Life pulls us in many different directions. Countless demands and responsibilities seem to control us, rather than the other way around. If we don’t get it all done and look perfect while we’re doing it, we feel guilt, shame, and even worthlessness, that we don’t “measure up” and are therefore a failure. If this is you, it’s time to rethink what it means to be in balance.
Balanced: having different parts or elements properly or effectively arranged, proportioned, regulated, considered, etc. Merrium-Webster Dictionary
I like the “effectively arranged or proportioned” in this definition. It tells me that not everything in life must be of equal importance at any given time, and that I get to choose what “effective” means to me. Whether we realize it or not, we all make choices from one moment to the next about how to conduct our lives. One choice may have a less desirable outcome than another, but nevertheless we are free to make it.
I’ve also come to learn that balance is not a perfect state of being. When I constantly expect and demand perfection from all that I do, I set myself up for failure and undermine my ability to move forward.
Here are some strategies I’m working on to achieve balance in my life:
1. Focus on the big picture, by defining what truly matters to me at this particular time. Keeping this vision foremost in my mind helps me to make the right choices for how I spend my time.
2. Be present, by targeting my thoughts and actions to right here, right now, without distractions. This applies to work as well as leisure and social activities. All I have control over is what’s happening in the present moment. With my clients, I am laser-focused on their goals, instead of what I need to get done before the day’s end. I want to be the best version of me, in whatever I’m doing, and the only way to accomplish this is to be present.
3. Prioritize, and set realistic timeframes – then make peace with what I CAN accomplish. I like the concept the Time Management Matrix – originally developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, then popularized by Stephen Covey. You categorize tasks into one of four quadrants: (1) Urgent and important (“crises” or “fires”); (2) Not urgent and important; (3) Urgent and not important; and (4) Not urgent and not important. I want to focus on what’s Important (quadrants 1 and 2), do the Urgent stuff first, then the Not Urgent – and ignore everything in quadrant 4. What’s important but not urgent? Things like reading/study, learning a new skill or improving an existing one, or brainstorming new ideas to enhance my business.
I’ve recently recognized that everything I plan to do will take twice as long as I think it should. This has been very tough area for me to accept – I want it all done, and done perfectly. So I’m working on doing the best I can and letting the other stuff go.
4. Take care of my body and mind. There’s a reason they tell you to put your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. If I’m not at my best, then I can’t achieve my goals and help my clients to achieve theirs. So I have made exercise and meditation non-negotiable commitments in my life.
5. Keep a gratitude journal. This practice has strong correlations with the experience of happiness and optimism. Every night I write three to five experiences from the day for which I’m grateful, no matter how small. By doing so, I am training my brain to savor positive experiences, rather than letting them simply slip away.
6. Ditch the guilt. Guilt is the most unproductive of emotions, yet one with which I routinely struggle. Strategies 1 through 4 are helping with this. When I experience guilt from a choice I made that meant I didn’t accomplish something important, I ask myself if that choice was right for the particular moment, and what impact will it have down the road?
7. Give myself permission to have down-time. This is a corollary to strategy #6, and is all about choices. If it’s a beautiful fall day and I haven’t had any time with my partner all week, isn’t it a better choice to go for a hike with him, rather than clean the house?
We succeed. We fail. We self-correct. It’s all an opportunity for us to grow.
I believe that greater life balance lies within everyone’s reach. Focus on the big picture and keep in mind that small investments of time in the right places can transform your well-being and relationships. The accumulation of small actions can lead to powerful changes over time.
Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES, is a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She works with clients one-on-one at their locations to help them live healthy and active lives, and achieve their unique fitness goals. Contact her here or follow her blog at www.dragonfly-fitness.com.