Every wonder what it means to be a balanced person? Does it mean being in control all the time? Being calm all the time? Able to handle anything? Moderate in all things? Able to stay composed when everyone else is falling apart? Being someone who manages to always eat right, work out, spend time with friends and family and manage a work life?
If you step back, you might notice that these descriptions actually sound quite “extreme.” Who do you know that can be calm or in control all the time?! Or perfectly balanced and in moderation with all that they do? What if being a balanced person simply means being able to recognize when you are off kilter? And then adjust accordingly?
Life pulls us to all kinds of extremes as we respond to external events (a crabby boss, a sick kid, deadlines, school applications, getting a parking ticket, moving for a new job, graduating, having to find help for an aging parent, news of violence in the world, a blizzard, winning the lottery). There are hundreds of external variables (both positive and negative), things that are mostly out of our control, that need to be managed in our day-to-day. Some are within the normal course of daily events and are mostly to be expected and managed with relative ease. Others are sudden and potentially life-altering. Regardless, they all involve change and the ever-present need to cope with it. As you try to find “your balance,” consider the following:
- Build Awareness:
Take some time to reflect on your state of being and try to be honest with yourself. Are you so focused on work that your kids are acting out? Are you so focused on your kids that your marriage is suffering? Are you so focused on taking care of your job, kids, and friends, that you are neglecting yourself? Examine the areas of your life that you are most focused on and look to see if that focus is causing other areas to be neglected.
- Make a plan:
Once you have identified the areas of your life that are being neglected or the parts of yourself that are underdeveloped, work to make a plan to adjust your life so that they can be addressed. Will getting up 30 minutes earlier allow you to do 10 yoga sun salutations before you go to work and reduce your overall stress? Will staying late at work 2 evenings a week free up your weekends so you can be present with your family? Be specific and set small, attainable goals.
- Identify your mooring lines:
We all drift. We all get caught up in one thing at the expense of another. “Mooring lines” are the behaviors that ground us and keep us connected to our values and goals. They are also the things in your life that you can notice if you “are not doing” or drifting from them. For example, if your usual routine includes reading the paper in the morning (feeding your mind) and doing at least 30 minutes of some self-care (stretching, a quick jog, meditating), you can notice when you have gone for a week without those behaviors because you are rushing out the door to work or to manage your kids. When you notice drift in these healthy habits, you can go back to steps 1 & 2.
- Try to respond instead of react:
On any given day you can be hit with multiple external events that cause emotional reactions, ranging from a little spike in anxiety to full-on rage. A reaction is impulsive, emotionally driven, and often regretted. A response is more thought out, based on some perspective, and usually more effective. If something has caused an emotional spike, try not to react on those emotions in the moment, pause for a few moments, maybe even the rest of the day before you act. A balanced approach to life requires that we take our emotions into account but do not let our actions be ruled by them.
- Stay present-focused:
If you are constantly reflecting on the past (it’s hurts, mistakes, regrets, lost opportunities) or if you are anticipating the future (preparing for the worst, dreading, worrying), you are probably neglecting something in the present moment. Work to keep your attention on the present moment and what you can be doing right now to manage and improve your situation. If you take a few minutes to let your daughter play her new piano piece for you instead of rushing straight to your office to finish up emails, will you feel more balanced?
- Practice acceptance:
What if you have a relaxing weekend planned with your wife and kids and instead get hit with a gigantic work project that is going to keep you at your computer? A normal reaction would on the surface seem not so “balanced.” Anger and frustration, maybe even yelling at your work colleague who dropped the ball? Do you stay mad all weekend to the extent it keeps you from being effective at work and creates tension with your wife/kids who are already upset? Finding ways to accept the present reality so that negative emotions are not increased will go a long ways toward finding your balance when something gets knocked off course. Accepting that the work needs to be done and shifting your attention to doing it well, may actually reduce your stress and allow you to get it done more efficiently. Letting the anger go and acknowledging disappointment will allow you to problem solve a way to get back on track once the disruption has passed.
“What’s the first sign of a lurking, hidden expectation you didn’t know you had? Pain! People don’t do what we want, things don’t happen quickly enough, the weather doesn’t cooperate, our bodies don’t cooperate. Why are these moments so painful? Because our minds are focused on a static, unchanging, me-centric picture while the dynamic unfolding of a broader life continues around us. There is nothing wrong with expectations per se, as it’s appropriate to set goals and work, properly, towards their fruition. But the instant we feel pain over life not going “my way,” our expectations have clearly taken an improper turn. Any moment you feel resistance or pain, look for — and then let go of — the hidden expectation. Practice giving yourself over to what “you” don’t want. Let the line at the store be long. Let the other person interrupt you. Let the nervousness make you shake. Be where your body is, not where your mind is trying to take you.”
― Guy Finley
Just like walking on a balance beam, finding balance in life requires focus and practice. It also requires that we accept that we will fall or will be wobbly a lot of the time. Living a balanced life is simply being able to find the inner resources we need to get back up to try to find and keep our balance.