Creating Balance Form the Inside Out
By Debra Betterly, Ph.D.
When I was younger, my mother and other adults used to say "The older you get, the faster life will go", and my younger self would think, "Maybe for some people, but not for me." But, as much as I thought I would be immune from this route, they were right, life is moving faster and faster the older I get. As an adult and as a life coach, I often hear the exclamation "I just want to slow my life down so I can figure out what I really want and maybe smell the roses a bit more along the way."
As we get older, we tend to get caught up in all our "grown up responsibilities. Kids, career, significant other, friends, housework, holidays, taking care of the yard, volunteer work, meetings, appointments, changing the oil on the car, etc All leaving us so tapped that it's hard to imagine fitting in any time for ourselves. Or when we do, we're too tired and settle for vegging out in front of the TV. Before we know it, another year has passed and we never got around to living that great life we are always hoping for.
Then we hear about this thing called life balance and wonder if that could be the ticket out of this chaotic life and into a life that more resembles our own deepest desires, hopes and dreams from years ago.
When thinking about this topic, I realized that many of my clients come to me to create more balance in their lives, or with issues that are symptoms of an unbalanced life, like job dissatisfaction, time management, stress reduction, lack of motivation, no time for self, a search for meaning, etc
I have found through research and discovery that there are essentially two ways to approach having a balanced life. We can choose to approach life balance from the outside in or from the inside out. The first approach is to drive yourself even crazier by trying to achieve an illusive, mythical, and societal ideal of balance. You might recognize this one. It's the approach where you take a certain amount of time each day or week and allot it to each area of life (e.g., work =8 hours, exercise= 0.45 hours, family=2.6 hours, etc"). This works for a day or two until something unexpected comes up and takes you completely out of your routine and back to feeling out of balance. It's the approach where we really believe the influences of the media and our culture that we can do it all-work, home, family and get enough sleep! This approach is also the one where our culture demands that women be both professional high achievers and traditional June Cleaver moms/wives and makes you feel as if at any moment, if we do something wrong, we are judged as inadequate and once again a complete failure in either department.
Wow, it makes you despise the words life balance doesn't it? This approach is surprisingly touted by many well-meaning self-help professionals. It is an approach based on "shoulds (things you think you ought to want), judgment (from self and others), and ignores the fact that the achievement of a whole picture perfect life is entirely unrealistic.
The second, more sane approach to life balance, is to not let ourselves be influenced by cultural ideals and social pressures, to stop comparing ourselves to others with unequal situations, and to recognize that balance is not static, but dynamic and constantly in motion, like our lives. That it's a process, not an accomplishment, and it requires some flexibility!
When I was young, I had a unicycle. In order to balance in one spot I had to make continual adjustments and compensations to keep from falling over. Balance in our lives is the same way. Sometimes we need to devote a lot of attention to one area of our life (a sick family member, a special project at work, a vacation), and sometimes we need to pull back, re-direct our attention or make a different decision before we fall over. When I would lose my balance, did that mean I couldn't get back on and resume balancing? Of course not. Life is like this. We just keep adjusting, redirecting and making better decisions. If we don't-we fall and crash, and then we are forced to make a change.
We can't judge how balanced our lives are by looking at one day, or even one week. We have to keep the big picture in mind and seek balance from within. On the whole, are you achieving what you want in each area of your life? If not, what kind of adjustments are you willing to make? What expectations are you trying to fulfill that are not your own? Ask yourself, "What is the best use of my time today?", and decide to go for a walk instead of watching another reality show on TV.
Balance is not cookie cutter in any way. What is a balanced life for one person might be completely unacceptable to another. When we find balance on our own terms, from within, we replace conformity with honesty, judgment with kindness, turn "shoulds into wants, and create a joyful, unconventional kind of balance that is perfect for us.
About The Author
Debra Betterly, Ph.D. is a Life Coach whose specialty is midlife mastery. This article is derived from her newsletter, "Second Acts", a spirit-mind-body approach for women re-inventing the second half of life.