Hint: it’s not about being more productive
“We don’t need to strive towards balance, we rather need to work on the obstacles that are preventing the natural flow of balance.” ― A.A. Alebraheem
Life balance is a mirage — the closer you think you get, the further away it goes.
“How do you find work and life balance?”
I get asked this question very often, especially when facilitating workshops. No matter the topic, the notion of balance comes up all the time.
People believe my life is balanced and want to know how I do it.
Stop aiming for it, and you’ll find balance.
Maybe you feel disappointed — that’s how most people initially react when I provide this answer. They were expecting five productivity tips, not a play on words. However, when I make them go through some exercises, they realize this simple statement has more profound implications.
Balance is not something we can get; it’s a state of mind. It’s the realization that life is not stable but in constant motion.
Life Is a Balancing Act
“Freedom without discipline is foolish, discipline without freedom is insanity.” ― Ilona Mialik
But what does it mean to lead a well-balanced life? Why does balance feel like an elusive concept?
The paradox of balance is that, the more we pursue it, the more things seem to fall apart. Our worries make us worry more.
The word ‘balance’ is both a noun and a verb. No wonder we struggle to find it!
Balance is an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. When we see ‘balance’ as a noun, we believe it will bring stability to our lives.
Balance is bringing things into harmony. It’s not something that you can get, but something that you continually do. Life is a game in which you are continually juggling many balls in the air.
Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
Life is a balancing act — everything is always in constant motion.
No matter how much you plan, things will never go your way. Unexpected events always show up uninvited. Your boss will add a new meeting to your busy schedule. A friend will call you last minute to cancel your dinner plans. Balance requires being flexible — we adapt to the moment rather than rigidly stick to our expectations.
Take work and life balance, for example. Most people try to keep them separate — they build walls and then feel worse. Approach life as a whole; you cannot organize your activities into separate compartments. Integrate everything you do — let each aspect of life feed off each other.
Leading a well-balanced life requires to let go of control.
Research shows that using control to suppress our emotions both harms our memory and increases stress.
Studies by the University of Southern California showed that people high in grit were more likely to persist using failing strategies to complete a task. Also, individuals who are highly self-disciplined, rely on logical analysis and will-power to achieve their goals suffer the most when facing failure.
Allow things to fall into place, rather than forcing them to fit into a pre-defined structure. Balance is an inherent human condition — it lies within you.
Develop a Balanced Mindset
“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.” — Euripides
An unbalanced life feels like a constant battle.
You are trying to protect your ‘me-time’ against everyone else’s priorities. You want to prevent your work from stealing your family time away. You wish you wouldn’t get distracted by the speed and uncertainty of modern life.
When the world around you is out of balance, you feel imbalanced too. External forces and event distract your focus — they create a battle between what you want and what you have to do.
Balance is less about how we allocate our time, but enjoying what we are doing in the here and now. What’s the point of taking a day off if you are worried about what’s going on at work? To overcome feeling out of balance, your mind must be where your body is. When you enjoy what you are doing, you stop feeling guilty or blaming others for what you are not doing.
Balance lies within yourself — it’s your ability to remain centered in the middle of whatever is happening.
Equanimity is the steady conscious realization of life’s impermanence; it means standing in the middle of all ‘this.’ You see without being caught by what you see.
Buddhists consider equanimity as the ground for wisdom and freedom — it enables balanced emotional responses. The power of observation helps you stand in the middle of all ‘this’ without losing your head. It comes from inner-stability.
Developing equanimity is cultivating the qualities of mind that support it.
- Integrity. When we live and act with integrity, we become confident about our actions and words. When you make a decision from your heart, there’s no room for blame or guilt. Acting with integrity is not just about doing the right thing, but living beautifully, as I wrote here.
2. Spirituality: Faith grounded in wisdom is something powerful. Your spiritual practice — cultivating the development of your inner-self — helps lead a well-balanced life. You don’t need to follow a formal religion. Developing self-reflection, connecting with a higher-consciousness, or practicing meditation are also forms of spiritual practices.
3. Inner-calm: Just like we exercise to strengthen our bodies, training our mind is key. By practicing mindfulness, we can develop a balanced, calm, and focused mind. When your mind is calm, you are less likely to explode when the world around you is out of balance
4. Well-being: Staying happy, healthy, and social promotes a state of well-being. It’s enjoying taking care of yourself. Enjoy going for a walk, a meal, other’s company or just practicing a hobby. Don’t forget to take care of your well-being. Make time for yourself.
5. Wisdom: Most of the things are out of your control. People are responsible for their own decisions. Events in life are unpredictable. Nothing lasts forever either. By realizing the true nature, you can see life’s fluidity as balance. Becoming aware of what drives imbalance in your world, is the first step towards living a well-balanced life.
6. Freedom: Liberty is not doing everything you want, but not feeling guilty for the choices you make. Freedom is a state of mind — you can conquer your fears. When you are responsible for your own acts, you become free. Letting go brings equanimity — the more you let go, the freer you’ll feel.
Five Tips to Lead a Balanced Life
Balance is not a destination, but a constant journey.
You might feel out of balance from time to time, and that’s okay. Don’t approach it with a perfectionist mentality; accept the good enough.
Expectations make us lose balance. High-wire artists make progress one-step-at-a-time. That’s why they don’t fall — they don’t worry about perfect; they only focus on moving forward.
Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Integrate all aspects of your life:
Stop seeing work, personal time, and social times as separate compartments. Rather than competing against each other, they should collaborate. Removing this imaginary wall will release a lot of tension. Integrate all aspects by applying learnings across them all.
2. Lose balance to find balance:
Letting go of control is key to let things fall into place on their own. Sometimes you have to lose balance to find it. Be open to taking risks. Try something different. If you have to stay at work after hours, take some time off another day. Seek balance in the long-term, not in every instance in life.
3. Prioritize your activities:
Knowing what matters is the first step. Finding balance requires saying no to something else so you can do what you want. Most of the times, we blame others, but we are the ones that are not making a choice. Let go of unnecessary tasks, ask for help, be open to adjusting your goals and priorities.
4. Develop a balanced mindset:
Balance is not something external; it lies within you. When something is bothering you, ask yourself why? An out of balance context can definitely affect you, but training your mind can neutralize part of the noise. Balance is a state of mind, not a productivity hack.
5. Practice journaling:
Set some time to reflect. Track how you spend your time — identify the tensions and think how to make the necessary adjustments. Also, journaling is a great way to capture everything good that happens in life. Acknowledging all the positive things that occurred throughout your day, will make you feel grateful rather than stressing out.
How do you seek balance in your life? Share your story.
This post was originally published on Psychology Today.