I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live a balanced life these past few days. Last week, I had my first crippling migraine in three years or so. It came out of nowhere and it came at me HARD. I had to leave work immediately and crawl to the doctor’s office for relief. I was in a haze for the rest of the week and was left concerned about what threw me so off-balance that I kicked up this old, long-gone problem.
This led me to check the status of all the things I could be doing for better health. Now, I regularly exercise, drink water, try to get plenty of sleep, eat my veggies etc…etc… But are there some areas where maybe I could be doing a little better?
So, I’ve gone nuts this week on the “healthy stuff”. More sleep, more greens, more omega-3’s, more antioxidants, some meditation, less sugar, etc… Now, I’m sure this will be great for me this week to help sort of hit “reset” but it’s not going to be like this all of the time.
I’m sure I’m going to feel great after this week but “balance” isn’t about forever maintaining this perfect healthy lifestyle. Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for good health. It just means, be realistic and understand that “balance” is a verb – not just a state of being.
Balance is not Perfection
I think when people picture a balanced life, they picture some perfect world where work and family life are perfectly leveled out, they’re well rested, they eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day, drink 8 glasses of water, workout 5 days per week, and so on.
In reality, balance is about constantly readjusting. Think of a thermostat. If you set your heat to 68°, your heat will kick on when the temperature drops to 66°. When your heat reaches 68/69°, it’s going to turn off again. It’s not magically maintaining 68° the entire time it’s on. It’s constantly adjusting within a reasonable range of a few degrees.
The same goes for your life. There are going to be times when family has to take priority to your career, like the holidays or during a family emergency. There will also be times when you need to cram in extra time for your career like the end of the month if you’re in a sales position, or a pending court date if you’re a lawyer. When it comes to health, maybe your gym attendance is perfect for most of the year but drops off around the holidays and summer vacation. Maybe you eat kale up to your eyeballs during the week but eat out with friends for every meal on the weekends.
This could seem like just a silly rant on semantics but I truly believe getting balance mixed up with perfectionism can be really discouraging. Mindset is everything and if you believe balance is this perfect, not quite realistic life, you’re going to get pretty frustrated.
When you consider that balance is an action, not just some state you’re supposed to be able to maintain, it becomes empowering. When one part of your life starts to become off-balance, you take action to balance it out again. If you just had the flu for a week and couldn’t work out, you start to take action to sprinkle in some light workouts this week to get back to your routine. If you spent the long weekend eating loads of extra food and drinking plenty of beer, you take action to balance it out by eating a salad at one meal or making an effort to drink more water.
Setting the expectation that balance is about the action of balancing-out on a regular basis instead of maintaining balance can really help you re-frame any setbacks to help keep you on track for an *actually* balanced life.
Action-Steps for a Balanced Life
- Set Your Priorities. Priorities change throughout your life but it is important to be clear on what those are and when. Priorities can change by season, by chapter of your life, or by day of the week. Having a true priority list can help you feel balanced when you’re being pulled in many different directions. If you are taking care of #1 and maybe #2 on the list – you’re still in good shape! Remember, if everything is a priority – NOTHING is a priority. Be clear and distinct.
- Set Checkpoints. It’s easy to say something is a priority and sometimes another to actually follow through. Set checkpoints for yourself to make sure you’re on track. This could be breaking bigger life-projects into short term deadlines. Such as, finish a unit a week for that exam you’re studying for, or go to the gym three times this week. A checkpoint can also be a time for a recap on how you’ve done. New Year’s Resolutions have a bad rep but they make perfect sense. What better time to review a year and set goals for improvement than at the start of a new one? You can take the same idea and apply it to a week, a month, or a quarter of a year. Set a time to review your progress and priority lists!
- Be Flexible YET Consistent. This is one of the craziest, yet most useful life-skills I try to use for myself. Life is going to happen. Things aren’t always going to go according to plan. How do you stay on track with all of these hurdles? Maybe you have a plan to go to the gym every work-day during your lunch hour because that’s when you work best, but oh no! You’ve just been scheduled two lunch-meetings for the week and you can’t get out of them. What do you do? Do you skip the workout entirely or do you find a second-best time to workout? Maybe a workout out after work means you need to cut the workout in half to get home to the kids – is it your perfect, balanced plan? No, but it still means you’re staying consistent. Don’t get stuck on perfect. Your “fourth-best” action plan is better than the no-action plan.
Now Practice Your Balance!
I’m setting out on my week of kale up to my eyeballs and so many naps to help me balance things out again. I’m excited for the potential this week has for my health but I’m ready to adjust around whatever hurdles come my way! When you check in with life to see if you’re balanced, remember that balance isn’t about maintaining a state of perfection. It is about constantly reassessing your priorities and adjusting your actions to stay on whatever path helps you live a healthy, happy, and purposeful life.