I read somewhere that your favorite Yoga pose reflects your strengths. My favorite Yoga poses are those that require good balance. That might be because I’m really not very flexible, but also because when I’m balanced, I feel still, strong, focused, even powerful. I can do a mean tree pose—most of the time.
I’d like to think finding balance in my life is one of my strengths, but I’m not so sure. My life seems to echo Longfellow more: when things are good, they are very good indeed. But when things are bad, they are horrid.
There are days when I cannot, for the life of me, balance with that second foot off the ground. Whether it’s lack of focus, or an imbalance inside me, something is just slightly off.
So it is with our lives. Balance in every worthy venture would be ideal, but too often the scales are tipped to one side, creating unease, anxiety, or distraction.
Work Hard ~ Play Hard
I’m a Blue Personality, according to Taylor Hartman’s Color Profile. That means I have a healthy understanding that play is something that is earned after work. When there is a work-play imbalance in my life, the scale is usually tipped towards more work and less play. Unfortunately, this creates other imbalances; primarily, not spending enough time with others and the corresponding guilt from that neglect.
Working too much can cause us to neglect the time our spouses and children need with us. This one is particularly hard for me to handle. When I’m working hard on a project, I have the devil on my shoulder constantly whispering that I am neglecting my children. The guilt this creates only distracts me from my work, extending the time it takes to accomplish my tasks, and perpetuating the neglect of my children. It’s a vicious cycle that I know a lot of working parents struggle with.
So how do you balance work needs, personal needs and family needs?
1. Set Limits and Honor Them
Work can become a rabbit-hole in which we lose ourselves, and our offices the place that time forgot. And there will always be more to do. But, before beginning the work day, or setting foot into your office, establish your limits.
Set what time you will stop working. Establish hours in the day, or even entire days, that work will not intercede over personal and/or family time. Be flexible when creating your limits, and modify as necessary, but figure out whatever works for you and your family, and make a commitment to yourself to keep it.
“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”Dolly Parton
I was a single mother for 8 years. Trust me, I know how important it is to work and provide for those little mouths dependent on you. I also know that those little mouths won’t stay little long. Time is the ultimate adversary: there’s never enough of it, and it escapes from us before we’re finished with it. Honoring your time-limits for work and play will make the time you have more valuable. The time spent on your different activities will become more focused, and will increase the feeling of balance in your life.
2. Combine “Play Time” with “Family Time”
It’s important to take time to “play”, no matter how old you are. Find things you can do to turn your brain off for a while and relax. Disconnect from the world, from outside influences, especially from work!
In 1995, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a Proclamation on the Family that states
“Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
Among all those typical “religious” attributes, this church included “wholesome recreational activities” as one of the tenets for achieving familial success. Literally, the family that plays together stays together!
If you find you’re struggling to balance personal time, play time, family time, try combining them once in a while. Share the hobbies you enjoy with your family! Sharing hobbies with your spouse or children (even when resistant at first) creates life-long bonds—even inter-generational ones.
3. Share the Load
Reaching out for help with a work problem that is leaving you preoccupied and distant effectively kills two birds with one stone. In addition to resolving your preoccupation, you can also recharge your spirit by spending some time with a friend or loved one.
Everyone hates asking for help. Let’s just establish that as a universal given, and collectively, get over it. Asking for help allows others to feel needed, valued, and important, and increases the bond between us.
I would offer a word of caution here that our relationships don’t become completely imbalanced with talk of work and nothing else. But, sharing concerns with our work, or just simply talking about our day, can help segue out of the all-consuming work mindset and into a more relaxed, playful state.
Love Others ~ Love Yourself
Another common imbalance we find in our lives is that of giving too much of ourselves to others and taking care of ourselves.
It’s hard to find the balance between taking care of others and still having enough left in our “cup” to stay mentally, emotionally, and physically well.
Like the first rule in balancing work time and family time, the most important thing to ensure your health isn’t buried under your service to others is to set limits.
1. Healthy Relationships Have Boundaries
It’s imperative to recognize any relationships that don’t honor your boundaries and leave you feeling drained after engaging with them. Everyone has time now and again when they need to vent—when they are looking for a shoulder to cry on, or need to be picked up and set back right on their feet. But, if you find that you are doing this for someone every time you are together, you may need to step back.
In the words of one of my favorite psychologists, Dr. Taylor Hartman, “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.”
Truly, we are better equipped to help others only when we are at our best.
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”Katie Reed
It is my belief that though God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent, He steps back so we can learn how to take care of each other. It is, in fact, our responsibility to care for others. But, in so doing, we are also taking care of ourselves. Healthy relationships, whether they be spouses, co-workers, friends, children, siblings, whatever, should strengthen our own beings. Thus, in caring for others, we naturally care for ourselves.
2. Service Provides Course-Correction
There are a lot of things that happen in life that might prevent us from caring for others and receiving the strength to our spirits that can provide. It might be a large project at work, an illness, a family emergency, or some other random thing completely out of our control. Sometimes we just feel like we need more attention, more empathy, more TLC; and sometimes that’s okay! But if we become indulgent with that need, it can turn into selfishness.
Selfishness can breed self-pity, contempt, anger, jealousy, pride, hostility, basically an astounding list of self-defeating vices! These vices all eat away at our spirits, until there isn’t an imbalance in our “Love Others-Love Yourself” scale…there is no scale.
The best antidote for a weary soul is forgetting ourselves and serving others. Service can be a great eye-opener: the eradicator of self-pity! If we become imbalanced in favor of focusing too much on ourselves, losing ourselves in the service of others can create a course-correction immediately!
“Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others…”Gordon B. Hinckley
It can be profoundly difficult to climb out of a pity-party and engage in service. But, if you’re humble and brave enough, it will set your scale upright once again, and you can start your day again on balanced, even footing.
3. Be Mindful in All Things
The biggest secret to maintaining a proper balance between taking care of ourselves and taking care of others is to do little things consistently every day. It’s easy for the scale to be tipped out of favor for ourselves—especially when we are wearing many hats: mother, wife, employee, boss, homemaker, taxi driver, counselor, etc. There is never enough time in the course of one’s day to do everything we could for the world of need that exists in perpetuity around us. Instead of being overwhelmed by all that we could do, just drop one pebble in the bucket each day.
Be mindful to do little things to take care of yourself consistently:
- Listen/Play Music
- Eat well
- Engage in your hobbies
- Say kind things to yourself, and eradicate negative thinking
With this foundation supporting your mind, body, and spirit, you are able to do little things for others as well:
- Send a text when prompted to think of someone
- Pray for others
- Write a letter/email
- Bring a treat to a co-worker
- Put your phone down and listen (especially to your teenagers!)
- Listen to understand, not to respond
Practicing these things every day will not give us more time in our day, but will make the time we have more worthwhile.
Opposition in All Things
If you stop and think about balance, you realize its existence is possible because of opposition. On a scale, you have a counterweight; in yoga you have your strength contesting with gravity; in the world you have good and evil.
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things…”Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:11.
Over time, we take good things for granted, without having the bitterness of sorrow remind us of its sweetness. We don’t appreciate our health without being temporarily debilitated by sickness. Love brings heartache, which teaches forgiveness, and brings strength. All things exist with an opposite, a counterweight, a balancing force.
The secret is to find the middle place between extremes–the balance between opposing forces–and make yourself comfortable there. It won’t be a wide, even platform that you can indulge lazily and mindlessly on. It will most likely be a thin rail—like a balance beam—that will require your attention, your mindfulness, work, to maintain a hold on it. Because peace—like everything else worth anything in life—takes work.
Balance takes work. But the peace it brings is solace to the soul.