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On Balance

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On Balance
by Carol Adrienne, Ph.D.

January is an important month for the spirit. Named after Janus, an ancient Roman god of doorways, of beginnings, and of the rising and setting of the sun, the first month of the year gives us the opportunity for reflection. Like the two back-to-back bearded faces of Janus looking in opposite directions, during January we tend to look back at what we accomplished in the last year (or didn’t), and look forward to what we hope to create and experience in the new one. We can’t help but think about time. Passing. Moving on. Running out. Picking up speed. Slowing to a crawl. We wonder how we can use our time to balance the pressures of job, relationships, family, creativity, finances, alone time, and good health.

Letting Balance Come Into Being

Since my birthday is in January, I connect the month with being one year older. Firmly within my sixth decade now, I’ve started noticing something I hadn’t expected. When I was in my twenties and thirties--despite the usual old-age jokes and general bad-mouthing of the aging process by which we keep our fears at bay--slowing down in later life seemed like it could actually be a blessing. This past year, I’ve found some unexpected gifts that just might be the result of years of simmering (warmed by many risings and settings of the sun). For example, I now catch myself becoming less concerned about small things. The other day I washed two sets of curtains and they both shrank about six inches and no longer meet the floor in a graceful way. I don’t exactly think of myself as a control freak, but in the young days, I might have bought or sewn new ones or taken the hems down. Now, I’m content to leave them and read my mystery novel instead. The curtains in themselves are inconsequential, but what interests me more is that I have somehow changed without trying to. I’ve noticed that I don’t have much "drama" in my life anymore, and therefore, I’m less prone to moods and uncertainty. The process of life never stops in us, even when we think we really aren’t doing anything momentous.

The New Year brings the idea that we should be taking more control, that we should be meeting our goals in a more focused way. That we should find a goal! That we should become disciplined. And again and again we ask ourselves: How can I find a good balance this year?

Those of you who know my writing know that I am a big fan of the idea of Intention and Creating the Life You Want to Live. However, I think it’s also important to remember that time can reveal priorities that weren’t part of our conscious focus. For the past fifteen years, career has been the major focus of my life along with keeping good connections with friends and family. But last year I’ve become the grandmother of two boys and a girl. It never occurred to me that this new role would be so rich and intrinsically rewarding. The chance to be another kind of parent again—a grand parent—furnishes a new playing field. Making time to be with these kids and even provide a little babysitting relief for my own children gives me so much joy and fills up my life to the brim. Suddenly, serendipitously, there is a new sweet balance.

Balance Or Perfection?

One of the most common questions in my seminars is about achieving balance in work and life. Laudable as the goal is, I sometimes wonder if the idea of balance masks an unrealistic expectation of perfection, as in: Why don’t I have it all, right now? The perfect career that is both meaningful and highly paid, financial security, an ever-supportive soul mate, the perfect body weight and tone, offspring that do me proud, and time to pursue my creative vision, recognition and global contribution. All at the same time.

Many factors contribute to shaping our idea of balance. We compare ourselves to others; television, magazines, and films create cravings and expectations. We feel that something is wrong or incomplete, but haven’t a clue as to where the answer lies. At the deepest level, the concept of balance is the desire to reconnect with what matters to us personally and to differentiate ourselves from the social and economic pressures which force us to make choices we don’t like. When our lives are out of balance, perhaps we are:

making one area the focus of all our attention because we unconsciously think our survival or our identity depends on it
ignoring warning signs like fatigue, irritation, increasing impatience, and feelings of overwhelm
focusing on problems and unintentionally narrowing "optional" activities that might be lucrative, fun, or healthy—exactly what is needed to provide balance.
When things feel out of balance, we tend to try harder to control things or other people and this usually makes us feel busier. Feeling burdened and scattered, we worry and feel guilty. We tend to either think we have to change everything in our life at once and start completely over, or, on the other hand, feel that life is just this way and there is no way to change it. I like it when Dr. Phil—the television psych-evangelist—looks into the eye of the people who have come to seek his advice and says, "Let me ask you one question. Is this working for you?" Acknowledgement is the first step to change. We can change by admitting that we are out of control and by changing our behavior. If we learn from our mistakes, changes will occur. Sometimes, time brings the best changes of all.

Tips For Balance In The New Year

Realize that balance is an overall goal, and may not be felt every single day. Realistically, some days are more packed than others, but the key is not to let imbalance go on for too long of a stretch. Somewhere in the week, you need downtime and fun time.
Pinpoint the motivation behind the choices that have led to your current situation. For example, Sharon, a thirty-eight-year-old woman with a husband, two children, and a busy fitness practice regretted agreeing to teach an exercise class on Saturdays at a friend’s aerobic studio. She felt that the class wasn’t well attended, wasn’t worth the time it took to do it, broke up her Saturday time at home with her family, and was somewhat boring. With all these negatives, she was beating herself up for agreeing to teach for six months. Reflecting on why she made the decision, she realized she was trying to maintain her reputation as being a person who kept her word. Realizing this motivation helped her to make peace with her decision but also to be aware of not over-committing in the future.
Pay attention to what you are doing right. What part of your life is really on track? Determine what factors account for your satisfaction, and write them down. For example, if you are happy in your personal friendships notice how much time you spend and how much commitment you have to keeping up those connections. Use your imagination to see how you could use those same specific factors to improve another area—maybe in finding a romantic partner.
Stop blaming others or outside conditions for your stress. You can’t control what others think or do.
Say no. Let go of trying to do the impossible (working marathon hours, for example). Ask the Universe for a better solution.
When something bad happens, reserve judgment and hold the old Zen idea, "It could be good. It could be bad."
Try yoga and meditation. Personally, yoga has been a deep source of balance in my physical and emotional life. I can’t recommend it enough.
While balance is an admirable goal, there are many things worth doing in this world that may unbalance your schedule from time to time. Only you know what’s truly important to you—or you will know after painful experiences when balance has been upset. Take on the next challenge with all your heart. The important thing is to keep the heart open.

I wish everyone a very, very happy New Year.
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