Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Message #16 - Don't Fall Off the Balance Beam!

What I have to say here is a corollary to Message #15 – Take Time Out.

It’s easy to say, “You need balance in your life.” Easy to say, but not easy to do, right?

On the surface this dictum makes sense. After all, who wouldn’t agree that balance is a good thing? I must think so. If I didn’t, why would I send you a message saying Don’t Fall Off the Balance Beam?

When you think ‘balance,’ what image comes to mind? There is balance as in a scale, where what is on one end equals what is on the other end. So the scale is at peace with itself, nicely balanced, in the middle, not tilting one way or the other. Peaceful, but not too exciting.

There is balance as in accounting, to make sure the books are balanced. We want to be sure that the numbers on one side equal the numbers on the other side.

There is balance as in a watch’s balance wheel. Probably most of you have never seen a watch with a balance wheel, a mechanism that moves the hands forward accurately. Quartz watch movements pretty much put the balance wheel industry out of business. But for centuries they were important. Kept things ticking along, so to speak.

There is balance as in tire balance, making sure that the four tires on your car are in line, properly inflated and working properly. After all, you wouldn’t want to wobble down the highway in an unbalanced condition.

So clearly balance is good. Having things in a state of peaceful equilibrium is good.

There’s only one problem: life doesn’t work that way. Maybe in an alternative universe you’ll find it. Not in this one. We are out of balance all the time. Bouncing from one thing to the next, often wondering when we’ll be able to get it all together. And getting sage advice like, “You need balance in your life.”

Say you’re on vacation. You’re out of balance. All play and no work. In terms of balance it’s no different than if you’re working 18-hour days for weeks on end. You’re out of balance. All work and no play.

So what can you do? Obviously you’re doomed. You’ll always be out of balance, right? Wrong! Why wrong? Because it’s the totality of your life that you want to have balanced, not each individual part. Which brings me to ‘balancing.’

Your life is not static; it’s dynamic. You are bouncing from one thing to the next. Since you can’t stop your life, your challenge is to stay physically and mentally healthy while life is going on. Balancing helps you win this game.

I know what’s coming next: “OK, Dan, fine. If you’re so smart, tell me how to do balancing.”

Sorry. It’s like I said in “Taking Time Out.” You have to discover what works for you. I can’t give you an infallible method to achieve and maintain balance. What I can do is point you in a new direction.

First, stop saying it’s hopeless. Stop being a victim. “I’m a single mom. I’ve got kids to take care of, which is a full-time job. And I’ve got another full-time job that I need to pay the rent and put food on the table. And I’d like to exercise once in a while. And I’d like some kind of a social life. There aren’t enough hours in the day.”

You’re right. With that attitude it is hopeless. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that guarantees more of the same. Of course, changing your attitude won’t automatically give you a balanced life. What it will do is open up the possibility that it doesn’t have to be this way. At a minimum if will set you on a new path. You won’t be throwing in the towel before the fight begins.

Try balancing. Begin by asking yourself, “What would make me happy?” And then answer the question. I’m not talking about an abstract academic exercise here. Really answer the question. And then take action.

“A half hour a day when I could do whatever I want, like reading a book, would make me happy.” Good. Do it!

“An unplanned, quiet 15 minutes with my partner before we go to sleep would make me happy.” Good. Do it!

“Taking the kids out to the park at least once a week would make me happy.” Good. Do it!

“Talking to my sister once a week would make me happy.” Good. Do it!

Once you’ve tried balancing for a while do an honest assessment to see how well it’s working. Don’t be afraid to make changes. Reinforce what feels right. Cut out or modify what feels wrong or isn’t living up to your expectations.

You don’t need specific measures for determining how well you’re doing. You’ll know.

In Bhutan, their goal is well-being and happiness for their people. They call it Gross National Happiness (GNH). They say that subjective measures are more relevant than objective measures. So they don’t measure GNH directly, but instead focus on a set of indicators that are believed to enhance GNH. They are:

1. Economic Wellness

2. Environmental Wellness

3. Physical Wellness

4. Mental Wellness

5. Workplace Wellness

6. Social Wellness

7. Political Wellness

You don’t need to go to the Himalayas to improve the quality of your life (although I do recommend a visit to Bhutan, one of the treasures in this world.)

Just make sure you Don’t Fall Off the Balance Beam!


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