Are you constantly trying to achieve the right balance in your life?
Do you feel like you’re neglecting certain areas of your life?
Or do you feel like some parts of your life are pulling you and demanding a disproportionate amount of your time and energy?
Before I became a mother, I was a (happy) workaholic. I actually did lots of other things outside of work, but I didn’t think too much about putting those things off, if my work demanded it. Sure, there were a few times it impacted my wellbeing, but I didn’t learn my lesson easily and continued on in the same way for years.
It wasn’t until I had a family, that I started to focus more on the balance in my life and to better understand what it takes to create it.
Often people see balance as an end state, that one day they’ll arrive at and then be able to sit back and bask in the ease and happiness of it all.
When your life is in balance you are:
- Able to manage all the most important things in your life
- Not pulled too hard by any one area of life
- Calm, grounded, motivated, clearheaded and steady
- Healthy, energetic and happy.
However, nothing stays the same, and life is full of surprises and changes of direction. Just when you think you’ve arrived at the right balance, something will change.
By striving to achieve that ideal end state of balance, we open ourselves up to constantly feeling like we’ve failed or that we’re not doing a good enough job.
In reality, balance lasts for a short time before something shifts.
Imagine yourself riding a bike. If you stop once you’ve found your balance, you quickly fall over! To keep your balance, you need to keep moving, monitoring your position and the environment around you and keep making adjustments.
Balance isn’t an end state. It’s a way of living. You are constantly balancing your life.
It’s a subtle difference in mindset and one that can take some of the pressure off. There’s always going to be another change to respond to and another opportunity to adjust. There is no perfect lasting balance, but you can experience balance overall, allowing for a little give and take. You don’t need to be an expert at living a balanced life, you just have to keep practicing and balancing.
So, for example, if you feel like you didn’t spend enough quality time with your family this week, you’re not a bad mum, you haven’t failed and your life isn’t lacking balance altogether. This just indicates that you now need to make an adjustment to spend more quality time with your family. The game isn’t over, you just keep moving forward.
Don’t lean for too long
When you’re riding your bike, you can lean for a while. But if you’re not monitoring your position and environment, and you allow yourself to lean for too long, you’ll probably fall over. Your body will become fatigued from holding that off-centered position.
When you’re balancing life, you can lean towards work or other commitments for a while, investing less into the other areas of your life. But eventually you’ll need to adjust or you’ll end up feeling exhausted, resentful, guilty and unhappy.
Self-care is a classic example. You can lean towards serving others, and put your own needs aside for a while, but if you do this long term you could experience more serious mental and physical health issues.
Balance is personal
It’s also really important to understand that there isn’t one right definition of balance. Balance in your life won’t look like balance in mine.
Balance is also not:
- Giving every area of your life an equal amount of your time and attention
- Doing it all
- Doing everything perfectly.
It all comes back to what’s most important to YOU in each area of your life right now.
What will help you achieve your long term goals and stay true to your values?
There are so many things you could be doing, but what’s most important to dedicate your limited time and energy to?
Many of us have grown up being told that we can do and have it all. While this is an appealing idea, I don’t think it’s that straightforward. Maybe it’s possible across your lifetime, but there are seasons for everything and you certainly can’t do everything at once. In fact, I don’t even believe we NEED to do everything at once. We just need to do what’s most important in the current season. There will be trade-offs and some things won’t make the cut.
For the last few months, I’ve been using a daily affirmation of “I have enough time for everything that’s important in my life”. It’s really helped me to stay calm, avoid being overwhelmed and keep my focus on what’s important, allowing the rest to slide.
When you’re identifying what’s most important to you, consider all areas of your life, including family, work, study, volunteering, friends, fun, rest and quiet time, and nourishing your body.
In the current season of my life, investing in the following things regularly helps me maintain a sense of balance:
- Creating flexibility in my schedule (so I’m not rushing from one commitment to the next and can accommodate changes where necessary)
- Being present and connected with my family so they feel important and loved
- Connecting with friends both in person and via text messages
- Calling my mum at least once each week
- Working on the most important things in my business
- Making a little progress on future or bigger plans for my business or life
- Getting enough rest (“enough” is certainly not the same as it used to be, but if I’m not falling asleep at 3pm then I’m doing well)
- Having fun and laughing a lot
- Learning and trying new things
- Running 3 times each week
- Keeping all the routine things in life mostly up to date, including cooking, cleaning, admin tasks, laundry and grocery shopping.
I’m not on top of all these things all the time. But as long as I don’t lean too much or for too long, I can regain my balance fairly easily. I just keep moving and adjusting.
In any given moment, I ask myself, what’s most important right now? We have to ruthlessly prioritise.
Which is more important right now?
- Getting some work done or preparing dinner?
- Playing with my son or doing the laundry?
- Going for a run or enjoying a leisurely breakfast with my family?
- Getting some sleep or checking social media?
Then when potential new commitments present themselves, I have to ask myself “Is this important to me right now? Is it more important than what I’m already focused on at this time?”. We need to have boundaries and learn to say no to keeping balancing.
Take action – what’s your version of balance?
So, lovely mum, why don’t you take a few minutes to apply this to your own life right now? Grab a pen and paper and answer these questions.
1. How are you honestly feeling about the balance in your life at this time? What’s the effect on your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing?
Asking yourself this question regularly, allows you to practice self awareness in relation to the balance in your life. The more aware you are, the more quickly you’ll be able to detect imbalance and adjust accordingly.
2. What’s most important to you in each area of your life right now?
Be really specific here so that’s it’s helpful when you need to prioritise. For example, instead of saying “I need to run”, I would say “I need to run 3 times per week, reaching at least a total of 25kms”.
3. Which of those things are you currently neglecting?
These are the things you will focus on more.
4. What other things are you currently investing time and effort in, that are NOT important right now?
These are the things you can stop doing, or at least reduce the amount of time and effort required.
5. What are the conflicts and what can you do to find balance?
Some of the important things in your life will seem to be in conflict. For example, I work mostly at night, so that I don’t have to sacrifice time with my son during the day, but that means I often don’t get enough sleep. The action that I have taken is to make sure that on the nights that I don’t work, I am in bed at a more reasonable time. I also have a boundary where I won’t have more than 2 really late nights in a row.
6. What support do you need?
This is an important one because, as a mum, it’s almost impossible to find balance without some support. You might need practical assistance like someone to look after your children or clean your house. Or you might need emotional support such as having someone (professional or not) to talk to about your challenges and to hold you accountable to making changes. Support can also come in the form of family and personal schedules and routines to reduce mental load and make regular tasks easier. For example, meal planning and grocery shopping once a week rather than every day.
Remember, once you’ve done this assessment of the balance in your life right now, you’ll need to continue to monitor it and make adjustments as things change and new demands arise. With practise you’ll find that this process will become easier and more automatic. Balance is a way of living. Keep practicing.