I have a tendency to operate from an all or nothing perspective. Or at the very least from a 90/10 level of effort (i.e. I give 90% of my energy to whatever it is I’m currently focusing most of my attention on and everything else gets the remaining 10%). This is especially true when it comes to my goals. As I’ve mentioned before, when I first started writing, I called myself a writer, but if I was being honest with myself, I probably only wrote for about ten percent of my work day. I would schedule writing time into my daily life, but I hadn’t yet learned the art of protecting that time. I hadn’t yet learned that A Purposeful WIP Builds Balanced Boundaries.
This means not only carving out and guarding time to work on goals, but also doing so in a balanced way. And although I have grown in the area of boundary setting, balance is something with which I still struggle immensely because now that I have become more focused on writing and more determined to make progress on my manuscript, I have flipped that 90/10 tendency on its head.
Well, sort of.
I do give writing way, way more attention than I used to. The problem is that I still feel the need to give the other responsibilities and other priorities in my life the same amount of energy that I was giving them before. So, in my effort to find some semblance of balance between writing and goals and spending time with family and friends and home chores and rest, something has to give. And for me, that something is often rest.
I just keep going and going and going, taking one thing off my to-do list and then adding three more. I tell myself that I need to get all these things done and then I can take a break and such an internal pact almost always guarantees that I won’t actually get around to taking that break. I will, instead, continue as if my inner monologue isn’t constantly reminding me how tired I am.
When I talked about this with my life and business coach, she asked me why I think I behave in this manner and I came up with two reasons: 1) I’m afraid of reverting back to that stuck feeling, that place of unfulfilled goals and lack of progress. I would much rather work myself to exhaustion in the name of progress than get stuck in that place again. 2) I am a competitive person by nature and I feel the need to keep moving in order to keep up with our fast-paced world. I’m worried that slowing down will result in losing momentum and falling behind.
My very wise coach pointed out the fallacy in my thought process. She said that continuing to push myself to the brink of exhaustion is not actually making progress. I might still be producing work, but I’m not producing the level of quality I could be if I were working from a place of rested focus rather than chaotic overwhelm. She’s right, of course. We can all certainly accomplish goals and get things done and spend time with family and friends while in an exhausted state, but it’s difficult to do so very well or very presently and it’s definitely difficult to absorb all of the joy life has to offer. So that’s where balance comes in. But how do we strike that balance?
As I thought about this further, I found it interesting that two of the three features that aid in our body’s physical balance: the inner ear and our joints and muscles (the third being our eyes) are also in a way responsible for our internal balance. There is our mind—resting nicely between those inner ear canals—and probably the most influential muscle system in keeping us stable, our core. Looking at it in these terms, it makes sense that inner ear issues and a weak core would lead to physical imbalance in the same way that chaotic and unfocused thoughts and chaos in the core values of our lives will also lead to an overall feeling of imbalance. But on the flip side, if we can be intentional in our thoughts and intentional in our core values—what we build our lives around—and focus on those things that is how we build balance.
But is that really possible? I’ll be honest, I considered calling this Building Better Boundaries instead of Building Balanced Boundaries because I find the concept of balance to be a little bit illusory. Something that sounds good in theory, but is not actually attainable. I’m doubtful that there is some Aha! Moment when we can say, “Okay, my life is balanced and I am just totally at peace.” That would require a level of control over our lives that none of us really has. And even if the stars did align one day and we did reach a state of perfect equilibrium, it wouldn’t be possible to maintain because our lives are constantly shifting and so too must our balance. There might be seasons when work needs more attention or a sick family member needs care or an issue comes up at home that needs to be dealt with.
But although I’m not sure of the possibility of achieving Balance, I do think that we can develop a certain level of awareness. We can pay more attention to what our body needs or what our lives need and adjust from there. We can admit that we can’t do everything—and don’t necessarily need to do everything—immediately and perfectly. For me, this involves limiting my work hours and actually sticking to those limits. It involves building time to rest into my schedule and following through with that as well.
What about you? Do you feel you’ve achieved a good balance between your goals and work and other important areas of your life? If so, how have you made that happen? If not, if you often feel as imbalanced as I do, what small change can you make to regain some stability?