Finding balance in our lives is the new holy grail, symbolizing the attainment of ultimate happiness and fulfillment.
If only we weren’t so busy building our businesses, we would be able to spend more time with our loved ones. If only we didn’t have so many projects on deadline, we would have the energy to exercise and lose weight. If only we didn’t have two mortgages and growing credit card debt, we could find peace and get a good night’s sleep. If only…, if only…, if only we could find the elusive balance.
The definition of balance, according to the Encarta encyclopedia, is “a state in which a body or object remains reasonably steady in a particular position, while resting on a base that is narrow or small relative to its other dimensions.”
The secret to balance lies in identifying that narrow base that permits us to remain in equilibrium. If the base is the children, or work, or a spouse, or religion or recreation, there will always be imbalance because something will be missing and we will feel incomplete, disconnected, unfulfilled and stressed.
So what is the answer? If we base our life decisions—day-to-day as well as long-term—on our values, balance will become the natural consequence. Values are what you esteem, what you give worth to and what you live for. These are the things that should form your base and determine where you invest your time, money and energy.
How to Use Values as a Means for Achieving Balance
1. Understand that finding balance is an individual process. Only you know what is most important to you. A way to discover this is by visualizing your own funeral and imagining what you would want others to say about you, or imagining you had a year to live and picturing what you would do in that last year.
2. Write down your long-term goals in a mission statement that documents your perception of your purpose in life. To help you write a mission statement, I recommend Stephen R. Covey’s classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
3. Define what is important to you. This is work and it takes time. You might feel you have other, more “urgent” things to do that can’t wait, such as that report for your new client or that ballet recital for your child, but you must make the time to define what gives meaning to your own life.
4. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you are truly willing to let go of your reasons, justifications or excuses for your uneven focus. For example, although you say you would like to be balanced, maybe you are working longer to avoid exercising or spending time with your family, or perhaps you really enjoy the drama or the rush of being under pressure. If this is the case, it is important to address this issue first.
5. Notice where you are focusing your time, energy and thoughts. Ask yourself if this will lead to your achieving your long-term goals. Sometimes, activities such as preparing, reading and studying don’t appear to be important, but they are precisely the habits necessary to have balance.
6. Set a schedule for work and play, and don’t let your business responsibilities interfere with your personal relationships at home or physical well-being. Make it a habit to park your car for a few minutes before you enter your house to feel gratitude for your day and reflect on the person you want to be when you greet your family. Reading your mission statement, a short meditation or affirmation will also help to keep you in the moment. For example, “I feel blessed by the work I do and I acknowledge the work that has been done at home to prepare for my arrival. I will show sincere and heartfelt appreciation.”
7. Stay intensely focused. Realize that most of the time your thoughts are redundant and aimless. We waste so much time going over past mistakes and future possibilities. Your mind can’t be in the moment and in the past or future at the same time. The only point of power we have is the present. Planning and performing mental activities is not the same as ruminating over past events or daydreaming about future possibilities.
8. Release yourself from attachments. When you are constantly upset about something, it is impossible to focus completely on the moment at hand. The samurai of ancient times lived within the mindset of complete acceptance of his own impending death, knowing that if, during battle, he gave over even one moment to worrying about whether he lived or died, he would lose the fight. When you are detached, happiness is a natural manifestation.
9. Learn to say “no” to others, and especially to yourself. Once you have written down your mission statement, it’s easier to become aware of all the nonproductive things you do that waste time and sabotage the balance you say you want. Say “no” to yourself when you want to open an email that has nothing to do with the focused pursuit of your goals. Say “no” when you start to remember something from the past and feel tempted to ruminate over why he or she did that horrible thing, or what you could have said or done differently. Say “no” when you feel the urge to pick up the phone to gossip with a friend, when you know you are on a schedule.
We all try to balance our daily responsibilities, often unsuccessfully. This is because we haven’t taken the time to truly know what our purpose in life is. Attaining that balanced scale of all aspects of our life is an art that must be consciously cultivated over time. Only you can define your unique purpose in life. Good luck with this goal, and keep in mind that it is not static, but will change over time.
LINDA NACIF is a speaker with a Master’s degree
in clinical psychology. She is the author of Jump and the Joy
Will Follow: How to Live in Conscious Joy and
Health in Every Stage of Life.