I tried to improve my life balance. I made periodic heartfelt declarations to myself, my partner, and my friends that I was going to leave the office by 6:30PM, take better care of myself, and start saying no.
Within weeks, sometimes just days, I’d be right back where I started: stressed, frustrated, and out of balance.
So a few nights ago when my friend Maggie told me she wished balance was as natural for her as for me, I almost choked on my wine.
With my history? Natural for me?!! Ha!!!
I almost laughed except there’s nothing funny about how she feels. After commenting on my natural aptitude for life balance, she went on to say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It seems so much easier for everyone else.”
Once the wine was out of my windpipe and I’d stopped sputtering, I assured her there’s nothing wrong with her.
Living with balance isn’t easier for “everyone else.” Really.
Intellectually we all know, Maggie included, that life doesn’t naturally or magically come into balance for anyone. Very few of us have enough time to do everything we need and want to do.
But that’s not actually why increasing your sense of balance is so challenging. The real problem is most people think too big and/or try to wish balance into being.
Here’s what I mean: “Starting tomorrow I’m going to leave the office EVERY day at 6PM!”
Um, that’s a lot of change overnight. And exactly how are you going to do it? If it were as simple as just do it, you’d already be there!
Increasing your sense of balance takes more than sweeping declarations and wholehearted hopes.
You need a definition of success, specific action steps, and a way to measure progress so you have something tangible to manage.
This four-step process will help you increase your sense of balance and turn life balance into a regular practice. And you can use this process to create any kind of change.
1. Set a balance-related goal that’s specific and measurable.
What you measure you will manage! Without this step, you’ll just be chasing a dream.
Use these examples as starting points to stimulate your thinking. Choose just one goal at a time, not multiple, otherwise you risk adding more imbalance to your life!
– Leave the office by a specified time one or two days a week;
– Start and/or end your workday with a clean desk;
– Take a daily five-minute breathing break;
– Experience one joyful moment per day; or (not and!)
– Complete a 30-minute workout three times per week.
The only “right” answer is what’s meaningful to you!
2. Monitor your progress for two weeks, noticing what works … and what doesn’t.
Do not, I repeat, do not beat yourself up if you’re not making progress. That’s not the point!
The only purpose of this step is to help you understand all the underlying factors that support you in, or get in the way of, achieving your balance goal. Once you understand those factors, you can get your arms around simple things you can change.
And what you discover might (and probably will) surprise you. That’s what happened to my client Karen when she went through this process.
Karen’s balance measure was to leave the office at 5:30PM twice a week so she could have dinner with her kids.
In the first two weeks, she didn’t make it out before 6:15PM on either of her targeted days.
That might sound like a bust, but it was actually a wild success because of what she learned.
She’d done a great job of packing up and heading out of her office right on time. What she hadn’t factored in was the impact of walking past her entire department on the way to the elevator, encountering a chorus of “Can I ask you a quick question before you leave?”
And that leads us to …
3. Develop two or three simple action steps based on what you learn during your two weeks of monitoring.
For the days Karen planned to leave at 5:30PM, her action steps were:
– Advise the staff of her schedule;
– Wrap up in her office by 4:30PM; and
– Spend one hour checking in with her staff as she made her way to the elevator.
Keep your steps simple. Baby steps will take you a long way!
4. Continue to monitor, reflect, and make necessary course corrections.
Change doesn’t happen overnight.
The more you practice managing your balance, the more sustainable your changes become.
Life might not magically balance itself, but when you stick with the process you won’t need magic. You’ll be amazed at your ability to increase your sense of balance!
“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living.” ~ Bruce Barton