If you’d known me years ago, you’d have witnessed my fabulous rendition of an unbalanced life.
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
“I’ve got to keep breathing. It’ll be my worst business mistake if I don’t.”
~ Steve Martin
It seems that “I’m busy” and “I’m tired” are the two most common answers to the question, “How are you?”
They’ve become a state of being. And it gets worse during the holiday season.
No surprise. There’s so much more to do.
First of all, you’re trying to get everything done at work so you can take time off.
And then there’s holiday shopping, decorating, and cooking and baking (if that’s part of your life this time of year).
You’re either traveling or getting your house ready for company to descend (or both). And you’re still trying to cram in all those things you swore you’d get done before the end of the year.
Calories are going through the roof from all the holiday cookies, parties, and celebratory cocktails. You’re praying some article of clothing will still fit in January. And somewhere in there you’re mentally working on your New Year’s resolutions so that next year will be different.
Even if you love the holidays, it’s no wonder you’re worn out by the time January 1st arrives!
Try a different approach to the holiday season this year.
- Choose your experience. When January rolls around, how do you want to describe the last two weeks of the year? Calm, fun, exciting, nurturing, connected? The possibilities are endless but I suspect you’re not craving stressful, exhausting, or out-of-control. Which leads to …
- Kibosh the shoulds. What to-dos or commitments on your list are driven by should? For example, if baking eight kinds of cookies for fifty of your closest friends brings you joy, go for it. But if not, dump it from your list. Same goes for any other impulse you have to “should on yourself!”
- Quiet Time. Meditation, prayer, yoga, a solo walk in the woods – it’s good for your mind, body, and spirit, and it opens up space for you to hear your intuition so you can better …
- Reflect on the upcoming year. Rather than a litany of resolutions that are likely to be history by the second week of January, set an intention for how you want to live this next year. Examples include living spaciously, abundantly, happily, or successfully. Intentions define your inner experience which directly impacts your external actions.
- Tend to your physical environment. Your mental and emotional states are dramatically impacted by your surroundings. What needs to happen in your environment to support you?
- Get out in nature. Whether it’s feeling the cold, the rain or snow, or the sun on your face, get outside and breathe.
- Be kind to your body. Do a few daily stretches, move your body, and get enough sleep. And with the abundance of tempting treats this time of year, adopt the mantra: everything in moderation.
- Stimulate your mind. Interesting conversation, thought-provoking movies or books … anything that gives your brain a good workout.
- Pamper yourself. Take a bath with rose petals and bubbles, get a massage or facial, or sit in front of a fire with a cup of your favorite tea.
- Savor the moment. The minutes between today and the official end of the holiday season on January 2nd are minutes you can never get back. Be present to each one.
Incorporate these ten suggestions into your holiday experience and you’ll set yourself up to start the New Year refreshed, rejuvenated, and reenergized.
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”
~ Thomas Merton
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melody Beattie
If yesterday had been your last day on earth, would you feel happy about how you lived it?
This might sound like I’m heading down the path of live each day as if it were your last.
I’m only kinda-sorta going there.
Personally, I want to put my energy, time, and attention on what matters most, living my day the way I want to live my life.
But I also want to deal with the ordinary, practical considerations of life, since I’m betting that I probably will be here tomorrow. If today was my actual last day, I’m certain I wouldn’t spend it paying bills or buying groceries, but considering the consequences – and that I expect to be around for those consequences – I think I’ll write the checks and go shopping.
So I don’t literally want to live each day as if it were my last. What I really want to do is to climb into bed each night feeling good about the choices I made, ending the day with no regrets.
Enter a mild case of scattered and discombobulated.
That’s how I’ve been feeling for almost a month.
I can’t put my finger on why, and I can’t seem to shake it off. But if yesterday had turned out to be my last day, scattered and discombobulated is NOT how I’d want to have lived it!
So I wrote myself a prescription for an eight-week no-regrets challenge. It’s a challenge I’ve taken on before and have suggested to many of my clients. Two weeks in, one client came up with this slogan: “Greater awareness, fewer regrets.”
I invite you to join me in the no-regrets challenge.
For the next eight weeks, focus on ending each day with no regrets – whatever no regrets means to you.
Why eight weeks? Because change doesn’t happen overnight. And because it takes time to learn what works for you and create new habits.
Here’s how it works.
You don’t need much to get started; just a notebook or a document on your computer where you’ll take daily notes, plus a willingness to pay attention to what you do and the choices you make.
At the end of each day, take a few minutes to answer (in writing) these questions:
- What choices did you make today that supported you in living a no-regrets day?
- What opportunities did you miss to live a no-regrets day today?
- What will you do differently tomorrow? What successes will you build on?
- What insights did you gain?
Off to the races …
As you move through each day, use these ideas to help you choose the no regrets path:
Check your self-imposed rules.
One of my clients found herself looking longingly at her hammock on a beautiful Spring day thinking, “I wish I were outside.”
She realized her no regrets commitment meant getting herself out there instead of wishing about it. An executive who frequently works from home, she won the tussle with her inner critic, who tried to insist it was irresponsible to take a conference call in such an enjoyable environment. It was an eye-opening moment for her.
One clue you’ve bumped into a made-up constraint or self-imposed rule is when you find yourself having one of these “I wish I could” experiences. You don’t need a fairy godmother to grant those wishes!
Take a broad view.
Friend, parent, spouse, significant other, employee, boss, business owner, sibling, pet owner, runner, orchid collector, volunteer, community member … you have many roles in your life.
It’s easy to prioritize what’s most urgent, but that’s not always what’s most important. So make a list of the roles you’re committed to at this point in your life, and be sure you’re clear on what trade-offs you’re willing – or not willing – to make.
Sometimes just taking a brief moment to imagine yourself a year down the road can help put your priorities in perspective.
What are you waiting for?
As I kid, I frequently heard my grandparents talk about all the places they’d go later, when they had more time and fewer responsibilities. My grandmother died at the age of 61. “Later” never came for her, and my grandfather spoke with great regret of their missed opportunities.
As you find your own balance between today and tomorrow, be sure you make the trade-offs that create the fewest regrets.
One last thing … don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect. It’s all about moving towards no regrets one choice at a time. Besides, treating yourself unkindly will just be one more thing to regret!
Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Continue to learn. Appreciate your friends. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is. ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
Wow, this year has flown by fast!
In what feels like the blink of an eye, I’m once again beginning the annual process of working with clients to help them define what they want in the upcoming year. In a few weeks, I’ll be doing the same for myself. (Yes, I use the same tools as my clients!)
I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be discarded along with the empty champagne bottles. Yet I believe deeply in the power of intentional change. And there’s something about the freshness of a new year that makes you want to create positive change in your life.
Sometimes that means big, structural change: a career transition, the start or end of a significant relationship, or a move to a new city.
More often, though, it’s a desire to experience life differently. This is what Gretchen Rubin describes in her book The Happiness Project as changing your life without changing your life. It’s a change that comes from transforming your internal landscape and shifting the way you interact with your external world.
The following nine practices have the potential to profoundly change your life – without upheaval.
As you look towards the New Year, choose just one or two to start with. Weave them into your daily life. What you do every day has a much bigger impact than biting off a big chunk occasionally.
Practice gratitude. You know how when you decide to buy a new car, it’s suddenly everywhere? It’s not because you’ve magically manifested increased sales of that model; you’re just more aware.
Gratitude works in a similar way. The more you appreciate what’s good, the more good you will see.
Clear the clutter. Every time I slide back into my natural cluttered habits, I’m once again reminded of the distraction and overwhelm clutter creates. If you have piles of stuff inhabiting your space – whether in plain sight or stashed behind closed doors – pick it off in small chunks and make it go away!
Change your lens. The lens through which you view your world creates your experience, not vice versa.
Once you choose your lens, create a daily practice to keep it top-of-mind. A post-it note on your bathroom mirror, writing it in a daily journal, or saying it aloud on your way to work are all effective ways to make sure you don’t forget.
Choose your thoughts. Does your mind feel like a toxic waste dump, or is it a pleasant place to be? You are in control of what you allow to hang out in your head.
Tend to your health. When life gets busy, it’s so easy to neglect healthy habits: eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation, or simple quiet time.
I don’t know about you, but “not at my best” is an understatement when I’m hungry, sleep-deprived, or stressed. You’ll be healthier, happier, and more focused, energetic, and productive when you invest in your health.
Move your body … every day, even if just for ten minutes. Stretch, dance around the room, go for a short walk, do a few yoga poses, anything that gets your body moving.
Be picky about who you spend your time with. A friend recently posted the following on her Facebook page (excuse the language): “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. ~ William Gibson”
The people with whom you spend your time either boost you up or drag you down. Your choice.
Act as if. Action follows thought and thought follows action. When you act as if the change you want has already happened, you’ll start feeling different. And when you start feeling different, your actions will start aligning with the new way you feel. It’s a lovely upward spiral.
Be yourself. It’s easier, more effective, and less exhausting. And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, everyone else is already taken.
As each practice becomes part of your natural rhythm and routine, add in the next few. Before you know it, you’ll have changed your life!
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost almost 300 games.
26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
~ Michael Jordan
I can. Such an unassuming phrase.
Or … not.
At its best, “I can” is powerful and confident: I can be strong, I can take a stand for myself, I can find the courage to be me, I can deal with this difficult situation, I can be a leader.
But “I can” has a risky side that, if you’re not careful, will set you on a slippery slope away from the direction you want to be going.
The risk lies in acting on “I can” because … well, just because you can.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines can as being physically or mentally able to.
But making choices based only on that definition is likely to get you in trouble.
That’s what happened to my friend Debbie, with whom I worked back in my corporate days. Debbie was everyone’s go-to person for pretty much everything. We all knew that if she was physically or mentally capable, she’d automatically say yes.
Can you do this last minute analysis? Yes, I can.
Can you come in and work this weekend? Yes, I can.
Can you take on this project? Yes, I can.
Can you pick up a birthday cake for Bob? Yes, I can.
Can you bring us back lunch since you’re running out for an errand? Yes, I can.
And that was just at work. She had the same pattern in her personal life.
The problem wasn’t with any particular individual Yes, I can.
The problem was that Debbie never counted up the cost of all those “Yes, I can” statements or considered how (if!) her choices aligned with her personal and professional goals.
In her mind, the only consideration was could she. If she could, then she felt she should. And she paid a high price that wasn’t at all what she wanted.
She didn’t have time or energy for her friends or family. She kept delaying her goal of pursuing an MBA because, in her words, “Where on earth would I find the time?” And that’s just two examples.
We all face choices that fall into the just because you can doesn’t mean you should category.
And we all occasionally get hooked by I can, so I should. I know I’m never going to be perfect!
Fortunately, it’s not about perfection. It is about being aware of your choices and how they align with what’s most important to you.
Adding more questions will help shift your choices.
Can I? is just the starting point. If you know you can – if you’re physically and mentally able – don’t stop there! Ask more questions!
- Should I do this?
- Really? Is that really true?
- How does saying “yes” align with what’s important to me?
- What am I giving up if I say “yes”? (There’s always a trade-off – other uses of your time, energy, happiness, self-care, etc.)
- What conscious choice will I make?
Run the questions through your mind AND your gut / intuition. If you don’t get the same answer from both, pay attention! Your gut instinct might telling you that you’re in the land of just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
If you do not change direction you may end up where you were heading. ~ Lao Tzu
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” ~ Napoleon Hill