One of the things I am passionate about as a wellbeing coach and consultant is helping individuals and groups successfully locate the sweet spot in their working and personal lives, often referred to as the work/life balance.
Let's define what the word balance means. Balance as a noun means "a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions." As a verb, to balance means "to put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall." In light of this, I believe we need to reflect on what is correct in terms of the proportion of the things in our lives and aim to create a steadiness that allows us to live without overwhelm. It is important to note that this will look different for each of us, and also in the different seasons of our lives.
I'm taking a stand for the 'AND'.
I also believe that balance is about holding more AND less in the right amounts - knowing when to allow for more, when to allow for less, in the correct proportion and in stability. This is the push AND pull of life, the sweet AND sour, light AND dark. This is life in its fullest and it requires real strength and courage. So, today I'm taking a stand for the 'AND'.
For so long, I lived with an EITHER-OR mentality - it had to be black OR white, I could only be a successful academic OR a present mum, happy OR sad, anxious OR peaceful. My thinking was restricted by a lack mentality – there isn’t enough to go around so you have to choose and who do you think you are to ask for more. I have since learned that there is more than enough to go around, we have simply got the proportions all wrong. When we visualise a weighing scale in balance, there are two or more weights that work together to produce an equal distribution. And we can do the same. As I say, I like to think of balance as holding two or more things simultaneously, in the correct amounts, to create a steady position.
EITHER OR thinking is also unrealistic, limiting, and overwhelming – it does not benefit our wellbeing. If we are choosing to be busy every day with no time to rest, waiting until the weekend, or worse, the holidays to switch off and relax, this is unrealistic and may lead to burnout. When you must choose between two things you become limited in your experiences. You may even, as I did, shut down parts of yourself because you think you can only ‘be’ one thing or ‘feel’ one way. This can be daunting and overwhelming, bringing with it a sense of being trapped. There is very wriggle room, and the pressure is on! The margin for error is reduced and you can end up living out of fear. Fear of making a mistake, fear of making the wrong choice in the first place!
All this sounds exhausting, and this way of living is putting strain on our nervous system, creating tension in the body and mind. There, is another way, however. By choosing the word AND, instead of either or, you begin to open to a world of possibilities. For example, you can be busy AND rest, you can be amazing at your career AND a present parent, and I am proof that you can experience symptoms of anxiety AND know peace. These may not happen at the same time but making space for both AND more throughout the day creates freedom and reduces the pressure.
“I can choose to be productive today AND take time for myself”
How much better is it to think “I can choose to be productive today AND take time for myself”? This widens the box that we so often put our lives into. We are no longer hemmed in and we can become more flexible and resilient. We take back ownership and agency of our lives. We can begin to make better choices – because there is more to choose from. We have more empathy and compassion for ourselves and others as there is greyscale, not the stark contrast of black or white. We become kinder, more generous and forgiving. Ultimately, using the word AND will result in reducing stress, creating more balance and an improvement to our overall wellbeing.
It has taken me a long time (the cogs move slowly for me sometimes) to realise the beauty of life as the paradox it is, complex, messy, organic. We can live a simple life AND a rich, diverse existence. We can hold both joy AND pain in the same embrace. We can choose a life of balance, one that allows for more options, more freedom AND more stability.
Top Tips to Achieving Balance
Replace the words EITHER OR with AND in your daily life – write out a sentence of how this could look. For example, “Today I will work hard in my job AND spend time with my family this evening.” You can extend this to a wider time frame too: “This year I am going to challenge myself to run a 5K AND learn to feel good about my body”.
Visualise what it will feel like to create balance in your life. This may be using a journal or a vision board – writing it out and seeing it in front of you will provide you with a vision of what you want to achieve and help you see what is possible.
Break your vision down into stages - set yourself realistic actions to make this happen throughout this week, month, AND year.
Keep yourself accountable and share your idea of what balance means and looks like to you with others to ensure you'll stick to this rebalance.
Get the support you need – surround yourself with people who have balance in their lives and are not limited in their thinking. Read inspiring stories and listen to podcasts about people who have chosen to live life in balance with their values and beliefs.
Check back in at the end of the week, month, and year to reflect on how you have created a shift in your priorities, stability, and balance.
Stay the course, don't give up. Change is possible and it is through your awareness, choice and action that creating and more importantly, maintaining balance, will happen.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or on my social feeds - @iamsarahalexcarter I'd love to know where and how you are creating balance in your life and also what other things resonate with you when you think about wellbeing and the letter B. Let's work, rest & play well this year!