By Lisa Kohn
“Balance” is something people claim to want, yet find difficult or nearly impossible to achieve. Part of the problem may lie in using the word “achieve.” Balance isn’t an end-state — it’s a state of being, one that flows and moves.
Finding balance means setting up your life to be in line with your desires and values. Here are 10 steps to help you along your path.
1. Know what matters to you most. It is important to know what your priorities are. Not what you think they are, not what you think they should be, not what you think others would like them to be for you. What matters to you is what’s most important. List what matters to you, and in what order: family, friends, work, hobbies, community activities, spirituality, personal time, recreation, home, etc. Once you’ve completed the list, rank each on a scale from one to ten.
You can also prioritize different areas against each other. Start by listing each aspect of your life in order from most to least important. If you get stuck, consider each aspect of your life against ones of the same ranking. If you had to choose, which would honestly come first? Your work or your spouse? Your spouse or your hobbies? Your personal time or your children?
Now let’s see how you’re structuring your life based on your priorities. Again, on a scale of one to 10, rank how much time and effort you allot to each area of your life. Do these numbers match with your priority ranking for the different aspects of your life? If you’re like most people, they won’t match. This simply means you have room for more balance in your life.
2. Identify what you can do without. Go through your day, your home, your relationships, your job and your life. What’s sapping your energy? What are you doing that doesn’t need to be done? Identifying what you can do without is a major step toward freeing yourself up to focus on the things that do matter. You don’t have to do anything about the things that aren’t working for you at this point — simply being aware of them and calling them out can cause rapid changes.
3. Eliminate the tolerations in your life. Tolerations are those things that we put up with, that we accept and take on, and that drag us down. This includes other people’s behavior, difficult situations, unmet needs, crossed boundaries, unresolved issues, frustrations, problems and even your own behavior. These are the energy zappers — the things that wear you out.
It’s time to identify tolerations and let them go. This doesn’t mean going to your spouse (or child, partner, best friend, boss or colleague) and blurting out: “I’ve been tolerating such-and-such from you and I won’t any more — so you need to change!” It means that you’re ready to change your behavior in this area. You always have a choice — to do something else, stop your self-defeating behavior, disengage from a conversation, etc.
Start with things that are easy and simple to eliminate. Or you may want to choose one that is the most inspiring and motivating for you. Either way, cross off items when you’ve worked them out of your life. It will do wonders for your commitment to finding balance.
4. Define your clutter. To gain balance, you have to define and eliminate (or at least reduce) the clutter in your life. This may be physical stuff, emotional baggage, mental images — whatever. Clutter takes up space in your mind, heart, home and life. Begin to make space for what you want by getting rid of what you don’t.
5. Be where you are. Every day, our minds race ahead (or behind) to think of the bazillion things we need to do (or haven’t done “right”). We often jump from what happened yesterday to what will happen tomorrow (or in five minutes), what so-and-so will think, etc.
There’s so much to see when we focus on being present. There are people to be with and share joy with. So much is missed when our minds leave our bodies and go somewhere else.
Before you wander “out there” to find your balance, look inside. Look down at your feet and ground yourself in the moment.
6. Please yourself. We’re taught at an early age to do our best to please others. It may start with doing what Mommy and Daddy want so they’ll be happy and you’ll be “safe,” or getting the message in school that some things are “right” and some are “wrong.” It doesn’t really matter where these messages come from; many of us walk around trying to please everyone else. It’s time to shift the focus from pleasing others to pleasing ourselves. If we try to make everyone else happy, we set ourselves up for failure. Not only might we not make them happy, but even if we do, there’s no guarantee they’ll turn around and give us what we need. How much easier if we give ourselves what we need!
Find the things that please you and make you happy. Schedule a massage, go to the gym, take a nap. Self-care is a major part to finding balance in your life. Learning to please yourself is one of the first steps in extreme self-care.
7. Go for the joy. Make your face into an angry, disgruntled, disappointed frown. How does that feel? Okay, now put a huge, happy, joyful smile on your face. How does that feel? When we smile, we actually tell our brains that we’re happy (not the other way around) and our whole body and being responds accordingly. I’m not saying that life doesn’t have its hard times. But as the saying goes, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Even if all you can find that’s good at the moment is a flower, then delight in the flower for a few seconds and see if some of your suffering (or anger, resentment, guilt, etc.) begins to dissipate. If you put your focus on something that brings you joy, you’re liable to have and feel more joy in your life.
8. Ask for what you want. You need to be very clear about what you want. You need to know it, live it, breathe it, expect it and ask for it. Ask for what you want from people who can potentially give it to you. Ask for what you want from the universe. It doesn’t matter how it comes your way, just that it does.
There’s another part of asking for what you want — trusting that you’ll get it (or, if not it exactly, then something that works better). Balance is based on the deep belief that life will work out for you in wonderful ways. When you ask for something and it’s delivered (often without any effort on your part), you start to believe that life can and does work out.
9. You can have it all. Remember, you can’t do it all. Having it all actually comes after you live your life based upon that notion. When you stop trying to do everything — when you make a commitment to yourself to not do the things that aren’t in your best interest or aren’t worth your time and effort — you give yourself room to enjoy where you are and what you have. And you realize that you already have all that you need. And isn’t that balance?
10. The rest is up to you. It’s up to you when to take the plunge and begin applying these steps to your life. Perhaps you’ll realize you had more balance than you thought you did. Perhaps you’ll begin to define balance in a way that encompasses the realities and constraints of your life as it is now. (Sometimes that makes the constraints less constraining!) Perhaps you’ll allow yourself more joy, pleasure, fun and presence in your life. Balance is a state of flux — it changes, ebbs and flows. Allow balance to live and breathe. Enjoy the dance of life!
Vistage speaker Lisa Kohn is a principal in the Chatsworth Consulting Group, based in New York and Pennsylvania.
Originally published: Sep 4, 2011