Written by: Lindsay Buvel
Balance is also a very broad, and subjective word that looks and means something different to everyone, but it is a trait we all hope to find within ourselves and our lives. We all relate to wanting balance and we all relate to how difficult it feels to achieve balance when you feel like your life is full of chaos. It can feel like we finally found our flow, and suddenly we feel like we lost it and the road to get it back feels very long and winding. As this is a popular need most clients come in with, I’ve learned there is one essential thing you can do to always hold balance. But before we get into that, let’s debunk a few of the most common myths about balance:
Myth 1: Balance is when you have a good routine and you’re able to compartmentalize all your responsibilities.
We are often taught to plan our days with a proper work-life or school-life balance. This means dedicating a portion of your day to your job or education, and then, when you are done, you can be present at home and put your work away. While this is a great tip, what we are really talking about is how to balance your schedule, but not necessarily your life. Having a ‘when, then’ mentality is dangerous to balance because it promotes waiting. Hence, wait to finish work then you can connect to your family/friends or relax. We also tend to wait for the weekends, and convince ourselves we have balance since we are able to work during the week and be free on the weekends. That may not actually mean you found balance, rather it may just indicate you’ve become a master compartmentalizer and figured out how to get through your week and let all the pent up stress out days later. Again, a balanced schedule doesn’t always mean a balanced life. Similarly, compartmentalizing your responsibilities may be appropriate at times, and it can also lead to avoidance- ever hear of burnout?
Myth 2: Balance will make me happier and my life feel more calm.
Balance is not created equal- meaning balance can look and feel different at any given point. Balance doesn’t mean the absence of anxiety, anger, sadness, etc. Balance simply means having the ability to have a stable sense of self and well-being despite all the “stuff.” We tend to mistake our emotions as a validation of balance in our lives. Yes, it is true that the more aligned you are with your values, the more balanced you feel.
However, having moments of anxiety or sadness does not mean you are lacking balance. Sometimes life just happens. Emotions come and go, and we have off days or off months. All of this is okay and it does not mean your life isn’t balanced; it may simply mean life is handing you a lot. Perhaps balance in your life is also allowing you the space to feel what you need to feel rather than keeping it buried deep down. A common phrase I like to use is, “Balance exists despite x…”
Myth 3: Balance means I have control over my life.
We often mistake balance for control. Yes, we may feel more in control of our lives, but what happens when something that is out of our control happens? Do we just lose balance? When we feel out of control, often times we think ‘I need to put more control in my life’ but too much control can also make us less balanced. Be mindful of this when determining what balance looks like for you- we can maintain balance even in chaos!
Balance is not something you complete or achieve- it is not a goal, rather a value. This means that as our lives grow and change, so will the traits we look for in balance.
A quick story: I was working with a client who was doing pretty well in life. She was finally finding the new career path she had been desiring, was well into maintenance for treatment, and her and her husband found a new appreciation for each other she had been longing for. This client worked really hard to maintain balance in herself and most of our sessions were focused on building upon this. When she came into session one day, tears immediately poured out and sheer panic ripped through her. Once able to speak, she shared how she had an awful weekend, how everything she worked for was slipping through her hands, and that her life quickly went from happy and satisfied to dark and uncertain. She was convinced this journey to recovery and balance in her life would not return, and if it did would be quite the feat to rebuild.
After learning more, I quickly realized this wasn’t a “life flipped upside down” moment- rather, she had been growing so much that what once worked for her no longer did in her life. She had found this beautiful balance within herself that she realized certain parts of her life no longer brought her the same joy it once did, which lead to feel fear, sadness, and uncertainty. I prompted her further after sharing this observation, and she realized her stable sense of self never left her, but her emotions were communicating to her that it was time to adjust. We did a few exercises to observe various aspects of her life, and made small action-oriented adjustments to needed areas. She committed to doing these actions, while also continuing to hold space for herself and she was quickly back to usual- present, motivated, and satisfied.
So what was the lesson? We tend to look outward to validate balance for ourselves, but the real trick- look within for balance. Again, a balanced schedule doesn’t mean a balanced life, and balance is not created equal so we may have to adjust as we go. If you can hold a stable sense of self- what brings you purpose and meaning each moment- then you will be able to hold balance despite all the other “stuff.”
I encourage you to think about this for a bit. You may even use the prompt “I feel most balanced when…” and see what immediately pops up. For myself, I feel most balanced when things feel intentional in my life. I can quickly get caught up in control and expectation, such as the daily to-do list, judgments on how well I did something that day, etc and that often leads me to lose my focus and lose sight of what actually matters. When I am able to be more intentional, I naturally feel more balanced because the driving force behind my decisions, emotions, thoughts are connected to what is meaningful to myself.
If something happens, such as a pandemic, my intentions never become unbalanced because they remain true to me and it makes adjusting my days a lot less threatening. I do this by setting an intention each morning and I go back to it when I feel ungrounded or stuck during the day, as inevitably happens. It doesn’t mean all my days go well, or that I feel happy all the time- but I always have that place of balance that keeps me going and I can always go back to.
Now I ask: What can you begin doing today to find balance within? What might you have to practicing accepting in order to make room for balance within? Notice if there is any rigidity, needless control, avoidance getting in the way of finding balance. Finally, remember that we are all doing our best and, while we may be figuring out what balance in our life looks like, investing in yourself (like reading this blog) is a strong first step!