The Myth of Balance

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There’s a form that I use with the women that I provide life coaching services to and one of the questions on the form is, “Have you found balance in your life this week?” When I wrote this question, it seemed like a good idea. Balance is a lovely concept and one I had imagined captured the idea of juggling all of life’s responsibilities relatively well. But in all the time I have been using this form and reading women’s answers to this question, no one has ever answered YES. 

Not one time. Not one yes. It seems important to share that the women filling out these forms are doing a TON of work. Self examination, personal reflection, changing behaviors, meeting the daily obligations of several life roles….these women are rockstars. They are bravely stepping into bold change, discomfort, and accountability and still trying to figure out what to cook for dinner every night. And not one of them has ever answered “YES. I have found balance in my life this week.” Once I noticed this pattern, I started to think that maybe the way I was defining the word “balance” and the way everyone else was defining it was markedly different. So I eliminated that question from the form because how most people define balance creates a set up to feel unworthy when asked if they have achieved it yet. I also decided to really look at what I mean when I ask someone if they are finding balance in their life.

Finding balance is a concept that to me means I am juggling all of my responsibilities relatively well and haven’t lost my mind completely despite the stress of having all of these balls in the air flying at me non stop. It is not perfection. It is not 100% goal attainment. It is not being busy while also being Buddha. Finding Balance to me means:

  • Making room in my day/week/life to get things done. Sometimes the number of items I cross off my to do list is ZERO. And sometimes I cross them all off.  Either way, If I am trying, if I am learning and adjusting my approach, I’m succeeding.
  • Creating space to honor my own needs as well as I do that for others in my life. Some days I pay attention to my needs by not answering a phone call, on a really good day I get a massage, on most days, I get to the gym. The way I prioritize this will shift because it has to, but I find a way to work it in that fits in my life in that moment when I recognize I need it.
  • Pushing myself to make progress when motivation is low, celebrating small achievements, and not beating myself up on days when I fail at that altogether.
  • Racing through my life fast enough to make your head spin one day and staying in my pajamas and not showering on a Sunday while binge watching the Golden Girls the next. (C’mon that’s a great show!)
  • Trying to be better, do better, know better. Efforts counts but so does awareness. 

Essentially, finding balance means juggling a multitude of responsibilities, feelings, obligations, and other people’s needs in a way that doesn’t completely destroy us emotionally. It also means recognizing when we have allowed ourselves to swing to far to one extreme and requires us to be willing to readjust accordingly. It challenges us to stay conscious of how our choices are impacting our mental wellness and to understand that we are going to screw it up royally sometimes. But if you learn from it, and use that information to do things a little differently the next time around, you are finding balance. It’s an approach to life, not a measure of worth or success.

Embracing Who You Are

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In April, my husband and I moved into a new home. To my delight, the existing landscaping is simple and consists of a couple spots with shrubs and low maintenance flowers and one raised bed next to the driveway with two blueberry bushes. I can handle this, I thought when we moved in. To say I don’t have a green thumb is an understatement. I have killed nearly every plant, indoor or out, that I have ever been responsible for in my life, with one exception. A Fica tree that I bought when my husband and I moved in together at the young age of 23 and have somehow managed to keep alive nearly 17 years. “Keep alive” is a term I use loosely considering that it had about 5 leaves left on it when me moved in April. My father in law has been caring for it while we transitioned. He still has it and has since transformed it into a Fica tree of epic proportions. It’s so full and lush he decorated it for the holidays. I didn’t even know that it could look that good.

As resistant as I was to doing any yard work after the chaos of moving, I did clear the bed with the blueberry bushes of weeds and water them. Time passed and I got the house settled, summer started to come and we focused on having fun and recovering from a busy year. I would look at those blueberry bushes once in a while and think, I should probably do something for those, like feed them. Then it would rain and I would know that they were all set for a while longer. Eventually I forgot about them.

Then one late afternoon, as my husband and I pulled out of our driveway headed out to meet friends, those blueberry bushes caught my eye, and they did not look good. I stopped the car and stared at them for a moment, brown branches and leaves shriveled up from lack of water, and I started to feel bad. I let them die. I didn’t make time to take care of them and I killed them. I have killed another plant. I let myself feel inadequate as I sat there staring, because I am a woman and should be able to garden and keep things alive. “I did it again”, I said out loud to my husband. “I killed those damn blueberry bushes. What is wrong with me that I can’t keep a plant alive? I don’t have a nurturing bone in my body”. Without hesitation my husband replied, “You’re a warrior baby not a nurturer. Leave the gardening to someone else”.

What a revelation. I’m a warrior, not a nurturer.

As I let this statement roll around in my head I realized how true it was. I also realized that it’s perfectly acceptable. I have never been a woman who feels fulfilled and joyful from caring for and nurturing living things. It’s easy to feel badly about that because it goes against everything our culture pressures us to be as women. It’s easy to turn that fact into something that could make me feel less than worthy.

My husband’s simple statement reminded me to focus on what I am instead of what I am not, and let that be okay. To let that be good enough. I’m a warrior. I connect with and help and care for living things in a different way than natural nurturers do. It doesn’t make me any less of a woman and it certainly doesn’t reduce my worth.

What are the pieces of yourself that instead of feeling ashamed of,  you need to do the work to embrace? If you don’t like something about yourself, you can change it and if you don’t want to do the work to change it than accept that it isn’t important enough to you to commit the time.

Join me on the island of embracing who you are. It’s lovely here, even with all the dead plants.

 

 

NYE 2017: Creating Meaning in the New Year

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Whether you are a fan of resolutions in the new year or not, the truth is most of us think about fresh starts and change as New Years Eve approaches. Most of us know by now that resolutions don’t work! if we could wake up in the morning and be a totally different person with new habits that would be great but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. So rather than the pressure of resolutions for New Years Eve, I suggest we do something different. Something that embraces the desire for change that is in the air but honors the difficulty of it.

If you desire any sort of change in your habits, behavior, or life in general you have to make a commitment to self awareness. It is the foundation of all change and growth and without it, you will stay stuck – wishing for the same changes year after year.

Self Awareness means:

  • Recognizing what you think and feel and making conscious decisions about how you respond to both
  • Reviewing your choices and behaviors and their impact on you and others and being willing to make changes as necessary
  • Understanding how the way you speak, act, and do things impact those around you
  • Holding yourself accountable
  • Taking personal responsibility for your life
  • Learning from your mistakes

In the spirit of starting with Self Awareness and honoring our desire for change but our avoidance of resolutions, here are some ways to cultivate both as the New Year approaches.

  1. Review the past year, reflect on the lessons both good and bad, and let them inform your choices and behavior for the year ahead. I have created a downloadable workbook to help you do that!
  2. Create a vision board to capture your intentions and focus for the New year! Using cut out photos from magazines and/or printed images from the internet, put together a collage for a visual representation. Use words, images, anything that captures your desires for the upcoming year.
  3. Commit to a self awareness or personal growth ritual for the New Year!
    • Get a large mason jar or other container with a lid and put a stack of scrap paper or post its and a pen next to it. Every time something positive happens in your life, write it down and put it in the container. Next year on New Years Eve you can look through all of the wonderful things that happened in your life.
    • Find a way that works to try journaling. It is a wonderful way to spend time with your own thoughts and feelings and foster self reflection. It is a powerful tool for self awareness. You can use pen and paper or try a digital app. Can’t commit to daily writing? What about once weekly? Most people are uncomfortable with journaling which is exactly why they need to do it!
    • Commit to a small daily habit change in the morning. Make your bed first thing, take your vitamins before you have coffee, check voicemail before you start your day. Change one small thing that takes 5 minutes or less to complete. It’s a simple way to start your day feeling productive and can have a huge impact.
    • Write your goals down! every self help guru on the planet will tell you to do this and it’s for good reasons, so listen!

Every large, significant, or difficult change a human being makes in their life starts with the decision to do one small thing differently. Challenge yourself this New Year to start with something small. Momentum will build from there if you stay connected and self aware!

Finding the middle ground

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Human beings love extremes. Balance or the middle ground is a place we seem to have a hard time with. If you are someone who is working on self awareness and personal growth, the day will come where you recognize a behavior that you need to change. When you have this realization and are able to step in to the actual change process, inevitably, you will move from one extreme version of the behavior to another. If you think of any particular human behavior as a spectrum of color, with white on one end and black on the other and many shades of gray between them, it would look like moving from black to white or white to black.

At some point the awareness will hit you that this behavior that you worked so hard to change still isn’t working for you in your life, or doesn’t feel particularly healthy. You will be right about this, because any behavior in its extreme form is out of balance and likely to be problematic. You will need to find the gray – the middle ground. That is where emotional health and happiness live.

When I quit smoking cigarettes four years ago, I had to drag myself through the trenches of a great deal of personal reflection and change as any person letting go of an addiction does. Time, therapy, and experiencing a great deal of difficult emotions gave me insight into my own extreme behavior patterns that weren’t healthy in my life. In particular, I had been blind to to the care taking I had done with family relationships that wasn’t balanced. When I realized the depth of the impact these unbalanced patterns were having on me, I had to step out of them. So I did, and I zoomed full bore to the other end of the spectrum. I wasn’t care taking and fixing anymore and it felt good. It felt good to break a pattern that no longer served me and my mental health. Four years later, I find myself emerging from the fog and being on the other end of this spectrum doesn’t feel good either. I am heavy with the realization that I haven’t been there as much as I wish I had for the people I love and I feel as if I have missed out on things that I shouldn’t have. I could beat myself up about this and let the guilt lead me back to old and unhealthy behaviors, but I won’t. Instead, I will take the lessons, and move towards the gray and find a middle ground that serves to preserve my own mental health and well being and the connections I have with those I love.

We need to remember that human behavior change doesn’t happen quickly. It is a process. It is very common for this swing of extremes to happen to anyone stepping into significant behavior change.  At some point if you feel that you are on an extreme end of the spectrum and it is no longer working or feels healthy, then challenge yourself to find the middle ground. Going back to old behaviors just keeps us imbalanced. Take the lessons from living in each extreme and use them to guide you to the healthy place in the middle.