I will be the first to admit: I am not very good at balance. With so many aspects of life asking for my attention: work, chores, finances, family, friends, my partner, my dog….I sometimes feel exhausted before the day begins and worry that there is not enough of me to go around. There are parts that I certainly would prefer to give my time and energy to (family, friends, home life), and others that are unfortunate necessities of my time (bills, cleaning, etc). How do you achieve a balance of all aspects that demand your time, and feel energized by the daily ins-and-outs of life? Is this possible? I know it is; I have seen a balanced life in numerous friends and public figures whom I admire deeply. They also will admit that it takes a concerted and dedicated effort to feel balanced and healthy in their life choices. Achieving balance in your life can feel almost like a full-time job in itself (which, ironically, can only add things to the to-do list!). As a psychotherapist, I feel I must be honest about my own human struggles and questions, as this can be helpful to clients and others who are on the same path. I also feel that it is my ethical duty to try to “practice what I preach”, and implement into my own life the suggestions I give to clients about living a balanced life. This is easier said than done for both myself, and I know, for many of my clients, and I think that having a discussion in the therapeutic process about how difficult it may be to make changes in one’s life can deepen the therapist-client relationship and frame the goal of balance as a collaboration and partnership in therapy.
What does balance mean to you? It is a chameleon, morphing into different forms and colors as we walk through life and meet new experiences. I encourage you to sit down and think about this; how would you know when you feel balanced? Would you have less stress and more energy? Would you divide your time differently between work, home, and play? Would you spend your money differently, or prioritize which types of events are worthy of your precious time?
To me, a balanced life equals allowing time for numerous aspects of my daily routine that need to happen in order for me to be successful. “Successful” is another word that requires careful attention and individual definition. As I grow older and try new things, I have altered my own definition of what successful means. Like anyone else, my quest for success is a work-in-progress, but an important recent addition to it is a balanced outlook as I set goals for my practice and my personal life. Success does not just equal financial security; it does not just equal x amount of growth in my practice per year; it does not just equal having a happy home life and exotic vacations. Success, to me, means working towards things that make me happy (many of which are those listed above), and appreciating them and the hard work that has gone into making them what they are today. The last part – “today” – of that statement is crucial to remember. As a psychotherapist, I work every day with clients towards achieving mindfulness, a state of dwelling in the present moment that helps facilitate relaxation and peacefulness. Mindfulness is a central part of my definition of balance and success, as what does a success mean if you do not sit with it, really dissect it, remember how it came to be, and allow yourself to bask in the warm glow of its achievement?
Balance can feel even more allusive as we grapple with chaotic events in the world around us of which we have no control. The recent assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona is an example of a shocking and senseless act that can rip up any definition we thought we had of safety, sanity, and security. The emotions that this event and numerous others like it bring up in us can feel out of control and helpless. We ourselves can feel out of control and helpless. And those two feelings are direct threats to our sense of balance. We try to control feelings we don’t understand; we try to control our own reactions to senseless events because we fear what might happen if we don’t. Desperately trying to control our feelings, our reactions, or even other people in an effort to cope with unforseen situations elicits a sense of panic that takes us away from our inner selves and away from a balanced life.
From one balance-seeker to another, I can only tell you that it is hard work to sit with feelings and decisions and to notice which parts of your life are sucking away your ability to feel balanced. My personal goal is to consciously give more energy and attention towards the lovely parts of my life, as those are the aspects that tend to get thrown to the wayside in times of stress. What goals do you have to create balance in your own life?