We can set aspirational goals, but Katie Vessel believes life balance is not something we can accomplish.
Back when I was in high school, I remember a counselor having me and the other students do an exercise that involved a “balance wheel.” This was a circle divided up into eight or so sections that were delegated to various aspects our lives, such as education, social activities, religion or spirituality, exercise, and so forth. Perhaps you have seen this before.
When I was doing my coaching training, this wheel came back again. We were encouraged to have our clients fill this out in order to gain some awareness around where they were spending their time, and were told that the goal was to have all of the sections equal—like a round wheel, which allegedly is ideal for navigating the roads of life.
Having the type of personality where I am always trying to do things “right,” I have spent a lot of time over the years attempting to achieve this goal. I have tried really hard to divide my life up into sections to see if this is possible.
Let me be honest—this goal is about as achievable as trying to follow the current dietary guidelines, which I have also experimented with and have personally found to be not remotely attainable either.
We set these goals as ideals, but just as a truly balanced diet is perhaps impossible to achieve, let alone sustain—-the perfect life balance is not something we can accomplish either.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about balance in general. In my yoga classes I teach balance, whether it is physically balancing in a tree pose, or balancing our nervous systems by matching the length of our inhale with our exhale.
I look around at the world and see that balance is not something that occurs frequently—even in nature. The aspects of life we try to balance are unbalanced in and of themselves. Protons and electrons—-sometimes in a balanced state, sometimes not. If our inhalations and exhalations are unbalanced it leads to either an over reaction of the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system.
When we spend too much time at work and not enough time with our families, or too much time with friends and not enough time in solitude, we can also feel unbalanced. We can make adjustments to aspects of our life balance, but even if we achieve this for even a moment or a day or a week, it is not something that will sustain itself and the effort to do this can even be exhausting for some.
My take on balance is that we can benefit more by focusing on awareness and making intentional adjustments instead of achieving perfection.
Our lives are constantly changing as if we live through various seasons, and during those seasons our lives differ in how much they demand from us. If one is going to law school or medical school, they may have to put much more than what some would consider a balanced amount of time into studying. Or we may have children who demand much more of our time at some points than they do at others.
All of this is okay. We should not be striving for the unattainable and definitely non-sustainable.
If we develop awareness around our lives and learn to see where we are putting our energy, we can eventually take a different approach and learn to just feel our way through things.
While the balance wheel may be good for the initial purpose of developing this awareness, we all have those different needs in our lives at different periods or stages of time. Just as we have what some call bio-individuality in relation to our physical needs, such as food intake, diet, and exercise, we also have these individual needs pertaining to life balance.
I recently left a job because I was pushing myself too hard. I am a single parent to two toddlers who was working 50-55 hours per week, and I realized that it was time to make a change when I had come down with two different illnesses within a three-week period. This was an example of my ignoring the imbalance in my life for too long, but it was not until the imbalance affected my health that I listened and took appropriate action toward change.
We can all trust ourselves just a little bit more.
Have we been angry more often? Have we been unusually tired—or in my case have we gotten sick more often than usual? Are any of our relationships suffering? If we do not have the appropriate amount of energy to allocate to some of these areas, they will not be healthy as a result of imbalance as well.
The key is to be aware as much as we can. If we try to balance on one leg, the odds will be in our favor to maintain the balance if our eyes are focusing on any given point. If we close our eyes altogether, it becomes much more difficult to balance. Just as in our lives if we are aware and choose to see where we are focusing our energy, we can find the balance that is right for us, and allow this balance to be fluid.
The balance can have a flow to it, we can intentionally shift and make adjustments as needed—-with the goal not being for a life that looks like an equal pie chart, rather a life that feels healthy for us at any given point in time.
Unedited Photo: Flickr/Andrew West