“Extremes are easy. Strive for balance.”
Balance is hard for many of us. Hard to achieve, hard to strive for, even hard to define. We imagine a set of scales, with “work life” on one side and “personal life” on the other. If one outweighs the other to any major degree, we start thinking we need to cut back on one or the other till there’s some sort of external equilibrium. Ever try that? Find it wasn’t quite so simple?
After attempting to balance my life a bunch of times, I’ve realized that it’s not so black and white. Balance is more like a recipe; there’s a set of basic ingredients, but there’s room for individual taste and seasonal differences. It can be rich and flavorful, and it’s usually more complex than trying to even out a set of cold, hard scales.
Some key ingredients for this “balance soup” include simplicity, values, passions, and joy. And be sure to hold the regrets!
Plain and simple, what is cluttering up your life? Too many things to maintain, store, display, dust, sort, file, reorganize? Too many commitments that don’t really relate to what’s most important to you now, meaningful though they may have been in years past? Too much media blasting gloom and doom or manipulative marketing your way?
It may be time for some serious streamlining; removing clutter of all kinds so you have more time and focus for what really matters to you.
Simplifying doesn’t need to be minimalist; rather, it’s peeling away the unnecessary layers to get to what’s essential for you.
“Decluttering is more about eliminating the things that don’t encourage you to live a life of meaning,” says Sam Davidson, author of Simplify Your Life: How To De-Clutter & De-Stress Your Way To Happiness.
And while simplifying is an important step, it doesn’t in and of itself create a balanced life. It helps create room for it though. As Davidson notes:
“Simplicity is a means, not an end. It is a way to follow your passions. The end we are all striving for is happiness and balance. Simplicity is a good tool to [help us] get there. Figure out what matters, then build a life around it.”
Which brings us to our next ingredient: values.
Know your values
What are your values? Freedom, abundance, education, serenity, camaraderie, financial independence, or fun?
Or maybe culture, family, community, creativity, giving, curiosity, or privacy?
Perhaps recognition, responsibility, self-reliance, skillfulness, spontaneity, structure, thrift, gratitude, or vitality?
Those are just a few of the values that may be near and dear to your heart.
There are over a billion Google entries for “list of values.” If you need a refresher on what values mean the most to you personally, take a look, and identify those values that resonate with you. If there’s something important you don’t see, add that to your personal list.
Living our lives in conflict with our values is a quick way to get out of balance.
Get clear, and then start making decisions that are in line with what you value most. Chances are your values will blend quite neatly with another key ingredient: your passions.
Remember your passions
What are you most passionate about? Are those passions an active part of your life? If not, how can you bring them back in?
You don’t need to have a big block of time to dedicate to your passions in order to get more of them into your life. Get creative and maybe even combine some top passions to make the most of the time you have to enjoy them.
Love creative projects and contributing to your community? Volunteer to teach a painting class at the local senior center. Design fundraising materials for the food bank. Offer to create scenery for a school play.
Passionate about books, reading, and building relationships? Start or join a book club with friends or colleagues or at the library. Become a literacy volunteer and spread the joy of reading.
Or do you feel drawn to both raising a family and education? Encourage curiosity and learning through family excursions to nearby museums, historical sites, and nature preserves.
You get the idea. Mix and match and interweave your passions into your daily life, wherever you can.
Not sure what your passions are anymore? Read my previous post “Follow your curiosity – it might just lead you to your passion” for some tips.
Add a generous helping of your passions to your balance soup. Spend time doing what you love whenever you can, and avoid the “Gee-I-wish-I had-done-that” syndrome.
Bronnie Ware – author, speaker, and inspiration – spent several years caring for dying patients in the last weeks of their lives. As she listened deeply to her patients’ stories, she found that patterns emerged when it came to regrets. Ware wrote a blog post called Regrets of the Dying, now seen by millions, that captured them in a simple but powerful way.
In her experience, the five most common regrets of the dying were: 1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 2) I wish I didn’t work so hard. 3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. 4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 5) I wish I had let myself be happier.
I’ve heard it said that people tend to regret what they didn’t do, not so much what they did, and this list seems to bear that out. Food for thought.
Take all of the above, add a pinch of mindfulness, a heaping tablespoon of gratitude, and watch balance and joy make itself visible in your life. In fact, don’t just wait for joy to appear, seek it out.
This can be hard to do when we’re having a tough day or week, but there’s usually some joyful thing, no matter how small, waiting for us to notice it. Building the habit of noticing can only strengthen our balance.
As I’ve shared before: “In this moment, right now, take a look around and find at least one small thing you can focus on and enjoy. Refresh and renew yourself, appreciate the good, and you will find yourself strengthened. And the world will be better as a result.”
Ready to get cooking? Like any other recipe, it will take practice to create the end result that we find most delicious and satisfying, and sometimes a key ingredient will be hard to find.
Some days it’ll all come out just right, other times there will be a little too much of this or that in the mix. But take heart – balance, like soup, is a fluid and forgiving thing, and responds well to an attentive cook.