The world can not be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey…very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet, and learn to be home. ~ Wendell Berry
Is your life so busy it’s out of balance? Harder question, do you really want a more balanced life? Or do want even more? Sound strange? Read on. Hint: I’ll give you some good ideas to use at the end.
Before I began this journey to live a more joyful and balanced life, I worked constantly. Like a madwoman. I’ve talked about this openly, so it’s nothing newsworthy. Here is the news – I created that busy out-of-balance life deliberately. I sought it out as a way to distract myself from feelings I didn’t want to face. Much of my busy was optional and I wasn’t present in my life. Instead, I was frantically running through life to the next finish line.
Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone in this, which is why I’m sharing my experience. If it resonates with you, perhaps it will also encourage you make a change.
For a long time I fooled myself into thinking my problem was that I hadn’t kept control of my work life. Recently, I realized I had been lying to myself.
My drive began in my late teens but didn’t really kick-in until later. Ya, read my bio. It sounds impressive and people write me regularly to say just reading it makes them tired. Try living that bio. Then imagine trying to balance life with all I was doing. Most of my bio was accomplished in less than a decade, one that was particularly painful for me. I lost my marriage and both of my grandparents, whom I was very close to, in short succession. All of this aggravated other wounds as well. Some people retreat under their covers, I threw myself into work, school, and a sense that I needed to be perfect. To a degree, I felt I had to achieve, it meant security and independence. But I went a overboard and lost balance along the way.
About four years ago, it hit me. I wasn’t living, I was existing. Life was flying by. My babies were growing up. I was unhappy. Let’s look at the “why” and what I’ve learned from the realization that I was escaping into busy for all of those years.
Essentially, staying busy gave me a socially acceptable way to avoid facing the hurt I was lugging around like an invisible stone. To some degree, I can be thankful that I chose a productive outlet. For a short time, a few days maybe, I imagine using a distraction like staying busy wouldn’t be so horrible. However, I did it for a decade and the emotional bills kept adding up.
I also struggled with burnout, drifting either side of it in cycles. Just add a little insomnia, and I was toast. Clearly my health suffered. I didn’t allow time for self-care, such as regular exercise. I even suspended nearly all of my outdoor adventure activities for a few years. As a result, I wasn’t successful at some the things I loved most, such as parenting my children, because I didn’t have the strength.
When I decided to make my life and career change, I was just as driven to accomplish that goal. I built this blog, began writing freelance, and still ran my business during the transition. While it propelled me toward a better quality of life, I was as busy as ever. At least I built in some quality personal time here and there.
Time to pay a few bills
As I accomplished what I set out to do, I relaxed more and began living. It was a conscious effort although I still didn’t understand why I had become so out of balance in the first place. About a year ago, I started seeing the emotional debt I had accumulated thanks to ignoring my feelings for so long. At first, it was just a few bits here and there. Lately, it’s been more, perhaps because I had allowed myself to slow down and have less direction, which opened the door to more introspective moments. Additionally, I’ve been challenged explore my feelings more by a friend who has a talent for meaningful conversation. In many ways, it’s been like a good workout. It hurts for a while, but I feel better a few days later.
I assume I’m only now ready to experience this new phase of my journey. Any sooner and you might have found me sucking my thumb in a closet. Will I ever trade all of my drive for a life of leisure and a lounge chair? Nah, that won’t happen. I truly enjoy learning and accomplishing new things, it’s my nature. What will change is that I’ll create more time for myself moving forward; time to sit and think, hike, meditate, and someday, love.
I’ve shared the reasons behind my lack of life balance, which admittedly are rather raw and involve some deep emotions. Why bother? As I mentioned earlier, I suspect I’m not the only person to experience this and I hope to help someone who needs to hear my story. Now let’s look at some practical tips for adding more balance to YOUR life.
Finding both balance and presence
I’ll caution you that while balance sounds like an ideal level constant, but in reality it’s more like a gentle cycle. There will be busy work weeks or times when family needs more attention. These will flux and that’s okay as long as the overall reaches a relative balance. Trying to maintain perfect balance all the time will make you feel decidedly out of control. Life won’t cooperate.
To my surprise, it wasn’t enough to slow down and find balance. While making space in life was important, using it wisely was even more important. I really felt a need to reconnect with my life, to be present. Making the shift required two phases of effort. I’d like to say I planned my steps, but I really just stumbled along on instinct.
In reflection, I’ve identified that I followed these steps, which I’ll share with you.
Do you want a quieter life? – Yes, I put the tough one at the top and it extends beyond balance. It sounds simple at first, unless you’re like me, using busy to bury something. Visualize your life with additional quiet, unscheduled moments and commit yourself to creating them.
Understand why – Examine why you have allowed your life to fill with optional commitments. People let themselves fall into a so-called “busy trap” for any number of reasons and getting out of it requires looking at those so you don’t fall back into the same habits again later. Granted, I skipped this step, but I’m revisiting it right here, with you.
Taming busy and creating space
Learn the power of “no” – I suspect the same personality that seeks busy also has a hard time saying “no” to requests. Learn to weigh each request that comes your way to see if it really requires your time and effort. If not, decline. Consider it like this: By reducing your commitments, you will be more present to the tasks you do choose to accept. For example, I only accept one consulting client at a time now, but I give them greater attention. I also charge a higher rate for that greater attention, closing the numbers gap.
Prioritize and let go – Guess what? You can’t do it all. So, in light of this breaking news, prioritize and accept that some things won’t get done. Focus on the priorities and let other things slide. Don’t even pretend they will happen.
Schedule breaks between appointments – This has been a huge stress reliever for me. I deliberately book myself with ½-hour gaps to absorb any overruns in meetings or traffic delays. If neither of those happen, I grab a coffee and relax for a few minutes.
Reduce clutter and simplify – The less you have to maintain and clean around, the more free time you’ll have. Over the last two years, I purged my belongings easily by half. Additionally, I moved to a smaller home when I relocated. Now I clean less but have a neat tranquil home.
Watch less television – It sounds simple but people really struggle with this. Start with short periods of TV fasting and then extend them. Replace the noise with music. Soon you’ll find that you don’t miss it. Without trying, I just stopped watching the news over a month ago. Often it was what would lead me into watching other shows. By cutting it out (there are plenty of online sources for current event info) I also reduced the rest of my TV consumption. The news was acting as a gateway to the mind numbing shows that came after.
Read The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – An amazing read that will change how you look at goal setting and prioritizing your life. The main point it that we do better when we focus on one thing at a time, being completely present with that thing until it is done. Lots more to it, but in a nutshell, you’ll learn how to put this to work in your life.
Using the new space in your life wisely
Dedicate quiet time to reflect – Are you ready to see what you’ll find? I didn’t realize I had so many emotions waiting to come out and party. You might want to buy a few new pens and notebooks if you’re inclined to journal. The quiet time might just give your mind the opportunity it was waiting for to process both the bad and the beautiful. I found lots of each waiting to be heard. Set time aside each day to meditate, journal, practice yoga, something that will give you quiet uninterrupted time to think and feel. For me this is usually in the morning right after I wake-up while the coffee is brewing. I also hike at least once a week, often alone so I can reflect.
Take care of your personal needs – Exercise, schedule that long postponed doctor appointment, and do all of those other self-care things you’ve put off. Make yourself a priority, because if you don’t care for yourself, you won’t be able to give your best to your loved ones. A burned-out you isn’t going to help anyone.
Lastly…enjoy being present – The most important step. This actually takes practice, so don’t expect to do it well from the beginning. Learn to focus on the moment in front of you, not yesterday or tomorrow, not your phone or email, and not the television or other distraction. Slow down, look people in the eye, listen. Enjoy. Even when you’re alone, pause and pay attention to what you are doing. If it’s eating chocolate, do it with full attention and see how much more you enjoy the taste. Lately, I’ve found rock climbing demands full presence, it a great way to focus my mind on one thing. Okay, let’s step that up another level; take time to listen to your thoughts. Are you getting my point? We miss out on being present when we stay busy all the time.
There is true joy to be found by slowing down and becoming present. While it may take time to settle into, you’ll never want to return to day of being frantically busy and disconnected. Presence is the destination on my journey I didn’t know I was seeking and the one I’m the most grateful to have found.
I know there are more good ideas out there to help you find more balance, and more importantly be more present in your daily life. I’ve just listed the ones I used successfully. Please feel free to add your own suggestions for others to read in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.
More Recommended Reading
- The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
- No Time? Un-pause your life and hit play
- Tough facts about the journey to find happiness
- Let remote office tools set you free
- The 4-hour Workweek
- Zen Habits Blog
For me, I maintain balance by learning to say no. I usually am down for anything but if I continue to say yes to every option thrown my way, I end up with a schedule that is out of control. Sure, my life is a bit crazy now but it’s doable– even if it includes a few well-meaning “No’s” along the way 🙂
I so agree with the power of “no.” Such a small word that we can gain so much from!
Sounds like Utah is treating you well! I’ve learned to say “no.” Or perhaps it’s simply not saying “yes” to every opportunity, just the right opportunities. It’s a good feeling.
So true! Sometimes good opportunities can actually suck away our time. Choosy is good!
Love these words, Erika. Especially the power of “no”. As a freelance designer this is such a hard lesson to learn as you want to take every single chance or opportunity you get, but the quality if life at that pace is just not sustainable. Thanks!
So true! I think there could be a whole post on the power of “no” and how it can improve our lives.
Refreshing words you shared. Two of my favorite books are The Power of Now and The Alchemist. There are so many great reads that hit home on the topics we all face but are sometimes unaware of in the moment. Living a life style that is fast paced and motivated seeking never allows you to stop and appreciate the silence of the current moment.
So, I did it! I booked my care-free trip to SLC at the end of September. I plan to indulge in some short yet fun day hikes outside the city limits as well take SLC in general. Any good coffee shops in the downtown area that come highly recommended?
I’ll have to read those books, I’ve heard of them. Good news on booking a trip! Yes, there are lots of great coffee shops to enjoy. The Rose Estb, Coffee Garden, Alchemy, Sugarhouse, just to name a few.
Thanks Erika for the listing of coffee shops….sounds like some great places to unwind with a cup of joe. I’m taking your recommendation to explore the Lake Blanche Trail. Hopefully it will nice temps and enjoyable fall colors. (something I forget seeing living in South Carolina)
Enjoy the weekend-