A few days ago it came up in conversation that I was going to do a workshop on living a balanced life. The woman laughed when she heard it. “You! That ought to be good.” The not-so-subtle sarcasm in her voice revealed her disbelief that I would be able to speak on such a subject. Because I get so much done in life, there seems to be an assumption that I have no balance. However, my rebuttal to the guffaws and chuckles is: “I have a balanced and finely tuned harmony in my life; that’s how I get so much done.”
The Tension in Life
Let me be the first to say, that getting a lot done, is not the goal of life. As soon as that becomes the highest priority, your life has become incredibly out of balance. Our relationships with those we love, and other people in our lives in general, are served by our work and projects. This likely is not a carefree and friendly balance as much as it is a pull of competing forces that must be held in tension, each one tugging with its own persistent agenda.
Living an unbalanced and narrowly focused life can increase stress and may lead to relapse. When our clients are in treatment, they can focus almost completely on recovery. As time moves on, life becomes more complicated, and even chaotic. The routines of life make ever increasing demands for time and attention. After treatment, new responsibilities begin and old ones re-emerge including: finding housing, getting a job, taking care of family, and continuing in a recovery program. The principle of staying in balance is equally important for our clients and for the rest of us. Allow friendships, humor, rest, and relaxation to bring a balance to the strains and demands of life.
Finding balance, while also managing the tension of important competing forces, takes intentional effort. Here are three ideas to help you in the process.
Focus on the Positive
For work, love, projects, and people, it is important to focus on the positive aspects of each. It’s so easy to concentrate on an endless list of what’s wrong at work, who doesn’t love me, the frustrations of my projects, and the faults of other people. Both bitterness and resentment are monumental factors in producing burnout, and focusing on the negative only increases bitterness. Instead, focus on what’s going right, the favorable qualities of your loved ones, and the joyful moments that come your way.
Laugh at Yourself
Several years ago, while in a mental health intensive outpatient group, a client unpacked a whimsical truth: “If you learn to laugh at yourself, you’ll have a lifetime of good material.” All too often we are too serious, too critical, and too frustrated with ourselves over the trivialities of everyday life. Actor and director, Clint Eastwood offers this advice, “Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.” To lighten up, enjoy the present moment. Learning to laugh at ourselves can reduce the pressure we’re under, similar to letting some air out of an overinflated tire.
In my life one of my hobbies is woodworking, so I have a nice workshop. In the workshop I have an air compressor. The motor on the air compressor has a duty cycle or a run/rest cycle. That motor is designed to run, fill up the air tank, and then shut off. That motor is not designed to run all the time. If you increase the load, or run it all the time, the motor will burn out. You and I each have a duty cycle or a run/rest cycle. If you exceed your duty cycle, you too could burn out. This form of burn out often results in physical illness, anxiety and worry, depression, frustration, and irritability among other things. In order to not exceed your duty cycle, some self-exploration and knowledge is inevitably necessary. Don’t compare yourself to others. Know your own limits and work within the confines of your own run/rest cycle. Resting may, for you, include distractions and relaxing moments throughout your day. One seven day vacation per year, although wonderful, is not regular enough to manage the daily grind. Find ways to periodically rest and relax.
Keeping love and work balanced is made easier if you work for those you love and love your work. Remember to focus on the positive, rest when you can, and punctuate the inevitable strains of life with love and laughter.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!