The Fine Art of Creating a Balanced Life

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“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.” ~Robert Fulgham

I’ve been feeling a bit wiggidy-wack over the last couple of weeks.

That’s my euphemism for feeling off, scattered, not quite balanced. Feel free to borrow it!

I’ve had way too much input, and the overload has stalled my output. It feels like I’m a runaway train that has sped off the track, and now I’m just spinning my wheels getting nowhere. Actually, I am accomplishing things, but it’s more of a shotgun approach rather than either  deliberate or effortless.

I know the shotgun approach is no good. It’s far too random and can lead you down a worm hole. There are so many things I like to do,  need to do, and want to do that I get paralyzed trying to decide which direction to take first. I’ve had to step back this week and recalibrate.

I often find myself torn between living deliberately and living effortlessly. Maybe you know what I mean.

Deliberate or Effortless Living?

Deliberate living is an approach to life and work whereby you create priorities and goals and then build your daily actions around those. You are planning and working toward something. This can be a very productive and successful method for managing your life.

Living effortlessly means you allow life to unfold naturally, without specific goals but within the parameters of your values and life priorities. My friend Leo Babauta has written a lot about living effortlessly and has created his life so it can unfold without much planning. There is certainly peace and simplicity in this approach. You live in the moment.

I’ve found with the deliberate approach that  I miss spontaneity over time. I begin to feel obligated to follow through on my plans even if I feel pulled or inspired in another direction. Yes, I can accomplish a lot, but it isn’t always joyful.

When I live the effortless approach, letting life take care of itself, I fluctuate between stretches of calm punctuated by moments of sheer terror or overwhelm. There are simply too many details of my life that can’t take care of themselves, as much as I’d like them to (ie: kids, bills, laundry, etc.).

I’ve discovered that I am happiest (and less wiggidy wack) when I can achieve a balance between a deliberate and an effortless life. I like to call this living a “creative life.”

The Creative Life of Balance

A creative life involves pulling from the palette of both the deliberate and effortless approaches to paint an evolving, shifting picture for your life.

Some days you might need a bit more of the blues and greens, and other days you feel inspired by the browns and yellows. You can mix colors and paint the canvas to suit your circumstances or desires. You can apply broad and effortless brushstrokes or try your hand at deliberate pointillism.

As the creator, you have the ability to plan your painting but also leave room for inspiration and spontaneity. A mix of balance, composition, and personal expression make for beautiful art.

Of course, it’s easy to talk about achieving balance, but in practice it is a fine and delicate art. In fact, it’s an ongoing creative act that requires daily attention. Life is in constant motion. Circumstances shift. You evolve or change your mind.

Have you ever seen one of those Bongo Boards?  You balance on what looks like a skateboard without wheels but with one single roller underneath. The trick is to shift your balance back and forth so you stay on the board and the roller doesn’t pop out from under you. It’s hard to stay perfectly centered all the time. You have to continually recalibrate to maintain balance.

I’m sure you see the analogy here.

Life Balance Techniques

Every day we must recalibrate to maintain balance in our lives. I have found that there are certain techniques you can apply to help you recalibrate and achieve that balance. Here are a few of them:

Self-Awareness

It’s impossible to create balance if you don’t know who you are or what’s important to you. Underneath the persona you have created over a lifetime of responding to expectations, fears, and obligations, is the real you. It takes a period of self-reflection and self-discovery to find that person.

Most of us don’t reach adulthood without losing some or part of our authentic selves along the way. Knowing who you are, what you value, and what brings you sustained joy will help you create the foundation for a balanced life. If you haven’t taken the time to learn about yourself, you need to find a good tool to help you do that — and then do it. It’s the most important work you will ever undertake.

Practicality and Realism

Part of having a balanced life is having a practical and realistic outlook on life and what you can and cannot do at any given time. For example, as much as I’d like to live a very simple, streamlined life, I’m not in a position to do that right now without negatively impacting people I care about. Even if I were in the position, I know that simplifying many areas of my life would take a huge chunk of time and energy. And that’s not how I want to spend my time right now.

Within the context of our existing lives, we must make choices for what is most important and most valuable. If there are several equally important choices, then just pick one and recognize that uncertainty is also part of the adventure of living. One truth we must embrace is that uncertainty doesn’t need to be a reason for inaction.

Timing

You can do most of what you want in life, but you can’t do it all at once. There are around 16 waking hours in a day. Part of that time is spent with life necessities (eating, hygiene, driving, etc.).  And of course a job that takes a good chunk of our time.

So really we have only a few hours a week of “free” time to create as we wish. I have found that it’s far more satisfying to focus on a few things intently rather than cramming in many activities and never feeling deeply satisfied with any of them. If there are many things that interest you, pick a couple and focus on them for a while, fully savoring them. Then move on to something else later.

I’ve also learned that since work takes up so much of our time, I’d rather do work that I love and make less money if necessary. Of course, you don’t want to go into debt doing that, so you have to find a way to transition from one to another. Because we spend so much time working, I think making this transition is one of the most valuable life endeavors — even if you must temporarily give up other things you enjoy.

Intention

It’s quite useful to examine our intentions when we are working to create balance in our lives. When you are trying to choose an action, take a hard look at your intention behind it. Are you motivated by guilt, obligation, fear, ego? If your intentions are negative, you will likely meet inner resistance to the activity or plan.

Sometimes you must proceed anyway because practicality or security demands  (ie: you must do work you hate or fear being fired). But just having the awareness of your intentions can often take the sting out of the situation. Once you are aware, you are making a conscious and creative choice rather than simply reacting to circumstances or demands.

Scheduling Non-Negotiables

One very practical step I take when creating a balanced life is first filling in the non-negotiables of my life. You can’t do this without having undertaken the self-awareness steps mentioned above. But once you have a handle on who you are and what’s important to you, then you can begin inserting the regular activities that are a must for you.

For me, my non-negotiables include spending time with my kids; getting a good night’s sleep; exercising; working; spending time with friends; keeping my house in reasonable order; and having down time to relax. Time for those are plotted into every day. The art is in the details and timing of each of these.

I’d like to paint, simplify and de-clutter, cook more, take yoga, garden, and many other activities that intrigue me. But at this point, I’ve re-calibrated and created my life with the activities that are most important to me. There will be time to do these other things, but for today, I’m savoring both the activities of my life and the process of creation.

How are you creating a balanced life?

Comments

  1. I like your tip about scheduling non-negotiables!

    If you don’t do that, you’ll end up reacting to the urgent matters that arise, rather than choosing consciously to do the things that are most important.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      This is exactly right Daniel. And sometimes we deceive ourselves about how much available time we have for all kinds of distractions and activities. After the non-negotiables, there’s not a lot of time left.

  2. Hi, Barrie!

    Another great post! I like the concept of balancing being deliberate and effortless when it comes to living. And I love the way you coined it – a Creative life. :)

    I agree, it will be hard to have this kind of balanced life if we don’t know ourselves. An excellent person has an excellent self-awareness. Many people have lost this sense of self-awareness due to years of “settling” to something good, and not discovering their best.

    I believe happiness is the key to being productive. But happiness is a conscious choice, and that choice comes only when you have an excellent self-awareness.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Raymund,
      I’m so glad you like the post. I think taking the time to know ourselves, going through various exercises and assessments, and asking pointed questions about what we want, is the only way to drill down to the essence of who we are and what we want. If we don’t know, how can we pursue what we want? Self-awareness should be a regularly updated endeavor — like getting your annual physical. :)

  3. Beautifully said! I, too, am looking for balance. Each month I have what I call a “blank slate day” where I find quiet time to step back and get a feel for how I wish for the following month to unfold. I take my calendar along with my goals and vision and create a one-page plan for the month. (Some months it’s filled up, while others, just a few things are listed.) This ritual helps me re-group as a one month ends and “listen” to what I need as another one begins. It has become a favorite ritual of mine.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Angela,
      So nice to see you here! What a fantastic idea for organizing your month and getting in touch with your priorities. Looks like you create a great post about it!

  4. Someone once asked me, “what is realistic in your lifetime?” I’m still asking myself this, as I too have many interests yet don’t enjoy going in multiple directions at once. So, for now I work on focusing on what’s most important and then what’s most realistic in my day, week, month, and lifetime.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s a fantastic question Marci. We should all ask ourselves that regularly — what’s realistic today or this week? And is “realistic” doing everything you can cram in — or doing a select few things and savoring them? Experiences give me far more pleasure than checking things off a list!

  5. Hello Barrie

    Agree with you that we need balance in life.

  6. I loved your metaphor of the ‘bongo board’ and your concept of recalibration as a way beyond the ‘wiggidy-wack’ to the effortless life beyond.

    I love to work with intention setting in my attempt to lead a balanced life, and recently did some writing on what are some of the things “I can’t not do” which really helped to focus me and clarify how I’m setting up my priorities for the near future.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Dave,
      I love that — things you “can’t not do”!! I guess those are your non-negotiables. Or could they be your bad habits? :) Either way, it’s good to see where you feel compelled to spend your time, and then decide if that’s really how you want to spend it.

  7. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    Hi Barrie,

    Having balance is the foundation of a meaningful life. I love this line, “If there are many things that interest you, pick a couple and focus on them for a while, fully savoring them.” Sometimes I need to reel myself in from wanting to try too many things until I realize that there just isn’t enough time. I’ve found a few things that I can really focus on these days that bring me joy, so that is what I spend my time on. Enjoyed your post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Cathy,
      A good visual for me related to too many options is the image of an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s exciting at first to look at all of the choices, but then you begin to feel bloated and sick. When I go to a nice restaurant that serves beautifully presented meals with small but elegant portions, each bite is amazing.

  8. self awareness is as you say, important – i’m trying to become more self aware of my emotions, esp the negative ones, and feel them and embrace them. have suppressed for too long, maintaining the image for all to see. but today, only by feeling what i’m actually feeling, can i learn to manage them, and embrace who i am
    noch

    • Yes Noch, feel them and acknowledge them. Then move on from them. The tricky thing about emotions, especially negative ones, is that they trick you into believing that the thoughts attached to them are true. When you change your thoughts, your feelings will follow, and then happily you can create a new you.

  9. Recalibrate your life….I love that analogy. Too many times we fall into routines that no longer suit us or our dreams and passions. I love the idea of a monthly blank slate day that Angela wrote about, where you step back and see what your intentions are the the following month. Too many times, we are wrapped up in our life only to discover, we missed some of the more important parts—meditation, time with family and friends, living with joy.
    Good article Barrie. I love reading your posts.

    • Thank you so much Cris! You are one of my most loyal commenters, and I truly appreciate it. :) Routines can serve us well, but they can also trap us. It is so helpful for me to step back and make sure my routines are serving me and who I am.

  10. As usual, Barrie…

    This post has hit home for several reasons, not the least of which follows:

    In 1993, at age 52 I underwent emergency open-heart surgery (three times
    in twenty four hours) for a large hole that I blew in the left ventricle. Truly
    the mama of all heart attacks! My family was told to pack their funeral
    clothes, and come on the run.

    Long story short…thanks to Providence, and modern pharmaceuticals, here
    I am, still plugging away at age 70. My point here is that having a balanced
    life most certainly does involve having a practical and realistic outlook on life
    and what we can and cannot do at any given time. Always set the highest of
    standards, but if we fall a bit short, we must get over it and move on. :-)

    All the best,

    Jon

    • Oh my Jon, I’m so glad you passed through that challenge and are here to tell the story. Maybe the highest of standards is balance. Maintaining balance is a delicate skill worthy of our attention. :)

  11. That last paragraph is key! There are so many things I’d like to do. But then I’m scattered all over the place and not giving serious attention to any one thing. I think it’s time for me to create that list of non-negotiables – which definitely include exercise and time with family and loved ones.
    One again you’ve nailed it with this post, Barrie. Thank you!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Sarah,
      For me, once I was able to acknowledge that I couldn’t accomplish everything, it became much easier to just let the cream rise to the top. I’d rather enjoy what I’m doing even if I get less done than to race through life worried about getting the next thing done. Thank you for being such a steadfast commenter and reader. :)

  12. Dearest Barrie,
    I hv noticed u dnt fail to reply to even 1 of d comments..thts wha actually shows y u write d blgs u do..u follow everythng stated here in real lyf..M 4m india n got ur guide..its marvellous..i hv bn readin Chris Prentiss’s Be who u want have wha u want.N it says a lot of stuff u hv said ..in odr words..kp rockin..

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Anamika,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I must admit, it took me a few minutes to figure it all out — but I did! You keep rockin’ too Anamika.

  13. Hello Barrie,

    Nice layout of website . I’ve just downloaded some of the stuff . Tempted to read those. I’ll come back to you. thanks again

Trackbacks

  1. […] Others are born with a disposition that is calm and not prone to agitation. That’s a lucky head-start, but lasting inner peace and the desire to make it a priority in life is a learned trait. In a culture that venerates busyness and constant stimulation, you have to make peace a priority if you want to reap the benefits. […]

  2. […] that you should be content right now and the inner urging for something more. There is a way to find a balance for your on-going contentment and […]

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