The Fine Art of Creating a Balanced Life
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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?