For years now we have heard the phrase ‘work-life balance’ being talked about and it is something that we often tell ourselves we need more of, as though having a “work-life balance” will be the cure to all our problems. But what does this actually mean? Achieving a work life balance implies that there is an even split between work and life (as though the two things are separate) and that if you haven’t got this then you haven’t found this holy grail. But maybe this is not the right way to be looking at it. What if you are someone who enjoys work and chooses to spend 15 hours a day on your business? Or, what if you have decided to make a change and resist the expectation to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and opt for a more flexible and relaxing approach? Neither of these fit with the idea of the 50-50 split implied with the term work life balance.
Also, there will always be times when family commitments, work deadlines and the general demands of life make us feel like we are out of balance and therefore failing at achieving the impossible. Starting from a place of feeling like a failure and that things are hopeless is never a good place to start. What is important is to feel that despite the demands that are sometimes outside of our control, we have enough time and energy left to focus on some of the things that are important to us, can find ways to ask for help, set clear boundaries and sometimes say no in order to make that happen.
So how can you view this instead? Well, there is nothing wrong with striving to attain a life that is more in tune with how you want to live. However, this is going to be different for each of us based on our values, priorities and current life circumstances. The balance that you strive for will be as shifting as the sands but what is important is that you feel you have an element of control, choice and enjoyment as you find your way towards your sweet spot. The fact is, the word balance is a verb, by its very nature it involves taking action in order to achieve a state that is constantly in flux. If you think about balancing on one leg it takes effort and there are many forces trying to pull you over. You are constantly having to correct and realign yourself in order to stay in that state of balance. And so it is in striving towards more work-life balance.
When clients come to me feeling like they need help working out ways to find more balance in their life they have usually reached a point where stress and burnout is taking its toll on their relationships alongside their emotional and physical health. What I have learnt from working with these clients is that they are ultimately asking me to help them uncover more about what is important to them, how to get past blocks that have them stuck in a cycle of stress and busyness, and how to help them create small changes that have a big impact.
And these are the things that I have found it is important to consider:
1) What do you want instead?
Often when we are in a place of feeling out of balance or alignment in our lives we are in a place of stress and distress. And when we are feeling stressed it is much easier to become trapped in cycles of negative thinking. We can get so caught up in how awful it all feels, how trapped we are and how difficult it is to change that it can be hard to see a way out. Often we focus on blaming others or the helplessness of our situation because we are unable to see that we have the choice and personal autonomy to make a change. Or, our thinking is so chaotic that it is difficult to know what to do through the jumble of too many conflicting thoughts that paralyse us into staying exactly in the same situation that we are unhappy with. Have you ever found yourself at the end of your tether with work thinking, “right, it’s no good, I’m just going to have to jack it all in,” but you never do because your thoughts bounce between things like; you don’t know what else to do, you need the money, you sometimes quite like your job, you haven’t got the time or energy to put together a new CV anyway or you might make the wrong decision and could go somewhere even worse! And so on and so on. You become paralysed by indecision and fear, helplessness and feeling like the victim. The stress is keeping you stuck!
But here’s some news, it doesn’t always have to be that difficult and the decisions we make initially don’t always have to be big and scary. First, what we need to do is, take a step back, breathe and think about and what kind of life we would like to create instead. Sometimes it is surprising how it is not too far removed from what we already have but it just requires a bit of tweaking. For one of my client’s it was as simple as realising she wanted to tap into her creative side, which she had forgotten about since she did A-Level art. Now she is selling her paintings internationally and has begun to do less hours in her normal job. But where it started was creating a vision for what she wanted to put into her life in order to create something extra to get excited about outside of her work schedule. And if you do come to the conclusion that big changes are necessary, we can break that down into the smaller steps that will take you there.
2) What are your values?
Values are the things that we hold important in life that reflect our core beliefs. When we are able to live our values we feel fulfilled, aligned and good about how things are going. Frustration and disappointment often occur when things are in conflict with our values. But our values can sometimes be in conflict with each other! If we value leadership and professional success this may drive us at work to take on extra, go for the next promotion and give a lot of who we are to our job. But if we also value family and fun and are missing out on this because of our job you will feel frustrated and out of alignment with your values. Learning what our values are and how to ensure that there are things in our life which honour those values helps us feel more balanced and fulfilled in what we do.
3) Make conscious choices and decisions.
Once you have begun to create a vision for what you want and a way to live a life in alignment with your values it is important not to be de-railed by others demands and expectations. Everything you do begins with a thought (some conscious, most subconscious). When you begin to make choices and decisions based on whether the action it leads to helps you achieve your vision or is in line with your values it can help you decide whether it is the right thing for you to do. Operate from what you want to do rather than what you think you should do and make choices that are right for you. Every day ask yourself what small step can you take that will help you live in a way that is right for you? This can sometimes be tough; it may require you to set boundaries, learn to say no and ask for what you need. You will have blocks and obstacles to overcome based on innate personality traits to please others, strive for perfection or not show vulnerability. But, there will also be moments where you manage to hit that sweet spot, sit back with a sigh and think, yes, right in this moment is just where I need to be right now and it feels good.
Above all, remember whilst striving for more balance in your life to enjoy the process. It is all a journey where life’s twists and turns will challenge you. Your priorities will shift and change depending on where you are in life and what is important to you. Learning to go with the flow whilst holding on to your key values and the vision of the kind of place you want to get to will help you ride the waves and keep your head above water. As human beings we are never finished until its over. The learning and the personal growth is part of the process and so enjoy it while you can!
If you would like to discover whether coaching could help you achieve more balance in your life book a free no obligation 30 minute virtual coffee and connection call here.