Bear with me on this one because it’s a vague and wide reaching topic with a few different avenues to explore.
I mostly got thinking about balance because of New Year’s Resolutions. I see so many people take on a goal or challenge and drop it in a matter of weeks. Hopefully, some of our other articles can be helpful when it comes to changing behaviour, but I find that another key element is making sure your goals and time are balanced.
People may tend to pick out a single goal, such as 'get fitter'. This could involve extra visits to the gym, home cooking, less snacking, walking to work etc. All of which are admirable behaviours that will work towards that goal. But consider this – the extra time this takes must come from somewhere. If a sudden shift towards getting healthy detracts from other areas of your life then it can become demotivating over time because we may not feel as well rounded and fulfilled. This is why balance is key.
Four Human Needs
There are many ways that you can choose to balance yourself and I don’t believe one size fits all. But being aware of any set of categories to spread yourself between can help to a more fulfilled and well rounded you.
One such model is about being well and healthy in four key dimensions of your life:
Being aware of these four types may get you thinking about how you are spending your day, week or life. For instance, a student doing nothing but study may be intellectually developing but find their physical health suffers – especially if late night essays are part of the routine. Spending all day in mediation may help connect you to your spirit but you may not feel as fulfilled if you don’t take time to share experiences with family.
Though it is a simple model it highlights that some activities focus in particular areas of our life and so we must engage in a mixture of activities to stay well balanced. Some goals and practices may be hard to categorise due to the basic nature of this model.
The Wheel of Life
When life coaches and trainers are trying to help people find balance they often refer to a short exercise called the wheel of life. It takes the concept of dimensions and asks people to rate their overall satisfaction in a number of different areas. Each wheel may look a little different but some of the more common options include:
The following are much more self explanatory:
The idea would be to complete a wheel of life and whichever areas you are least satisfied in are the ones that require resolutions or new goals. This broader approach tends to allow for more balance because it gives you a bigger picture of what is going on in your life.
A Recipe For A Balanced Week
I started this new year with an intellectual resolution – to read a book a month. As I reflected I realised that is was motivated by both my work and my own sense of spirit, wanting to always be a growing person. I realised that having a time demanding goal on its own could unbalance my other life areas so I developed a somewhat hyper organised way to ensure I stay balanced and fulfilled across all areas of my life. Here is the process I went through:
1. Decide what areas of life apply to you.
The lists above and many more on the internet can provide inspiration about what areas of life you are juggling at any point. Some people may draw a difference between friends and family whilst others are happy to lump them in relationships. Some people have finance goals whilst others just tackle that’s as part of their career. Deciding what different dimensions are important to you helps you to make sure you never lose sight of one.
2. Reflect on the principles that guide those areas.
This is a very abstract task and may not work for everyone, especially those not used to deep reflection. The idea of this for me was to come up with a set of ‘rules’ that every goal had to fit in with – a way to ensure all my goals were authentic. For example, in my hobbies category I added the principle that I would “Always select purposeful hobbies that support one of the other life areas.”
For me, this means any hobby must be about learning, being social, developing my spirit, helping me be healthy etc. Restrictive as it may sound I have come to realise that I soon get bored with hobbies that don’t do this for me, or feel like I have squandered my time. Ensuring all new hobbies fit in with this will help me feel better about them. If it seems purposeless then I have to find a purpose for it.
3. Write year goals for each area.
If you struggle with section 2 then 3 is probably much easier. For every single area I have written my year goals; relationship, career, spiritual, learning, community, friends, health, hobbies. All of them.
These goals are quite concrete though not entirely SMART. A year is a long time so quantifying everything didn’t seem necessary, but it may be important to be specific in some areas.
4. Write your goals for this month.
In every area! If your financial goal is to save £2000 this year then divide it by 12. If you know you won’t save during January sales then maybe you need to save less this month and more another month. Thinking about each month individually is a good way to ensure you reflect of your progress to your yearly goal.
Finance is usually easier to quantify than your hobbies or spirit. But perhaps having goals such as ‘try painting’ or ‘visit a temple’ in a month can contribute towards your achievement for the year.
5. Plan your weeks.
This is the more concrete part of the process. Now you have a list of monthly goals that will help you achieve your yearly goals, ideally based on your principles. The last step is to work out WHEN you will do those monthly tasks and activities.
If you’ve said you’ll go to the gym 3 times this month, get your diary out and write in the three days you’ll do it. The day’s you’ll take mum out for tea or see that new film you are excited for. The day you’ll investigate holiday prices.
You may have a regular enough week to be able to plan the exact time these things will happen, if not just pencil in the day or the week. What this gives you is a step by step guide to achieving your yearly goals.
My chart looks a little like this, though I should add that with the text inside it takes up 4 side by side A4 sheets of paper!
6. Review each month.
Every time you complete a month (or even week) think about your goals for the next month, break them down and allocate time for them. Were there any areas you neglected this month? If so then you could set more goals for them next time or see if there are barriers to that area.
The Myth of Finding Balance
I have been using the above model for the last three weeks, and the wheel of life for two years or so before that. In all that time I can truly say that ‘finding' balance is a myth. Just because we want it doesn’t make the time magically appear – we have to allocate it.
I found that there were always a few friends on my outer circle that I never got around to calling, or books I never got around to reading. Years ago I would think 'I wish I had more time' or 'more balance' to allow me to fit those things in. But those type of phrases imply that our week just happens to us and we have no control.
Only when we plan to do those things do they get done. This last three weeks I have found that I have been leading a really balanced week. Getting a good mixture of intellectual stimulation, time with friends, time to work and reflect on my spirit. All because I have made the time for those things and cut out (or thinned out) the activities that don’t contribute to the areas of life which matter to me. It sounds ruthless and overly organised, yet it gives me the freedom to feel like I am achieving more with my day and getting closer to my goals than ever.
I hope that some of these thoughts give you the same feeling of balance.
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