Finding Balance in Life
There is a lot of talk these days about finding balance in life, especially work-life balance. What do people really mean by balance? What is it they’re actually striving for and is it even possible to achieve? Let’s explore and come to a better understand of what balance really means.
Work-life balance is a very popular topic and has almost become a cliche that’s lost its meaning, so let’s start there. When people talk about work-life balance, they’re comparing the amount of time they spend on work and the remaining time they have to live their lives. Most people feel that the distribution is definitely out of balance.
Take a look at the model below showing the average time split between work and life. There’s the big pie on the left, split into two, showing Work as a majority shareholder. Life, the smaller piece of pie, is also shown as its own pie on the right, which is split into a variety of areas of life, each vying for a person’s time.
It almost doesn’t seem fair. The problem most people have with this arrangement is that they feel overwhelmed, stressed, unfulfilled and also like they’ve lost themselvesand have become a slave to work or to life in general.
Is Balance Possible?
Can one ever achieve balance if they only consider it in terms of the distributing their time equally across all the areas of life that are important to them? Unfortunately, that isn’t possible for most people. Not unless they’re prepared to cut their work hours and take a serious pay cut.
It’s time to go back to the defining balance to figure out what people are really wanting. Balance can also be used to describe a feeling of stability and steadiness – a sense of feeling centered and grounded. Now we’re getting closer.
When people say they want more balance in their lives, they are referring to more than just an equal split of time across all the things they want to do in their lives. They’re looking to feel more in control and at peace with their lives. They want more enjoyment, more fulfillment and they want to feel more like a whole person again. They don’t want to be a slave to work or even to any one primary area of their life.
To find enjoyment, fulfillment and wholeness in your life, you have to know a few things about yourself first. You have to get very clear and be completely honest about your personal values, what brings you the most fulfillment, and what choices you have to make so you can start feeling more balance.
Life Balance Self Coaching Exercise
To help you gain more clarity and see the big picture, let’s do an exercise I do with my coaching clients. It’s called the Wheel of Life Exercise. It helps people get a bird’s eye view of their lives as a whole, and then work towards creating more balance in their lives.
Below is the wheel of life, which is a snapshot of your level of satisfaction in life as you see it and feel it right now, in this moment. It’s not about looking back into your past or looking forward to what you want to see in the future. You base it on how you are feeling right now.
The typical exercise (as I learned it in “Co-Active Coaching” by Laura Whitworth et al) split the wheel of life into 8 separate sections and labeled each section as follows:
- Friends & Family
- Significant Other/Romance
- Personal Growth
- Fun & Recreation
- Physical Environment (home/space)
I find that if you create labels for the areas of life that truly mean the most to you, the exercise will have a lot more impact. No two people are alike and everyone has different values and priorities and also each person gets enjoyment and fulfillment out of different things.
Personal Values & Priorities
Get clear on your values, not society’s moral or ethical standards, but the things in life you cherish most. As I mentioned in another article called, The Value of Personal Values, “Values are the personal, intimate, gauges, signposts or internal barometers of what’s really important to a person… Clarifying our values and beginning to live life in alignment with them brings an abundance of benefits.” When creating your labels, consider what’s truly important to you and step out of the frame of mind of your current obligations.
- Life Purpose / Career
- Family & Home Life
- Friends & Relationships
- Fun & Self Expression
- Health & Fitness
- Emotional & Spiritual
- Love & Romance
- Money & Finances
You could also use values & priorities such as the following:
- Being financially secure
- Having emotional & mental stability
- Having love, intimacy & connection
- Being a great parent
- Having a meaningful career
- Growing personally & spiritually
- Serving a unique purpose
- Expressing oneself creatively
These are just some possible values you can use to label the sections on your own wheel of life.
- Label the sections according to your values & priorities in life.
- Rate your satisfaction of each section on a scale of 0-10 (0 is the absolute centre of the wheel and 10 is the outer edge) by drawing on the numbered line from edge to edge. Then fill in the space (use different colors if you wish).
- Satisfaction here is purely subjective – it’s how you’re feeling in the moment, right now. How fulfilled do you feel in this area? How much are you enjoying this area?
- If you’re yearning for something and feeling unfulfilled, put a 1 or 2 or even a 0. If you’re feeling ‘so-so’, put a 5.
- Do this for each area that you feel is important in your life, and then take a look at the wheel.
- Are the edges smooth (a perfect circle) or bumpy? If you put 4 of these on your car to replace your tires, what would the ride be like? (When I first did this, my wheel remind me of the Flintstones stone tires when they used to break down).
Now going back to the essence of what balance really means – enjoyment, fulfillment and wholeness, what does your wheel tell you about your life? Any surprises?
Prioritizing & Goal Setting for Balance
- It’s time to rank your priorities. Put a number beside each of the labels from 1-8, 1 being the top priority and 8 being the lowest (even though all of these are important to you, it’s time to choose what you “absolutely must have in your life” vs. “it’s important and would be really nice if I had it…but I can live without it most of the time”.
- For each of the sections, describe what complete satisfaction looks like or feels like to you.
- What section that is of high value (a rank of 1 or 2) has a high satisfaction rating (an 7-10)? How does that make you feel?
- What section that is of high value (rank of 1 or 2) got a low satisfaction rating (0-5)? How does that make you feel?
- Having spent some time with this for a while, what do you feel needs to happen now?
- Pick one section of the wheel that you’re not satisfied with and get clear on at least 1 thing you can do right now to feel more satisfaction in this area.
Back to the Time Dilemma
Now, if you’re in a cynical state of mind, you’re possibly saying “I knew that all along, I JUST DON’T HAVE THE TIME FOR ANYTHING ELSE!!!” Here’s the thing about fulfillment and enjoyment, it’s not only about the amount of time you give to something, it’s about the quality of time and what you give of yourself while you’re doing anything.
In regards to enjoyment, it’s not just about taking time out of your demanding schedule to have some fun (though you may choose to do that anyway). It’s more about the way you do things and how you express your uniqueness, than what you actually do. If one uses their unique strengths and adds a personal signature more often in the activities they do, they enjoy themselves more, time flies, and they feel more gratified.
What strengths and personal signature can you add to the way you do things to get more enjoyment out of everything that you do?
In regards to fulfillment, here you can consider things that give you the feeling of achievement, accomplishment and having served your purpose. For instance, someone can spend time with their children but not really be present. They’re in close proximity to their kids but not really ‘with their kids’. Or they can spend 15 quality minutes where they are really connected and feeling like they honored their value of ‘being a great parent’.
In regards to wholeness, take a look at the areas of your life that you deeply care about but feel least satisfied and make a commitment to find a way to improve how you feel about it. It’s true, you might need to make some sacrifices but what’s really important here is realizing that you have the choice.
Being At Choice
Instead of letting life pass you by where you feel like you’re a slave to life, you have the freedom and the responsibility to mindfully choose how you spend your time, and who you are being in the moment, one way or the other.
Choice – “Either I give myself 30 minutes on the way home from work today just to be alone, have a coffee and read a book, because that time fills me up and then I can go home and really be present for my family. Or I can go straight home feeling tired and lost and upset that I’m not being my best self and the best parent I can be.”
Choice – “Though I’ve been working really hard lately and putting in long hours, I’d like to go out with the guys tonight. So, I’m going to go home first and put my kids to bed because family is really my top priority, and then go out for a couple of hours because I value my friendships and having some adult, man time.”
It’s always a choice and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
The most important thing here in achieving balance is being intentional and mindful about actually being present in your life. That is, being centered, grounded and aware of your deeper self as much as possible. Notice how you’re feeling in the moment and choose how you’re going to honor your values and yourself, if you’re not feeling like you’re at your best.
You can always choose to change your frame of mind and remember what’s important to you.Just ask yourself, what can I do right now to honor my values or add more ‘me’ into this day so I can feel more alive?
As each day passes and you are more conscious and intentional about how you show up in life, you have freed yourself from being a slave to life. You may not be able to control all of the circumstances in your life but more important than that, you will feel like you are in control of you – your focus, your values, your priorities. As more time passes this way, you will feel more whole and more balanced.
Commit to doing this exercise once a month for the next three months (or more). Some people keep their wheel or a list of their values handy to help them stay conscious of their highest values, what they’re choosing, and how they’re going to honor them each day.
In a month’s time do the wheel exercise again and answer these questions:
- What’s different? What’s changed?
- Has something that was high gone down and something low gone up?
- How did I honor my values this month?
- Is the wheel a bit smoother than last time or more bumpy? How would my ride be in a car if these were my wheels?
- Do I feel more whole and more balanced?
- What am I going to choose to do more of this month? What am I willing to do less of so I have more time on the things I really value?
Wishing you balance, enjoyment, fulfillment and wholeness in your life.
Here is a clean pdf copy of the Wheel of Life you can print out and use. Just right click on the image and save it to your computer, then open it and print it whenever you wish to do the exercise.