Recently I did a “Google” on the key words “life balance”; it yielded me no less than 114,000,000 hits. The key words “work life balance” got me around 97,000,000 hits. Suffice it to say that work, life and balance between the two is quite a hot topic.
Balance = 50-50?
Given that fact, is there something objectively that we can call “life balance” or “work-life balance”, a place where we can go and know we have it? In other words: can work-life balance be defined, framed, boxed, for each and everyone of us?
No, in my opinion. Balance is always perceived balance, therefore it is an individual matter. And balance does not have to mean a 50-50 balance either. Work-life balance in my definition means satisfaction in all areas of our lives, feeling physically and emotionally healthy, feeling in control over lives. We can do everything that we feel needs to be done at work, but there is also a social life, and participation in the community. We set goals, make a plan, and stick with it.
Out of whack
In my life, I always sense that there IS actually something like work-life balance when the balance is thrown off! So I am doing okay up until a certain point, but then: life starts to feel out of whack, there is no time to do what I need to do, let alone what I WANT to do; family, social activities, work, they all start to encroach upon me; everything needs to be juggled, relationships seem to get tighter and tighter, work becomes even MORE demanding, I start to cross out weekends to at least have two days to myself, etc etc…………It is all too much.
Technology doesn’t make it easier: e-mails, (mobile) phones, beepers, pagers, sms, video-messaging or -conferencing, voicemails, websites, magazines, newspapers………Information overload.
Moreover, “bosses” nowadays expect us to take on more work every day, work longer hours, more days; it is not surprising that the World Health Organisation calls work-related stress a “worldwide epidemic”. It makes us want to run into the woods, build a forest hut, light a campfire, catch some fish, maybe toast some marshmallows, and stay away from “civilisation” for at least an eon………….
So, what is really the issue? It’s not that we do not know the answer to the problem. Everyone can come up with good ideas to bring back the balance, like more exercise, delegating tasks, letting go of burdens, prioritising, work less hours, less days, share jobs, variable working weeks, learning to say “no”, etc. So why is there still so much lack of balance among many of us?
From a coaching perspective there is a different issue at hand: a VALUES conflict.
Values are a huge driver for our behaviour. They are the “things” that are most important to us as an individual. They are the answer we give to the question: “what is really important to you in…..?”, where the dots are the area in your life we are talking about, be it work, family, relationship, money, health, personal development, etc. Values are private, personal beliefs about “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong”, and therefore they are the foundation on which we base our judgments in life. Values can be words like honesty, integrity, love, balance, rest, fun, fear, worry, doubt” or sentences like “the world is a good/bad place”, “rain is beautiful/awful”, or “I do(n’t) like chocolate”, and so on.
Values are formed in us from the day we are born, mostly by are parents (“you shouldn’t be doing that; that is BAD”; “You are so beautiful; you will be famous”.), but also by peers, teachers, colleagues, and events in our lives. The interesting thing is that they are stored not in our conscious, reasoning mind, but in our subconscious, creative mind, so mostly we are not aware of what our values are –unless we start thinking about them. And as 95% of what we think and do is dictated by our subconscious beliefs, values determine our behaviour -and emotions- greatly, without us noticing much of it. In this case: you feel out of whack, but haven’t got a clue why exactly.
Our sense of not being balanced and feeling out of whack means there is inner conflict: our inner values are not reflected in our outer behaviour. We want this but do and get the other.
What is the solution? Well, we need to find out what we want our lives to look like; create a life vision, and sort out what “work-life balance” means to us as an individual. Most people do not do that. They live by default, always getting what they always got, and perpetuating that vicious cycle. Life happens TO them instead of FROM them. And exactly there is where we can start to make a difference. The more we realise that life is a product of our mind –we create our experience through our thoughts and then we assess what has happened through our thoughts again- the more we will be able to take responsibility for whatever the outcome is in our lives. Doing so will create more clarity that we are actually the ones that can change what happens to us in our lives. Life is no longer this ugly thing that happened to us one day and in which we now seem to be stuck.
Look, be fair, there will always be times when life gets thrown off-balance: a sudden holiday comes up, a baby is born, a huge storm blows the house down, we’re involved in a car accident, suddenly you are “promoted” to a foreign country, you fall ill, you win the lottery, you receive an invitation for a wedding next day, etc. Generally though, it is about striking an equilibrium in all aspects of our lives, as far as this is within our power.
In my coaching and NLP practise there are a couple of really cool exercises we would do to get you to find out what your highest values in your life are, and to help you put these values into action. With the exercises you can get the balance you were looking for. As we are not looking at each other right now, let me give you some tips that will help you to get more clarity for now:
• Recognise where you are and how you are feeling right now regarding your work and life. Is there balance? And if not, can you pinpoint where there is lack of balance? Which values are infringed upon?
• Identify several tangible, short-term goals. Setting goals usually will create more balance immediately as you are creating a vision.
• Don’t be a lone ranger. Ask for support, whether from family, friends, colleagues, your community or your boss. Tell them you are off-balance and want to improve the situation. Honesty is nearly always appreciated.
• Be strict on boundaries between work and private life. There is a huge grey field, and if you let it your life becomes more and more grey and blurry.
• Assess your general life style. Your professional and/or working conditions may be fantastic, if you eat and drink too much (or unhealthily), sleep too little, exercise too little, smoke, use drugs and think negatively all the time, you will feel lack of balance regardless.
• Hire a coach (but that’s quite self-explanatory); a coach will get you on track and keep you there. I can guarantee you that (if you choose to commit).
Rest assured that life will not be dull ever; there will be times you are challenged and the scales are tipped. It is on YOU to restore the balance by looking at what is really important to you in your life. And that will require action. The system works. Are you willing to work the system?
Marc de Bruin
Landmarc Coaching & Health Solutions
Marc de Bruin is a certified life coach, master NLP practitioner and Body Stress Release practitioner in Queensland, Australia. He coaches people all over the world and writes articles. This puts a smile on his face.
Visit Marc's site at http://www.landmarc.info
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