Get (and Keep) Your Life in Balance

Practice of the Week
Get (and Keep) Your Life in Balance

OCCASIONAL or WORTH A TRY: These are practices suggested for "every once in a while" -- or "give it a try." You may find it so valuable that you stick with it, and it becomes a Key Supporting Practice for you. Some of them are responses to a particular need that may arise; others are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. All of them are worth a try at least once. And any of them might become a regular and central part of your spiritual practice.

By working with hundreds of clients in therapy, I’ve learned that people’s lives are only as good as the worst thing in their life. If someone is rich, healthy, and beautiful, but their relationships are terrible, they’ll feel rotten. The one area of our lives that doesn’t work so well is the one that affects us the most. That’s the area that, until it starts going better, is most important.

Thus, having a system that reminds you to work on your weak areas is essential. With the various aspects of your life in balance, you’ll feel happier and more peaceful. You’ll spend less time distracting yourself from problems that could have been avoided. Rather than simply getting through each day, you’ll experience the abundance that comes from feeling you’re spending your time doing what’s truly important.

1. The List of Areas to Balance

Make a list of the areas of your life that need to be in balance. My list has eight areas to keep track of. Your list will be probably be very similar, since these are widely shared, or even universal, areas in all our lives. Here’s my list:
  • Career
  • Recreation
  • Spirituality
  • Level of fulfillment
  • Bodily health
  • Family and relationships
  • Finances
  • New learning
It’s easy to get absorbed into just one or two aspects of life, and let the others fall by the wayside. Yet, to have a truly fulfilling life, it’s necessary to create a healthy balance among the competing priorities for our time.

We may look like we’re successful in the short term, but if we fail to create balance, in the long term we will either burn out or be unhappy.

2. The Monthly Review

Once a month I look at each of the eight areas of my life, and I ask myself: “How am I doing in this area? Am I spending the appropriate amount of time, energy, and attention on it?” Usually the answer is obvious.

3. The Vow

If a particular area isn’t doing so well, vow to focus on it more during the upcoming month. Write down the vow at the beginning of each month.

4. The Daily Plan

I prioritize my day before I eat breakfast. I used to sometimes forget to set up my day, so I created a little reward system for myself. As soon as I’m done figuring out what’s most important to do that day, I eat breakfast. Since I love eating breakfast (and never miss it), this simply way of rewarding myself for prioritizing guarantees that it always gets done. Then, as I look over all the things I could do during that day, I ask myself two questions.

First Question: What’s really important to do today in order to create a balanced, happy life? This simple question gets my mind focused in the right direction. It’s a much better question to contemplate than asking yourself, “What do I have to do today?” Asking about what’s important helps remind me that the bottom line in life is not how much I do or make. Instead, it’s how much of my dreams of creating joy, love, and contribution I can integrate into my day-to-day life.

Second Question: What are the seven most important things I want to make sure I get done today? I write a brainstorm list of things I’d like to do, then I prioritize them from one to seven. Frequently, I include activities that are not business related, such as buying my partner flowers, or going on a bike ride. Over time, I’ve discovered that my career has its own way of getting my attention, so I don’t have to remind myself to give time to my career. The other areas of life are more likely to require intentional prioritizing.

Whatever aspect of life you are most likely to ignore is the one that’s most important to schedule. By scheduling your workouts, time with friends, or whatever you tend to overlook, your life will soon come into greater balance.

If you don’t get everything done on your list, write it on your next day’s schedule. If you finish the top seven items before the day is over, ask yourself the two prioritization questions once again. It only takes a minute, yet its effect on your life will be immense.

Many Americans suffer from time poverty. Though our material circumstances may be well above the poverty level, and studies indicate that we work fewer hours than we did thirty years ago, we may nevertheless feel that we don’t have enough time to do all the things we need to do. We waste a lot of time doing activities that bring us little lasting value -- such as watching TV – and forget to do things that add depth and meaning to our lives. A system to prioritize every single day what’s truly important to you will allow you to master your time and life. Without such a system, we are swept into the river of distractions – and will someday look back on our life and wonder where all the time went.

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