Work-life balance is talked about a lot, and that’s a good shift in our societal consciousness. But is work-life balance really the holy grail to a more fulfilled life or is there a deeper, more personal way to incorporate balance into your workday?
How we define work-life balance in terms of today’s business culture requires that definitions and constraints be met. Samples might include 4-day work weeks, having every Monday off, or even completing 32 hours of work over a 7-day period.
These are all ‘agreements’ with your employer, contracts per se. While they might be beneficial to your health and well-being, they do not automatically add balance to your life. Dictionary.com defines balance as ‘a state of equilibrium.’ Work-life balance programs can add space and flexibility, but that is not the same as balance. In this post, I share how you can incorporate balance into your workday.
Living a life guided by inner balance is much like that of a tightrope walker… gliding smoothly along with great balance, not flailing one’s arms and body or grasping to stay upright.
Living a life of balance like that, resilient to the winds of change and chaos, begins on the inside – the one place you do have control. It’s one of those life skills that’s simple, but not always easy. When you operate from a place of balance, you are centered, and well-grounded. Balance requires that you live in alignment with your values and make decisions and respond to situations from a place of centeredness.
Living a life of balance – a life guided by inner peace requires:
- Resilience, not rigidity
- Patience, not urgency
- Alignment, not disconnection
- Calmness, not busyness
- Tolerance, not intolerance
- Mindfulness, not unawareness
- Adaptability, not inflexibility
- Being grounded, even amidst the chaos
Attempting to bring balance to your life through work-life balance schedules is a start but falls short of the goal of living a balanced life if you don’t do the ‘other’ work. No amount of work-life balance will ever solve or settle your inner turmoil. That begins with you.
When you cease giving others, including employers, control over your inner peace, you make way for a level of peace and balance that only you can bring. This applies to any relationship – at work, romantic or otherwise. Work-life balance programs are important for our well-being, but only you can choose inner balance.
The case of work-life balance and mindset of two individuals
For the sake of ease, we’ll refer to the two individuals as Jane and Brenda.
Jane has “work-life” balance built into her work schedule. She works four 8-hour days and can even flex four of those hours at her convenience.
Brenda does not have access to a work-life balance program and works five 10-hour days, Monday through Friday. She occasionally works a little extra on Saturdays.
Two different approaches to preparing for the meeting
Both Jane and Brenda are required to attend a meeting at 9 AM. It’s currently 8 AM.
Jane sees the meeting on her calendar and immediately gets anxious. “Here’s another useless meeting!” she mumbles to herself. She’s getting angry. She has better things to do than to sit through another meeting. She begins to check her emails. In her already stressed mood, every email seems to just add to the stress.
Brenda sees the same meeting on her calendar. She takes a breath and lets it out. Realizing this meeting tends to be of limited benefit, she ponders, “How do I want to show up at this meeting? What do I want to see as the outcome?” She determines that she wants to show up with calm, focused attention. She commits to being assertive to ensure her main concern is addressed.
The outcomes from the two approaches
It’s 9 AM. Jane rushes into the meeting right at the start. She plumps her body down on the chair and lets out a sigh. She did not prepare for the meeting, what’s the use? During the meeting she makes it clear through her body language that she is bored and that this is a waste of her time. She has better things to do and doesn’t need this stress in her life. She’s so convincing that she 100% believes her own story. She’s tense, and negative and brings that stress and negativity to the whole meeting. She then continues with her day with this same mindset.
Jane doesn’t realize she’s caught up in her own turmoil. Chances are her heart rate has increased, her breathing is more rapid and her body is managing a spike in cortisol, insulin, and adrenaline. More concerning, evidence suggests a lack of mindfulness at work can contribute to feelings of disconnection and engagement at work as well as increased markers for inflammation, blood pressure, and even increased risks of depression and anxiety. Jane benefits from a 4-day work week, but her body and mindset continue to suffer!
Brenda takes a minute to prepare mentally. She reminds herself of her primary goal and arrives two minutes early. Her energy remains calm and focused. She supports others in the room, offering challenging questions or concerns when appropriate. She speaks with confidence, encourages input, and refocuses the group’s attention on the outcome when necessary.
Even when the meeting does not go as planned, she remains calm and focused. Her energy helps align others in the room and she makes progress towards her goal.
Brenda’s breathing remains even. Her heart rate remains steady. She does not experience negative short or long-term impacts on her health. Evidence suggests this type of mindfulness at work can contribute to increased resilience, focus and productivity and better health outcomes including improved pain management and less stress-related diseases.
Work-life balance versus inner balance
While Jane has a work-life balance schedule in her life, working 4-day weeks with additional flextime, Brenda does not have a work-life balance schedule, yet remains centered and balanced.
The difference is mindset.
This story is not to encourage long hours nor is it to take away from more flexible work-life balance work schedules. I fully support work-life balance plans. They are beneficial to all desiring to optimal well-being and critical for individuals with health challenges desiring the same.
This story is, however, to invoke serious consideration as to the role you play in your level of balance. We have such an addiction to busyness in our society that most are unaware of the impact. I am convinced some individuals could work 2-hour days and still be too busy to relax or participate in an activity they love. They are too addicted to the stress of busyness.
My goal is to challenge you to do better. Not for me, not for your place of work, but for you! You deserve to enjoy the calm, soothing effects of inner peace — of a balanced life.
How Can You Incorporate More Balance to Your Work?
Of the greatest gifts you can give yourself when it comes to incorporating balance into your workday – and life – is to learn to breathe calmly, allowing the breath to come in through your nose, fill your lungs, and expand your belly. This is a place you can go to settle your mind and ground yourself at any time – to focus only on your breath, even if only for a few seconds.
Below are four additional actions you can take to incorporate more balance to your work and life each day. I encourage you to become familiar with the list and to take a moment here and there to incorporate these habits into your workday. Just like building muscle, the more you consciously choose to practice each item, the more embodied and automatic it will become.
Incorporate mindfulness daily
Incorporating mindfulness need not be difficult. To get started, take a few moments before important activities to breathe deeply and calmly, practice focusing on the task at hand – without distractions, and learn to pause and respond to situations rather than to react out of habit. You can even set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to take a couple of minutes to pause and be present throughout the day.
Set your tone throughout the day
Upon waking, commit to how you want to live your day. Choose a single word or phrase, such as peaceful, joyful, or thoughtful. Periodically throughout the day, pause for 30 seconds and focus on your word. Breathe in the tone you want to share, breathe out the opposite. For example, breathe in “peace” and breathe out “stress.” Repeat this several times
Define how you want to show up and your desired outcome
When getting ready to work on a project, attend a meeting, or strategize with a client, check in with yourself as to how you want to show up and what you desire from the activity. Is it progress, to delegate, to brainstorm a solution, or simply to create a foundation of understanding? Do you want to show up with compassion, kindness, or confidence?
Take care of your physical and emotional well-being every day
Create a flexible trifecta routine, a daily group of activities that support your mind, body, and spirit. I promise you can fit it into your schedule. In the downloadable eBook below, I’ve included a sample of how to incorporate such activities into your morning routine even if you have no time to spare.
These concepts of incorporating balance beginning within oneself apply to all aspects of your work, life, and relationships. Whether you’re setting goals, working on a client project, holding a strategy meeting, or managing a team member. Or even writing an email or getting ready to have a tough conversation with a loved one. Balance begins within.
If you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness and more inner balance, download my eBook “How to Live a More Balanced and Joyful Life” to learn 5 daily actions you can incorporate into each day regardless of your current time commitments. You’ll also receive one new coaching email each day over 5 days to help you put the ideas into action.