Over the years many (if not all) of my clients have struggled with how to create balance in their lives. Already stressed out by work… their stress is only further magnified by the responsibilities that they carry at home, with their families and friendships, and with managing their own personal needs. People who struggle to create balance between these aspects of life almost always fail to find fulfillment. They believe that they are not living to their full potential which causes dissonance, sometimes leading to depression and anxiety.
To help my clients understand how to bring balance to their lives I often resort to analogies and metaphor. Once I asked a client who lives in a 5th floor walk up apartment… If you were going to carry up bags of groceries from street level to your apartment and you thought of those groceries as the things that make up your life… what would you decide to fill those bags with? Another client and I developed an analogy of a closet with empty drawers and hanging rods asking what clothes would she would “hang” there if those clothes represented her life and how she lived it? Lately, I have been offering clients the analogy of a carton of eggs asking them If you thought of your life as a carton of eggs… what would you choose to fill those 12 spaces with? What precious cargo would you put in that carton? How many spaces would you like to fill with work, home, friends, family, relationships, self care? The carton of eggs has become the universal analogy I work with when coaching clients who are struggling to identify what things really matter. I invite you to use your own analogy… bags of groceries, a closet of empty draws and hanging rods, a carton of eggs. How you visualize this concept needs to resonate with you. The way you apply the analogy and utilize the following principles however… should be universal.
- Deepen your awareness of balance and fulfillment. You may believe that you are limited in your choice. You may feel that you can’t choose to work or not work… to maintain your home or not… to stay active in your family or community of friends. There are aspects of life that many people feel are obligatory, and respectfully speaking, they are. However you still get to choose ways to create balance about them. In this principle I invite you to analyze the various “must-haves” and “may-haves” in your life in order to identify how they are driving your personal balance as related to survival (I have to do this to live) and fulfillment (I want to do this to be happy). Considering the following steps:
- Make a list of the “must-have” and “may-have” things in your life. Take time to think through all of the regularly occurring responsibilities, activities, hobbies, and tasks you require to feel safe, happy, and complete.
- Assign each item on your list a number 1-10 in terms of their importance to your survival.
- Revisit each item on your list and assign each of them a second number in terms of their connection to your fulfillment.
- Divide the first number by the second number (survival divided by fulfillment). Consider the quotient of each item using the following framework: The closer that number is to 1 the more balance that thing is bringing to your life. For instance if you rate your family as a 10 in survival and a 10 in fulfillment the quotient would be 1 (meaning that its importance is equal in both categories). The closer that number is to 10 the more survival heavy that thing is in your life. For example if your work is a 10 in survival and a 2 in fulfillment the quotient would be 5 (meaning that work is more about survival for you than it is about fulfillment). Finally, the closer that number is to 0.1 the more fulfillment heavy that thing is in your life. For example if you rate the gym as a 2 in survival and a 10 in fulfillment the quotient would be 0.2 (meaning that the gym is more about fulfillment). This may sound tedious and complicated to some, but it is a helpful way of quantifying what you want and need and in turn aids in clarifying its impact in your life.
- Identify a definitive list of must-have and may-have items for your life. This is where you need to start making choices for yourself and is the first time in this process that you should start to visualize how each spot in your egg carton will be filled. You want to consider that some of your life’s must-have/may-have items may feel like they require several spaces while some only feel like they require one. For example work (due to time and energy requirements alone) may feel like it takes up 3, 4, or even 5 spaces in the carton while something like going to a monthly book club may only take up 1 spot. There is no limit to how many spaces a particular must-have will take up, however no item should ever share space. Sharing space creates opportunities for failure and compromises the importance of a particular must-have/may-have item in your life. For instance you should not let working out share space with play with the kids. Those are two entirely different things and their importance in your life should be honored by giving them their own space in the carton. You may also find that once you have identified all of your must-have/may-have items that you have empty spots in your carton. Empty is as good as full because empty spaces get to be filled later by choice… and it is in choice that we have the opportunity to gain even deeper fulfillment. Challenge yourself to limit your final list to 12 or fewer items. Decide how many spaces each item will fill. If it helps sketch out your carton and label it…. you can even create a physical model by using a real carton and writing the name of each must-have/may-have in each space.
- Share your results with your closest loved ones and stake-holders. You can do all of the work above, and do it brilliantly… but if no one around you really knows the importance and impact of this work then there is a lesser chance that your desires and choices will be honored and supported. So… share it! When you share your desires and choices with those close to you two things are fostered… understanding and accountability. Sharing allows others to gain a deeper understanding of who you are and what you want. Sharing is the communication tool that cleans the lens and allows others to see your needs more clearly. Simultaneously sharing allows those around you to offer love and support via accountability. When stakeholders know what you want and need they are able to support you in attaining and maintaining those things. The people you involve become part of what keeps you on track. When you keep things to yourself it creates isolation. In this dynamic you may feel like you have to constantly assert and justify your very existence because nobody knows. When you share that dynamic is shattered because those around you already are informed about the why and the what of your actions. Sharing takes the dynamic from defensive to collaborative and in turn frees time and energy. You no longer have to keep justifying your existence… you can now use that energy to be present in the choices you’ve made rather than spending time explaining them.
Creating balance and working towards fulfillment is a layered and ongoing process, however it is one that can be assisted by processes and frameworks. Many people are so bamboozled by life that they do not know where to begin with respect to clarifying and detangling their life commitments. Taking time to break down what is important and why, and then to share it with others, is one of the best ways I know for taking back control of your life. It is a process that fosters personal clarity and that will allow you to approach the “tomorrow of life” with a sense of personal power and optimism. It will alleviate feelings of dissonance and anxiety and will ultimately lead to improved outcomes for yourself and for those around you.
Be clear, be decisive, and share!
Peace and love,
Teo Weiner is America’s Teachers. Teo is a professional co-active life coach and and offers personal development coaching for individuals and corporations by phone and in person. For more information and to contact Teo visit http://www.doubleshotcoaching.com.