How to achieve life balance

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As animals, we are built for both activity and relaxation.  Learn to manage your time, space and communications to help you include both in a balanced way.  Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash

Half of your ‘self’ may want to achieve things in your life.  I don’t know what your list is, but there will be things on it.  Whether it’s career advancement, sporting prowess, material acquisition, or anything else, you won’t be able to resist setting yourself tasks.

The other half of your ‘self’ may be dragged along by the target-setting, but secretly resent the imposition.  Like a child taken on a school trip it wasn’t keen to attend, this half of you just wants to sit down and chill, or go home and shut the world out.

OUR DUAL NATURES

We are all built with this dual nature.  Look at young children, and see how they spend half of their day rushing around manically, and the other half of the day half asleep.  Look at domestic cats: some of the time they will be hunting, limbs taut and ready; and some of the time, they will be curled up in a warm place with their eyes closed.

Our job is to manage this dual nature in a way that gives freedom to each side.  If one side wins, then it may not be a good thing.  For instance, if your ‘action self’ gets the lions share of your diary, then you may turn into a manically over-focused activity junkie, for whom ‘switching off’ is a fearful activity akin to dying.  Equally, if your ‘relaxation self’ dominates, then you may become a couch potato, afraid of the world and shut into your home, for whom meeting others is a fearful activity akin to dying.

THE PROBLEM OF TIME

The great joke the universe has played on us is this: ‘activity self’ and ‘relaxation self’ are sewn into the same person (you), and given only one time-sequence in which to plan their work.

Imagine the negotiation that has to take place every day.  In fact, you don’t have to imagine it – you live it.  On waking, your relaxation self has to hand over to activity self, and sometimes the result is not pretty.  Your decision-making mechanism has to play out an internal cabinet meeting that would confuse expert politicians.  And at the end of your working week, perhaps your activity self has to hand over to your relaxation self.  It does so kicking and screaming, offering you migraines, tantrums and weird changes in body chemistry in exchange for the impending rest.  Sometimes you have only just recovered by the time it is time to get back to activity.

NEGOTIATING EFFECTIVELY WITH YOUR TWO SELVES

What key lessons are available to help negotiate your days effectively?  Well, there are probably three dimensions to the battle:

  1. TIME – Allow sufficient time to move between active and relaxation mode, and back again.
  2. SPACE – Create specific spaces where you expect to be active, and specific spaces where you expect to relax, and furnish them accordingly.
  3. COMMUNICATION – Be clear with the people around you what you are doing: if active, say ‘how can I help?’; if relaxing, say ‘I’m not available right now.’
AN EXERCISE

Just for today, appoint yourself as your own Secretary of State for Life Balance.  Learn what it is like to make good decisions, and listen to both sides of the argument, the active and the relaxed.  Learn to notice what is needed when, and plan accordingly.  In particular:

  1. MANAGE YOUR TIME ZONES – Implement ‘transitional zones’ in your time, where you consciously move between active and relaxation modes.  Make them as long as you need.  If you need half an hour to move from busy to relaxed, then decide what that half hour looks like.  If you need half an hour to get into an activity, then decide what that introductory time looks like.
  2. MANAGE YOUR LIVING ZONES – Implement ‘special places’ in your world, which you associate with active or relaxed modes.  For me, for instance, active zones include cafes (where I write) and clients’ workplaces (where I serve others).  Relaxed zones include my bedroom (no work-related stuff allowed), and my lounge/meditation room (same rule).
  3. PUT UP CONSISTENT SIGNS – Implement warning systems for yourself and others.  Perhaps colour-code your diary (I mark active times in orange and relaxed times in green, so I know at a glance whether I am planning with some balance).  Learn to tell others when you are active and when you are not (including knowing how to do that dreaded thing, saying no without feeling guilty!).
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SUMMARY

As a being, you have two selves, an ‘action self’, and a ‘relaxation self’.  Your job is to manage both in a way that suits you.  Three things help:

  1. Learning to manage the transition between active and relaxation modes without stressing yourself out.
  2. Giving both your ‘action self’ and your ‘relaxation self’ physical places, and physical resources, but keep them separate so there is no confusion.
  3. Communicating with yourself and others in a consistent fashion, so that everyone knows when you are ‘available for action’, and when you are ‘closed for renovation’.  They’re different things, equally justified, so don’t feel guilty putting up signs.
If you learn the art, then you have a good chance of improved life balance.  Your times, your spaces, and your communications, will support your wish to have both activity and relaxation in your life, and move between them more easily.
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