Life is busy for most of us. There is so much to do, and seemingly so little time to really be with people, let alone spend some time with ourselves. It’s true that we spend our years working hard to earn money, and then spend our money (or at least lots of energy and worry) trying to regain our health and wellbeing. Balance is elusive, almost impossible to find.
Yet, anything unbalanced is sure to topple over sooner or later. Whether it is a wobbly tower built by a child, or for that matter an organisation, system or our physical and mental health, it stands to reason we need balance and secure foundations if we are to withstand the challenges life throws at us. We all know the consequences of eating too much, drinking too much and working too much. Our bodies fall out of shape, we lose our sense of vitality and become fatigued. Left unchecked, this lack of balance invites illness, pain and depression into our lives. What has taken decades to grow and achieve, can suddenly cease to offer the fulfilment it had promised. Domains of Life and Living To attain balance, several aspects of our personal lives will need to be attended to. These are the intellectual, social, emotional, physical (including financial) and spiritual domains of living. Our daily activity, whether at home, work or just out and about touches on one or more of these domains at any point in time. These different demands are not like pieces of a puzzle that we have to fit together, as this implies complexity and struggle. It’s better to think of them like layers that can co-exist alongside each other. The trick is allowing the various layers to find their space, more naturally. Let’s take a quick look at these aspects to life. Without mental stimulation, we simply become dulled in our senses. A lack of companionship or friendship, means we have no-one to share our joys and sorrows with, making us feel very alone. What good is anything, if we have no-one to share it with? Then, our physical and material lives form a foundation on which we can explore the world – our travels, eating well and having the means to interact with life. And finally, we are all ‘spiritual beings’ – many of us feel repelled by this term, but at a very basic level it means we are drawn towards feeling in awe of something that feels larger or more enduring than are physical selves.
Making a Change We have to be realistic and take a balanced approach to finding balance! We can’t do it with extreme measures, such as formulating a perfectly balanced day, and trying to keep to this. We simply can’t attend to all domains of life, every day of our lives, in perfect rythmn! Rather, we need to stretch that balance across the week (and sometimes, the month or year). The key is not to postpone everything until after you retire, because relationships, health and interests may have faded by then! Equally, it’s not about trying to fit everything in right away. Rather, look at your week as a canvass, and paint in what you’d like to see. Consider for a moment, who or what is designing your life? If you don’t take responsibility for your life and how it is spent, it’s guaranteed someone else will do that for you. It’s surprising how effective it can be to talk with a manager or mentor about your interests and needs, so that the work you do can fit better around your aspirations or personal circumstances. If that doesn’t help, maybe it’s time for a new job search, business venture or perhaps even some retraining. We can get caught up in the ‘how’ of things, trying to navigate the best route to achieving what we want. Sometimes, it’s more important to consider the ‘why’ of things, and the ‘how’ can begin to take care of itself. If you don’t know why you want better balance, the how will always be elusive. Consider the saying, ‘where your attention goes, energy flows’. If you decide what is important to you and begin to focus on bringing more of it into your life, the motivation and opportunities will begin to manifest. Just like water fills whatever shape it falls into, life fills up the kind of space we make for it. Balance is really about the small things, that you do frequently. Not just the big things that can happen after a long gap. If you want to feel closer to your partner, you don’t have to offer gifts of gold and diamonds! Your smile, a passing touch, making room for their interests, a text to say you’re missing them or a simple ‘thank-you’ for the things you appreciate about them, can work wonders in any relationship. Start small, and bigger things will follow. The best days of our lives don’t have to be dramatic and hugely expensive - just the small investments we make in ourselves and each other. It is about being thoughtful and kind to self, and others. A Short Story to Conclude This simple story will help you in your quest for better balance. I've loved it for many years - see what it does for you.
A philosophy professor once stood up before his class with a large empty jar. He filled the jar to the top with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full. The students said that yes, the jar was indeed full. He then added small pebbles to the jar and gave the jar a bit of a shake so the pebbles could disperse themselves among the larger rocks. Then he asked again, “Is the jar full now?” The students agreed that the jar was still full. The professor then poured sand into the jar to fill up any remaining empty space. The students now agreed that the jar was completely full. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions. If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.
Pay attention to the things in life that are critical to your happiness and well-being. Take time to get medical check- ups, play with your children, go for a run, write your grandmother a letter. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, or get on top of the back-log. Take care of the rocks first – those things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.
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Dr Bobby Sura
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 20yrs NHS experience and 16yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Bobby is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT). He manages a large service in Hall Green, Birmingham, with a range of Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Psychologists who offer their services on a private, fee paying basis.