What’s the Real Problem with “Balance”? It’s Not Sustainable
By Dr. Roberta Neault and Deirdre Pickerell
There are thousands of websites, blogs, and articles offering tips for finding balance. Canadians are working longer hours (23% more than ten years ago) and the inability to balance work and family costs Canadian employers about $10 billion dollars per year. Although such statistics highlight a problem with balance, despite extensive research on the topic a solution seems out of reach. Balance appears to be somewhat elusive.
Within Life Strategies, instead of balance, our focus has turned to individual/organizational sustainability; it is a term that resonates with the clients we support. People are used to thinking about environmental or economic sustainability; they understand the importance of meeting their present needs without compromising their future.
Balance implies that major life roles should be always in synch. Every day one should strive to work only so much, get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and be a good parent, partner, and child. Realistically, however, life isn’t so tidy. As Krumboltz emphasized, people need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Sustainability accommodates real world challenges; when saying things like “we’ll get through this,” individuals intuitively demonstrate the resiliency, flexibility, and adaptability to cope when balance is out of reach. To facilitate sustainability, the following ten tips may be helpful.
- Leave “White Space”. Think of the white space, or margins, on a piece of paper; don’t overfill each moment in your life. Leave wiggle room to accommodate things that inevitably go wrong.
- Eat Well. Poor eating habits may be symptomatic of an unbalanced life. Give your body the fuel it needs to sustain you. Check out Eating Well at www.eatingwell.com for tips and recipes.
- Get Enough Sleep. Lack of sleep makes you impaired; perhaps more impaired than if you’d had too much to drink. Visit www.sleepfoundation.org for tips on sleeping well.
- Make Continuous Adjustments. No matter how well you plan your day (or life) you’ll need to respond to changing circumstances; be creative about reprioritizing and choosing what to set aside.
- Define a Unique Formula for You, for Now. There’s no template for a sustainable lifestyle. To minimize role conflicts and guilt, regularly renegotiate how much life space each role can be assigned.
- Accept that Balance is a Myth. Acknowledge the imbalance in your life; it is normal in the short term. A sustainable lifestyle will devote sufficient time to each role – just not necessarily all in one day.
- Take a Systems Approach. Look at your life holistically, acknowledging that you’re part of many complex systems. Changes you make in one arena will inevitably impact your other life roles. Be strategic and intentional.
- Access your Allies. Don’t try to go it alone. Ask for the help you need – engage your family, friends, and colleagues in finding sustainable solutions. Consider hiring extra support, delegating, or simply saying no.
- Recognize Warning Signs. Be aware of small indicators that you’re about to “crash and burn” – irritability, loss of focus, or inability to do everyday things may be subtle clues.
- Acknowledge that Perfect Isn’t Possible. Clearly there will be times when your life is out of balance. Be proactive about developing the resiliency you’ll need to cope with the occasional chaotic, crazy moments.
Dr. Roberta Neault and Deirdre Pickerell, MEd, of Life Strategies, support individuals and organizations to find sustainable solutions — through consulting, counselling, coaching, training, and human resource management. Learn more at: www.lifestrategies.ca