Life is a balancing act

I recently signed up to learn how to paddle a kayak. Now for those of you who know me, it will come as no surprise that I am not a good swimmer and I have a fear of deep water. Balancing a surf ski is not as easy as it looks. Of course, there are tools to help like a paddle, a foot rest, a way of rotating the body, keeping the head forward etc… but it was still tricky. Do you sometimes feel that your life is a balancing act?

Thrilled when I finally got the hang of it, I started to relax and chat with some others in the group when suddenly a big speed boat passed and tipped me over in its wake. I struggled to get back in that surf ski and the process was not pretty to watch. Out of my depth and exhausted I eventually nailed it.

This got me thinking about how easily we can be knocked off course in life. Sometimes, there’s something that someone does that leaves us floundering, kicking and feeling like we’re drowning. Life is a fragile balancing act and if we’re not aware of what’s going on around us, if we’re not looking forward, if we don’t have the right tools to help us remain stable then we may end up falling.

Life is split into many areas and it can be a tough balancing act trying to find time for everything. ie: family, work, fitness, spiritual, fun. Some of these areas we find more fulfilling and others more challenging. Why is that? Usually because each area has its own tendency to encourage either challenge or pleasure and we, often without thinking, fall into good and bad habits around each.

It’s said that our natural tendency towards either pleasure or achievement plays out most obviously in our leisure activities. For example, on a Saturday morning, some people choose to spend their time mowing the lawn, cleaning the car and ticking off jobs from their ‘to do’ list. Others prefer to sit and read the newspaper, drink coffee and chat with a friend. The same applies to the type of holiday you book: relaxing on an ocean cruise or cycling through mountains. It’s important to be aware of your preferences, so that you can strike a good overall balance. When your activities are out of balance, then your experience of life’s richness is diminished.

Balance at work

Activity at work is almost always achievement oriented. We work to achieve things. We are paid to produce outcomes. We have a clear sense of purpose. We strive towards business success. Our key drivers are normally to achieve monthly targets, personal KPIs (key performance indicators), and to contribute towards the stated objectives of the organisation. Most people focus on achievements and tangible outcomes and carry this energetic perspective into their social and recreational life as well. They may be drawn towards events that provide social networking opportunities, climbing upwards towards a higher social standing and a higher net worth. Often this type of person also loves to be competitive in their chosen sport. They like to win and they like to be the best! But remember life is a balancing act and all work and no play makes Jack(ie) a dull boy/girl!

It is important for all of us to recognise that an excessive competitive drive towards achievement at the expense of pleasure can lead to burnout, stress and anxiety. Underpinned by a fear of failure, there is little contentment, happiness or joy. Often a generalised sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction with life accompanies this state and even though success is achieved, it is rarely celebrated. To balance this achievement orientation, it is imperative that we learn to pause, reflect and be ‘in the moment’. It helps to be more accepting of how things are instead of always looking for improvement and change. We are human beings and so we should remember to sometimes just ‘be.

Balance at rest

Our behaviour in family relationships is also driven by our preference to either: achieve in our lives together, or simply enjoy our lives together.

Usually, our preferences are reasonably aligned with those of our partner. But if we see the world differently, then tensions can quickly rise. We can choose to see these differences as ‘complementary’, where one person’s achievement orientation is balanced by the other’s natural ability to relax, or we can use these differences to criticise and judge. Don’t forget to clarify whether you are hoping for your relationship to primarily bring contentment and happiness or for it to bring wealth and success. For example, how will you plan financially for your lives? Do you agree to invest and save purposefully for your retirement, or live more luxuriously and enjoy the moment? Ideally, of course, most couples aim to strike a balance between the two.

It is also important to consider the degree to which you are looking for ‘satisfaction’ or for ‘pleasure’ from each other at an emotional level. A relationship based on achieving mutually satisfying goals (such as social status, job promotion and material wealth) looks and feels very different to a relationship that is based simply on pleasure.

Balance at play

When we play sport, we can play competitively and become driven to play to our full potential, or we can simply enjoy getting out in the fresh air and having fun. We can go fishing to catch lots of fish, or simply to enjoy the peace and quiet. We can play tennis to win, or simply to enjoy ourselves with friends. Our decisions should normally fall between the two options. If you aren’t enjoying activities, then you should seriously review their place in your life. Similarly, if you are not learning or achieving anything, then you need to review how you are spending your time. In looking back over a weekend at home or a holiday away, you should be able to reflect contentedly on both the things that you’ve done and on the fun that you had.

The ability to balance your lifestyle decisions is an important skill to learn. It is the essence of living a happy, satisfying and fulfilling life. It is a defining characteristic of your relationship with yourself and others, and can have a huge effect on all areas of your life.