Why balance is overrated: the case for living life in chapters

Why balance is overrated: the case for living life in chapters

As I type the title of my article this month, I cringe, waiting for the Personal Development and Wellbeing Overlords to strike me down. I have rebelled. I have taken sacred words in vain. I have dared to suggest that the much-coveted and ever elusive balance on which much ink has been spilt and much energy spent is perhaps… not in fact such a prize. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I believe the very concept of balance sometimes to be unhelpful, misleading and – ultimately – impossible to achieve.*

I hear you gasp. I know. It’s like coaching hari-kiri. But if you can bear to read on, I’d like to explain why letting go of the desire for constant balance, indeed binning the very term, can liberate you to lead a more fulfilling life full of sense and purpose.

The myth of balance

Finding balance seems to be the wellbeing Holy Grail. And on paper, it is an appealing concept. Having every part of your life flourishing and nurtured. Limiting excess in any one domain. Feeling whole and well-rounded and like life is under control. Nice work if you can get it. Let me know if you ever do. Because I take issue with the somewhat simplistic quest for balance that is often touted as the key to calm. In essence, not only do I believe balance cannot be achieved, I’m also not convinced it is something to which we should aspire! In fact, I think that often the pressure to achieve balance actually contributes to us feeling even more off kilter and like we’re just, well, getting it all wrong, not winning at life.

Writing the book of your life

A friend of mine with a young baby recently shared her dismay that she spent all her time either looking after the baby or doing chores and had no time for herself – for personal projects or exercise. As a mother of two and her friend, I sympathised. Those early months (years!) can be brutal. But as a coach, I had more helpful insight for her. Life is a book, and a long one at that. It must be lived in chapters to make any sense at all. You can’t skip forward, nor can you page back and read again. Each chapter has its own function, tone and plotline. Some have action, some description. Others have dialogue and witty repartee.

My friend is currently living through the “home with small baby chapter”. I’ve read it myself – it contains lots of sleepless nights, stained clothes and endless laundry. It also features cuddles, personal growth and overwhelming love. It’s a real rollercoaster chapter with much to offer, but certainly not balance. What about the “young, single and first big job” chapter? That one’s all about late nights at the office, drinks with colleagues, and nights out. Not much balance there either. Or the “falling for the love of my life” chapter in which anyone who isn’t the beloved drops out of sight for a good few months? Or the “setting up my own company” chapter in which a person finds huge personal satisfaction from hours spent finding clients, securing deals, and getting a fledgling business off the ground. Every single one of these chapters is a fabulous read, but not a single one features anything like what I would call balance.

Read one chapter at a time

Over-emphasis on any single aspect of our lives for a prolonged period is, of course, unhealthy. But so is striving to keep every area of our life well-tended at all times. There will be periods when you party too much and do no exercise (the university years, anyone?), some when you hunker down to write a book or take a course and see no one for months, others when you soak in the joys and stresses of a new baby without a thought for your looks, keeping up with the news, or missing social functions. That’s fine. That’s normal.
All too often, the quest for balance mutates into a quest to have and do and be it all – and all at once. This creates pressure to keep all the plates spinning all the time, when really our wellbeing would often be better served if we just put a few plates down and concentrated on the ones that really matter to this particular chapter. Balance is a subjective term, and at different times of our lives it will be necessary and right to let a few things slide to spend sometimes inordinate amounts of time focusing on one thing – a political campaign, a new home, marathon training. So, enjoy the chapter you’re living, and tend to the areas of your life that are most important to its current narrative. Enjoy each chapter to the full and at the end you’ll find you have a bestseller of a book where the only thing missing is regret.


If you’d like help finding the right balance for you and your life today, grounding, holistic, 360° coaching can help you perfect the recipe of your life and achieve fulfilment, peace and joy. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.

The big spring stock-take

The big spring stock-take

A DIY coaching tool for taking stock of your life and getting your house in order

The benefit of regular clear-outs is a fact universally acknowledged. Or at least it is in my house. My husband was stunned by the joy I felt when they installed massive clothing donation bins at the entrance to the metro nearest our flat; and I challenge anyone not to feel freer, lighter and more in control after taking a bag load of I’ll-never-read-these-again books to Oxfam.

But what about moving the stock-take from the back of your closet into your mind and soul? When it comes to having a good sort-out, there are many areas of our lives that would benefit from a little light dusting and polishing, not just the kitchen cupboards. Coaching offers a wealth of great tools to do just that – take stock of your life and see where your figurative house needs to be put in order. While it is always more helpful to do such exercises with a qualified coach, it is also possible to use them on your own and glean some helpful insights.

The Wheel of Life is a simple way to identify the various major “bits” of your life, assess your satisfaction with them, and start coming up with a plan to raise that satisfaction level.

The Wheel of Life aka Not so Trivial Pursuits

Draw a circle on a piece of paper and divide it into wedges like the pies in a game of Trivial Pursuits (number of wedges is your choice – starting with six is pretty manageable). Assign a theme to each wedge. Themes are areas of your life that you wish to take a look at – or indeed, they can just be areas that spring to mind. In this exercise, your subconscious is a good guide. A few examples: one wedge might be “family”, which for some might mean “me, my partner and our kids” but for other people might mean “parents, grandparents, siblings” – and those people might choose to put “partner/love” and “children” into separate wedges on their own. What you mean by each of your themes is your business, as long as you are clear about how you load the word you choose. Other wedges might be “money”, “leisure”, “health”, “career”, “spirit”… it’s a very personal choice.

On your marks…

Once you have your themes, take some time to consider each one and to rate your satisfaction with this part of your life from 1 to 10 – draw lines in each wedge so that 1 is a line near the interior of the circle, and 10 is the further edge. Like so:

circle wheel of life

You’ll probably end up with a very bumpy wheel!

Get set…

The next step within a coaching session would be to discuss each area and the mark attributed to it, and to choose one or two on which to work. On your own, you can take your time to look at each one and think about what makes your health an 8 but your love life a 4 – talking to a friend can also help. Then, taking each one in turn, think about what it would take to turn that 4 into 5. Think specifics: spending more time with your partner? eating dinner at the table rather than in front of the TV? a monthly date night? a daily lunchtime phone call? more cuddling? What would it take to bump it up to a 6? And then a 7…

The idea isn’t to go from a 2 to a 10 in two weeks flat, but to identify areas for change and improvement that will eventually harmonise the levels of satisfaction across all your wedges. A wheel with lumps and bumps cannot roll. But the challenge of trying to turn a career “3” into a 10 can simply be paralysing. Concentrate on the areas that naturally attract your attention and list small, actionable changes.

Go!

Once you have some action ideas, consider which you can actually put in place, and, crucially, which you want to put in place. It’s no good choosing “go for a weekly run” if you have absolutely no desire to go running. Yes, it might bump your “body image” score up to a 7, but your “time for fun” score might take a hit. I advise kicking off just one action per week and taking a moment at the end of each week to see what’s working for you.

Take your time. Your Wheel of Life is ever-changing. Even if you managed to take all your wedges up to a perfect 10, at some point you’ll decide to buy a house or have a baby, and new wedges will appear for you to work on. The idea isn’t to strive for a perfect circle, but to use the exercise to see where your pain points are, and what you can do about them.

One last thing…

Don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate in the wedges that are looking pretty damn good. If your “friendship” wedge is a healthy 9, why not make a list of all you’re grateful for in your relationships? If your “work” wedge is flying high, why not acknowledge that by taking in some Friday afternoon pastries for your charming colleagues? Work on the low numbers, revel in the high ones.

Originally published on Running in Heels.