Every self-help guru, motivational life coach or inspirational online personality (self-proclaimed like me or otherwise) has an article or book out on how to “find balance in life.” How do accomplished people juggle family, work, health, and the pursuit of their passions? Us normal people want to know!
Unfortunately, the gospel of the balanced life has morphed into a weird and unrealistic ideal. It’s a good message at heart, but it’s gotten lost in some feel-good nonsense, and it’s setting us up for failure. So let’s get rid of the nonsense and back to a helpful view of this thing we call balanced living.
Why You Fail At Balance
Most of us think we’re failing at achieving a “balanced life” because we forget there are two kinds of balance: static and dynamic. The difference between these two are easy to understand if you look at it from the perspective of physical training (my favorite framework to use).
Static balance is motionless. Can you stand up without falling over? Now, stand on one leg. I bet you can do that and manage to look like a peaceful, resting statue for at least 3 seconds. Static balance looks easy and stress free. It’s restful like those zen rock totems and graceful like a gymnast holding a motionless handstand on a balance beam. Static balance evokes feelings of inner peace and control. This is the type we idealize and imagine we ought to pursue.
Dynamic balance is all over the place. It is balance in motion. Try to stand on one leg… on a skateboard rolling down the street! (Just kidding, don’t do that. Please don’t sue me when you fall and break something.) Dynamic balance is the juggling acrobat on a unicycle, the gymnast doing flips and cartwheels across the balance beam. It looks hard and complicated because it requires a constant negotiation of opposing forces. Gravity pulls one way, body weight another, and every muscle, large and small, switching on and off, responding to the constantly changing environment. Dynamic balance is maintaining control in chaos.
You probably already kind of knew this. Thing is, in life, we tend to idolize static balance and avoid dynamic balance because it stresses us out. And it shouldn’t. Yes dynamic balance looks harder and it makes you sweat more. But dynamic balance is also more fun and rewarding because it’s truer to life.
You Act Like Life Is Static
What does “static balance” look like in life? I’d say it looks like rest and recovery. It’s taking a personal day, unplugging, “finding your center”. Static balance has it’s place, sure; like after a season of hard work and striving, in times between big life changes, when you need to heal. That’s when you can be motionless and still. That’s when you can tune everyone out and OHM yourself silly. That’s when life can look and feel easy.
And yet…you can’t live every day of your life like this. Not if you ever hope to accomplish anything. You don’t grow as a person in a stress-free environment. Not all stress is bad, you know, and I’ll get to that in a second. Static balance is what we like to think we’re trying to achieve, but it really shouldn’t be our end goal.
Life is meant to be DYNAMIC! It’s a boss mom working out at 5AM before her kids get up and she goes to work. It’s juggling your schedule to include a part time MBA program and volunteer work because that’s how you do. A dynamically balanced life is one that is going somewhere, getting things done, experiencing growth, and it feels electric! The goal really is to maintain a mostly DYNAMIC balance in life with well-placed breaks for some rest and recovery.
We know this and yet we kind of distrust and avoid maintaining dynamic balance. Why? Because it’s messy and we’re not well practiced in it. Because we take on too much, get burnt out, are forced into a “static stage” and have to recover before we can feel right again. So we’re only used to feeling right and at peace in the static stage. However, if we train smarter, we can feel right and at peace in the dynamic stage too.Life is meant to be lived in motion, not in static balance. > Why You Fail At Balance Click To Tweet
You Fail To Adapt Naturally
If we approached finding our own balance in life like we trained to play a sport, we’d do so much better. There’s a reason kiddos start out playing tee-ball and then progress to slow pitch and then fast pitch. Growth happens in stages (or seasons) of adapting to stress (or progressively harder things).
In fitness or sports training there are increasing stages of stress. This is why there is such a thing as good stress. If you want to improve cardiovascular fitness you’ve got to make your heart and lungs work harder than they want to (stress them out a bit) and they will naturally adapt by growing stronger and more efficient. You add a little more stress over time and, as you get stronger, you’re able to handle more and more. Basic principle of adaptation.
When we “fail at achieving balance” it’s often because we’re batting out of our league. We’re a slow pitch player trying to hit an 80 mph fastball. Then we struggle to understand why and assume something is wrong with the game. This is when we start to look at the major leaguers, or people who can balance a lot of heavy things in life, as extreme freaks because they’re try to “balance it all” and that’s “just not healthy. I mean, she’s training for an ironman and starting a new company…is she forgetting she’s a mom too?” Truth is, we all have our own skill level, we improve with practice…and what’s more, we’re all playing a slightly different game anyway.
In fitness and athletics there are also on and off seasons. Elite marathon runners don’t race to win marathons every other month. They pick one or two big races a year and then take an “off season” and don’t compete for a time. A high school athlete might play football in the fall and basketball in the spring. We grow in life by adapting to stress and we also live life through changing seasons.
When we fail at balance, we’re probably not doing a good job of changing with the season. We assume our carefully laid out seven day schedule should work for us year round (static). This is when we don’t give ourselves permission to take an off season in one area so that we can go full steam in another. Or we do it but feel guilty about it. So… in the name of “balance” we stick to our repetitive, season-less schedules, even though it never works quite right. So when we fail, over and over again, to workout daily and have time for family and do weekly meal prep and wonder why we never get around to our blog (ok, this just got personal)…we despair and think, “Well, I should just give up the blog all together”. Truth is, learning to ebb and flow with your individual seasons (dynamic), or learning how to set something down without guilt and then pick it up again without fear, is an overlooked life skill!Finding balance in life isn't a reset button you push, it's a skill you develop. > Why You Fail… Click To Tweet
At best, “finding/maintaining balance” has become our cultural code for “I need to reprioritize, set better boundaries, or improve my time management.” At worst, it’s a crutch we use to justify to ourselves why we’re not living the kind of lives we were meant for. We will always fail at balance when we idealize the static version and shy away from the trying out the dynamic possibilities. Real life balance is learning to hold on to your inner peace while juggling a life in motion. It’s a skill you have to develop, not a reset button you push.