August 2, 2010

Taking Breaks

Photo by FrozenQ8

You may have noticed that we have been absent from :simple:balance: over the last few months. (And if you are someone who noticed, THANK YOU for being a faithful reader!). Things have been quite hectic in our lives and in those of our contributing writers, so this space has recently been neglected. It's certainly not surprising that folks like Maggie and me, who have such an interest in work-life balance, would ourselves lead very busy lives. And as you likely are, we are constantly seeking ways to get it all done and feel a sense of balance through the busyness.

One of the things that I am learning, both through my own experience and through listening to and watching others, is that sometimes finding balance means letting things go. And quite honestly, that's what has happened here. Other things have taken priority – our day jobs, families, health, and the like – and so blogging has had to take a temporary back seat. That's not to say that these past few months have been all whirlwind. Our break from :simple:balance: has also coincided with some much-needed vacations, time outside in the garden, and connecting with friends and loved ones. All of it is important and all of it contributes to our daily, monthly, and lifelong nourishment. And, as with most things, when something steps up the priority ladder, something else must step down.

I have to say that I have missed :simple:balance: during this break. I always find motivation and inspiration from our guest writers and in the comments from you, our readers. And doing the research and writing for my own posts is also an endeavor for me to keep learning and implementing healthy changes in my own life. I have come to really enjoy this little space, and so I have felt the void these last few months. I have also learned a lot about myself and my own sense of balance during this time. While :simple:balance: and the connections with other folks like yourself are important to me, I currently have other things in my life that have to come first.

We hope to be back here soon with new content, ideas, and thought-provoking posts. So please don't give up on us! But until then, we encourage you each to take stock of your own lives. Do you need a break from anything in your life that is currently taking time and energy that you don't have? Is it time to re-assess your priorities and determine what should and needs to come first?

Let us be your example and permission to do just that. Take a break from something, drop something down the priority list, and use some of your leftover time for a task or relationship that you've neglected. After all, achieving simple balance does not mean "doing/having it all." It means finding comfort in the ebb and flow of life – vacations and breaks definitely included!

June 30, 2010

Blooming Mindfully

photo by Casey Conerly

We have been away for almost a month dealing with our work-life balance or in my case with some imbalances. We are very happy to introduce a guest writer, Casey Conerly. She is the owner of Conerly Productions (public relations and voice messaging services). She is also a songwriter, photo bug, garden piddler, yoga nut, spiritual seeker, one-time surfer girl. Enjoy!

I have enjoyed watching my summer garden get its bloom on this year; appreciating the beauty in each step of the process. What a magical journey from budding to bloom; and becoming. No rushing; fully present, alive and beautiful each step of the way. I think we could all learn a thing or two from nature, as we strive to keep our lives in balance each day.

For me, awareness is the key to balanced living. To be fully present and engaged allows you to see every moment of your life and appreciate it. I find that when I am rushing; or my mind is in the past or the future, it causes stress. And, I miss what is going on right now. Awareness helps you stay in touch with your feelings as you go about your day and can help you catch yourself before you are suddenly wondering why you want to eat a half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

Each one of us is unique. What brings you peace and joy, what drains you, what energizes you? Self awareness will help you create the balance you need. I know that being in nature is a de-stressor for me. After I have been working at my computer for awhile, I will go outside in my garden to see what is new, breathe in the air and disconnect from work for just a few minutes.

When you are mindful, you are in balance with the universe. If you work on it over time, and create space for the things you love, your life will be much more harmonious. If you have too much going on in your life, decide what is truly important; and simplify. Simplicity allows more space in your life. Leave yourself some breathing room.
When I am present and aware in each moment, I notice much less stress, I make clearer decisions, and I have an underlying sense of peace and joy. Mindfulness allows me to bloom slowly, taking in each precious moment of the journey.

Hope you will have a wonderful 4th of July with many mindful moments.

May 6, 2010

Can Chaos Be a Blessing?

Photo by nickwheeleroz
This morning, I read this post on the Wall Street Journal's blog, The Juggle, which is dedicated to stories and information about balancing life's various roles. (I highly recommend the site, by the way, and often find motivation and entertainment in the posts there). The title of today's post, "Living a Full Life by Embracing the Chaos," is what caught my attention. After all, doesn't that idea sum up my own approach to work-life balance and the goal of finding balance for myself?

We all know that trying to find a sense of balance in the chaos of life can be a struggle. I'm sure we can all relate to The Juggle author's rendition of her own chaos which involves childcare, a job with hard deadlines, travel, a marriage, and a menagerie of other responsibilities. Yet, the idea of choosing to embrace the fact that all of those responsibilities may clash and conflict with one another is new to many of us.

I often hear friends and acquaintances describing their life situations from a negative perspective, and admit that I do it myself too:

"I am overwhelmed at work."
"I just don't know how to make more time for my kids and family."
"Down-time for myself? That must be a joke!"

It is easy to focus on the feelings of anxiety or sadness we feel when life seems out of control because those are the feelings that often most present. However, if we choose – actively make a choice – to look at and think about our lives from a different perspective, doing so can make a world of difference in how we feel.

The Juggle author described what some might perceive to have been a day or two from hell – all of her well-laid plans went out the window and unexpected challenges presented themselves from the left and right. I can imagine myself feeling overwhelmed in such a situation, and when thinking about it or describing it to someone else, honing in on all that went wrong. But as she described, her own perspective was a bit different. Rather than feeling defeated by the chaos, she looked at all that she had on her plate and realized that having all of those things meant she was living a "full life." The fact that she could have so much chaos in her life meant that she had a lot of blessings to be thankful for.

I wonder if we all could take a lesson from her experience and perspective? And maybe make a conscious choice to look at our own chaos from another angle: focusing on the fact that all of our life roles, responsibilities, and blessings are what cause the chaos to happen sometimes? It sure seems like it could make difference in our experiences, and make us focus more on gratitude and less on struggle.

How might you try to incorporate this idea today?

April 28, 2010

Staying in Tune

photo by Hamed Saber
We are very happy to have Dana back with us sharing her wisdom on staying in touch with yourself and knowing when you need to slow down. Enjoy!
I run to stay balanced. It helps me manage my stress, stay healthy, and get some all-too-precious “me time.” I was recently reminded, however, that it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

I recently trained for and completed my first half marathon. I have been a recreational runner since grad school, and I started running again about a year ago after a few years’ hiatus. Because I am goal-oriented by nature, my slow twenty minute jogs gradually turned into speedy hour-long excursions, and then on a whim I decided to sign up for this race. Unfortunately, about two weeks before the big day I caught a bug that I couldn’t seem to kick. I finished the race, but my performance wasn’t what I had hoped, and the incessant rattle in my chest made it hard to breathe – which can make a thirteen-mile run seem interminable! It took me two weeks of complete rest to beat it. This experience got me thinking about how we know when we are out of balance.

I am very rarely ever sick, and when I do get sick, it is usually a briefer and less severe version of what is going around, so for me to be ill so long was a clear message to me from my body that I had gone astray. In my quest to meet my goal, I had bulldozed my way through rather than heeding my body’s requests for me to slow down. Paradoxically, being so focused on my goal that I ignored the signs of imbalance deprived me of the ability to achieve my goal.

I imagine that the average reader of this blog is seeking life balance strategies because they have a tendency to do too much versus too little. I envision people who are possibly over-achievers or Type-A personalities (in other words, people like me). The external world rewards us for achievement, so it is easy to lose sight of the need to slow down from time to time to tune in, take stock, and adjust where necessary.

Unfortunately, I think we can easily become like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water – we don’t realize how off-kilter we have become until things reach a boiling-over point. Any time we take on too many responsibilities or activities we risk spreading our energy too thinly, which has the potential to lead to physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and behavioral consequences. Getting sick, feeling run down, and experiencing recurring muscular tightness or headaches are often your body’s way of trying to get your attention. Mental signs of imbalance may include being forgetful, or having a hard time disengaging from certain thought patterns (e.g., worrying, list-making). Emotional signs might include feeling irritable, anxious, or blue. Or maybe you find yourself wanting to retreat from family and friends, or being uncharacteristically being snappish, argumentative, or grumpy. Other people find that they eat or drink too much and stop carving out time for healthy activities like exercise or meditation. Self-awareness allows us to appreciate the subtle signs that we need to adjust before getting “out of whack.”

Once I tuned in (ok, so I had to be hit over the head with it), I realized I would need to focus on self-care for a while to set things to right – to let the pendulum swing far in the opposite direction in order to get back to a healthy state of equilibrium. I got a massage and spent my time going on slow walks with my family instead of waking up before dawn to run. I talked about my experience with friends. In the end, I was grateful for the experience, because it reminded me how wise my body is – how powerful it can be when I listen to it and treat it kindly. I was also reminded that although it is satisfying to set and achieve a goal, sometimes life intervenes to foil the best laid plans (or training schedules), and it isn’t the end of the world. The most important part of the race was seeing my family there to meet me at the finish line.