May 25, 2008

Finding Balance between Work and Life

People seem to spend a lot of time working. "Yeah? So?" you might ask. Well, work isn’t a bad thing, and many would claim it a great thing, but too much of it can throw life out of balance and create areas of neglect that become painful to tolerate.

Do you agree that you can be most effective in your work when you are in balance and harmony with life? I know for myself, when I move slowly and take it easy, my work is at its best. When I rush and cram and shove a million things in, both me and my work suffer. My work, and I'll bet your own endeavors as well, come with greater ease and joy when I take time to maintain harmony within my body, mind, and spirit. For me this means I have to slow down. What does this mean for you?

Holistic harmony is easier said than done. To begin, it involves paying attention to the needs of your physical body. This could include the simple message your body gives you that it is time to lay down and rest. We don’t heed this message very well, do we? When our bodies say, “Let’s rest!” we often say, “Later, I’ve got more things to do first!” But the body repairs itself during rest. It is the first thing to do when you have a cold or flu. However, what I see is people go to work anyway, extend the duration of their illness and pass it on to others. Further, lack of rest over time can lead to serious disease states. This is one good reason to listen to your body’s needs and take a break when it tells you to.

Maintaining a balanced mind and positive attitude is another component of work-life balance. There are some obvious signs when a person’s mental state is off-kilter: anger, irritability, anxiety, or just plain stress. I remember something one of my college professors said: “If the mind is in harmony, the body follows. If the body is in harmony, the mind follows.” Over time, I realized this is true. Relax the body and the mind will relax. Balance the mind and the body will come into balance.

The mind-body connection is well-known these days. But I think it leaves out a component important to our wellbeing – spirit. If this vital aspect of our lives is neglected, life can lose meaning, direction, and purpose. How do we keep our spirit alive? One way is to pay attention to what brings us joy and add more of that to daily life.

Most of us have been trained to work hard. If we are not working hard, we have been programmed to feel guilty about not working hard. Have you ever heard someone called lazy because they weren’t working hard enough? If you grew up in these United States you have. We are a hard-working bunch and we get a lot done. We praise hard work. The truth is that hard work holds the promise of reward: promotions or business expansions, bigger incomes, and greater access to the things we desire. But there is another side to it. If balance is not maintained, if the work side is too overloaded, well-being suffers. This includes peace of mind, physical health, and relationships.

Even if you love your work, thrive on it, and can do it all day and into the night, it is important to take time to maintain your equilibrium. Human beings must take time to stop, rest, reflect, and restore. Your relationships need attention, your spirit needs nurturing, and your body needs care. If any of these are neglected, no amount of success in the world can make up for their loss. I speak from experience. I used to be able to work all day and into the night - sun up to sun down. I had to train myself to stop the madness before my body, mind, and spirit had complete breakdowns. It wasn't easy because I had a deeply-ingrained work ethic (some would say a good Protestant work ethic - I call it lunacy). But managing this work ethic was absolutely necessary for me to continue making my contribution to the planet.

If you are on the hamster wheel like I once was, here are 12 simple things you can do each day to stop the madness and get your life and your work into balance.

1. Decide to step off the wheel. You will survive!
2. Inhale with awareness.
3. Walk in nature every day, even for just 10 minutes. Aim for 30. If you live in the city, you've got more stress than the rest of us, so find a park or a walkway along a river, and be there.
4. Sit in silence and still your mind for at least 10 minutes each day.
5. Notice if you are thirsty, hungry, tired. Take care of your needs.
6. While eating, slow down and give your full attention.
7. Avoid people who consume your energy. You probably know who they are.
8. Embrace those who are accepting and supportive of you.
9. Regard the beauty of your surroundings.
10. Exhale completely.
12. And lastly, my favorite - turn off the computer, television, and cell phone and go to bed early. Ahhhh....

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