The truth is, maybe, we need a bit more imbalance. The times when I’ve had a blast, and I was at my happiest, were those when I was unbalanced – fasting, falling in love, going on 7-day retreats (and festivals), leaving everything behind to travel the world, working like a dog to deliver articles on time. All these extremes required full bouts of attention and complete immersion.
During all of these times, my experience of them would have been totally different had I not thrown my whole being in, head first.
I know extremes can be harmful and we’ve been taught to strive for balance. Many philosophies in the East – Taoism for instance – encourage finding the middle ground. But the question is: Could too much balance lead to imbalance? When can we tell how much is too much? And if you’re even-keeled in all areas of life, can you be really good at anything?
Flow Vs. Balance
Being ‘“in the zone” can take you out of your safe place and maybe even knock you off balance. A flow state means being absolutely immersed in an activity, which might compromise your equilibrium. Being fully immersed in anything can take a toll, and some sacrifices may need to be made along the way.
However, this has been the path for the most successful high–performers, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs. There’s a point at which getting results requires lots of focus and all-in attention. With this, comes trade-offs and the illusion of balance may be brought to light.
The Illusion of Balance
Balance is elusive. Here’s why:
– Hoping for Perfection
We expect to enjoy great work, excellent health, and fulfilling relationships, but striving for perfection in every area of our life creates a sense that nothing will ever be enough. It can sometimes lead us to set unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.
Sometimes, the best marriages or dream jobs will have rough moments and bumpy turns. That’s why I have this mental mantra on repeat when things get tough: “you are exactly where you need to be”.
– The Glamourization of Busyness
I’ve touched on this subject a few times here on the Mindful Work Blog, but it’s worth repeating. How often have you thought something along the lines of “the busier I am, the more successful I might look to others”... a veiled reference to our Western culture and definition of success.
On a daily basis, we have many different demands – an urgent task at work, a physician telling us to change our diet and exercise more, our family wanting to spend more time together, the list goes on. It’s sometimes hard to find the time to give our full attention and energy to all of these areas simultaneously.
Other people’s views and our own internal judgment can lead us to experience feelings of guilt, pressure, or imposter syndrome.
The story of The Grind appeals to our masculine, energy-driven culture – but it is at odds with the idea that things could be “easier” or more “flowing”. Constantly forcing ourselves to be a certain way prevents us from being open to opportunity.
– It is Personal
Whatever you’re doing, at the end of the day, it’s your decision and yours alone. Nevertheless, what may be an overwhelming, stressful amount of work for me, may come easily to a workaholic friend of mine. We can’t compare our time investment with others because we’re all different, with unique lives, priorities, and values.
Instead of Focusing on Balance, Strive for Self-awareness
If we attach our identity to a single thing, we risk losing purpose, meaning, or fulfillment if this thing is taken away.
On the other hand, most of the time, balance isn’t the solution because it prevents us from going all-in on anything. What’s more important is to focus on internal self-awareness - taking the time to know thyself.
We can decide which trade-offs are worth taking when we begin to know ourselves better -- our limitations, boundaries, and the sacrifices we are willing to make.
You are not your Labels
Self-awareness can also help us to identify our unhelpful attachments with the self. For example, if we are intertwined with a specific activity, label, or image of who we are, self-awareness will bring us closer to our humanness and less caught up in our ego.
Even if you go to the extreme to accomplish something – e.g., writing a book, training for a marathon, working extra hours to finish a project – you will be more likely to be okay with the trade-offs because you know they are temporary.
But the question is, what can help an individual to become more self-aware? Ram Dass would say, “be here now.” In less esoteric language, the practice of mindfulness can enhance self-awareness.
Mindfulness isn’t just a buzzword; it’s an ancient practice that helps people connect with the present moment. By Mindful Magazine’s definition, mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
In other words, the practice of mindfulness naturally gives the mind the space to discover itself. Individuals who regularly practice mindfulness in its many forms – mindful eating, walking, meditation, and so on – develop the natural ability to take stock of their feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations more clearly and are able to identify some subtle angles of their character, such as their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and habits in various situations.
Self-awareness is a Long Journey
It is important to stress that self-awareness is a long path. Trying to micromanage everyday tasks and activities to see if you’re doing them right creates even more frustration and guilt. Putting yourself under a microscope and comparing yourself to others sets up an unrealistic expectation of how your life should be.
Expanding the perspective and view of what it means to live a balanced life might be the right way to go. If you look at it under the lens of a day-to-day routine, you might fall short. Switching the mindset towards a more extended continuum gives more bandwidth for you to change your perspective around what real balance means for you. Balance might be stretched over five or ten years, not every single day.
Instead of focusing on how you can be more balanced daily in all the things you’re trying to achieve, be mindful of the things you’re doing in the moment, be present with them, be present with yourself, and be the best version of yourself that you can be in the moment.
Self-awareness is always useful for understanding ourselves better. Are you a multitasker or a monotasker? Do you better adhere to new habits when you cut off previous ones cold-turkey? Or do you need a smoother transition?
For instance, I’m an extreme person by nature. If I want to quit bad habits, I’ve got to do it overnight – that’s how I got sober, quit smoking, and became a vegetarian. But rather than comparing myself with someone else, I understand, and respect that I function differently. My process isn’t the same as another person's – and maybe that’s my balance.
Maybe, my balance is to go from one extreme to the other until I can find my middle ground and, as a monotasker, focus on one activity at a time.
What about you? What is your balance? And your imbalance?
Camila Santiago is a content writer and strategist specializing in health and corporate wellness, including extensive experience writing SEO-friendly content. She writes, edits and proof-reads content on wellness topics spanning physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and does so for organizations aiming to improve overall employee wellbeing and professional excellence.