Juggling all of the life balls

This post was inspired by a couple of old friends that (as often happens) bumped back into my life today. They both own their own businesses, and expressed that they often feel pulled in different directions - family priorities, various work projects, 'me' time, fiends, and all the rest of the things.

How do you think about balance?

The traditional thing you read in self-help circles is "you can have it ALL, ALL the time." My experience as a coach has shown me that this isn't true in the strictest way. Instead, I believe that life balance is achieved through applying a different mindset, rather than ALL, ALL. Let me explain:

It can feel this busy, but rarely this beautiful.

It can feel this busy, but rarely this beautiful.

The ALL, ALL approach spruiked by self help books and motivational speakers base is based around an infinite growth model. If you think about the areas in your life, they promote that you can be eating super-healthy food (all of which you prepare yourself), spending quality time with your family, contributing to the community, running your own business(es), and kicking health and fitness goals. And sleeping. And not feeling stressed. See the problem - everything is possible, nothing is compromised.

I'm a long distance endurance runner, and I was listening to a podcast by Lindsay Taylor from Primal Endurance about periodisation that really resonated with me. She said the following: 

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"Part of the... assumption (that we operate under) is that you're not going to have all things at all times in equal measure. So you're not going to be at 100% of your potential strength, 100% of your potential endurance, 100% of your potential speed, every day, 365 days of the year.

That's the typical approach where you try to maximise everything all the time, and that's how people end up injured and sick and burned out and hating life, and too tired to interact with their families after their workouts. We don't have a problem with the idea that some of your metrics... would ebb and flow a little bit. If you take a big picture approach, there are going to be times when you're better at one thing, and focussing on one thing over another."

Take a "big picture" approach, and you won't feel like a failure

She goes on to say that the idea is to take a "big picture" approach of the whole training season, rather than packing everything into a week. The second part is trying to plan your training blocks so that you peak the metric that you need at the right time. If you have a short race - peak your speed. If you're in a 100km ultra race over mountains, peak your endurance and be healthy going in. Don't be burnt out by doing the ALL, ALL thing. It gets you hurt.

Think in seasons

I see this often in some of the epic people that I coach. No matter how many great things they do, they always feel like failures. This is because of an unreasonable mindset they have that they can do ALL, ALL. I suggest that balance is best achieved by focus - focus on what you need to be good at now (maybe spending time with family and dialling back work hours), and plan your work peaks when you really need to. I call it seasons - as in, "now is the season for work, and I'm ok with that, and it will end on this day, and then it will be family season."

These seasons shouldn't look radically different, just more of one thing for a period, and less of another thing. Like shifting weight from one foot to the other, rather than hopping from one leg to the other. Understanding that life moves like this is important so that you don't feel like you're failing all the time.

How can you do it today?

  1. Identify what season you want to be in (or need to be in) right now. What is most important? What does this mean you will, by the nature of not having infinite time or energy, do less of? One of the things I try to do is remember that with young kids, there will be many disruptions to my life. I'm just in a pretty low stability season, and it's not a life failure to be flexible around my family. In fact, I'll probably be proud of it once the stres wears off and the month passes. Despite my liking of stability and predicatability, I'm just not in that season of my life.
  2. List all of the areas of your life that you're trying to be great at. Are they all equally important right now? Can you lower your expectations anywhere that isn't of utmost importance right now? Who do you need to communicate this to?
  3. Advanced technique: Can you give yourself a break and take a slow improvement mindset? Think about slowly getting better at your stuff, rather than being in behavioural overdrive. Look at how developing habits in one area can carry across to other areas.

As always, if you'd like to explore this in more detail, I'm available for coaching sessions via Skype, including one-off consultations starting at AU$150. I've never had a client regret one yet. 

Thanks also to the amazing sketch artist Emin Toksoz for his  picture which illustrates the juggle in a beautiful way.