We are obsessed by the prospect of achieving a healthy balance between work and life. But is balance what we should aim for?
The concept of ‘work-life balance’ frequently pops up in discussion at conferences, articles (here’s another one), and in the workplace. Our insatiable curiosity on how to feel balanced is nothing new.
The philosophical notion of being the ‘ideal individual’ was discussed by Socrates and Plato, among other philosophers. However, given the self-help book market is still growing, is it that we are we not convinced, or not listening?
In lieu of reading your library catalogue of self-help books, here are some considerations about reaching a health trifecta of healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy career.
1. Balance is fleeting, not the goal
First things first – please forget about ‘work-life balance’. The definition of balance involves evenness, which is not practical or realistic.
A healthy lifestyle is more like a Venn diagram crossbred with a bubble chart. All elements overlap and one will always take priority over the others. The objective shouldn’t be to balance, rather to maintain your desired outcomes, measured over a period of time determined by your circumstances.
For example, Australia’s Kim Brennan won the gold in the women’s single scull rowing at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She is also a practising lawyer and reportedly, due to training, had not seen her husband for over three months leading up to the gold-medal performance.
Her physical performance took priority over family and career – but measured over the course of four years she has maintained her lifestyle and a successful career.
We’re not all going to be gold medallists. But we can focus on keeping momentum to maintain our desired outcomes for a healthy body, mind, and career.
2. Know your flow
‘Mindfulness’ is another buzzword doing the rounds sold to us as meditation apps and adult colouring books. Ultimately most of us do this without crayons or sitting in silence, and it’s by achieving flow.
Flow is getting into your zone before you swing the golf club, piping detailed icing decorations on a gingerbread house, and running 10k when you thought you ran 5k. Flow is where you become fully immersed in an activity for intrinsic purposes.
Finding flow in our personal lives and in the workplace can play an important role is strengthening our mind and body and increasing productivity – whether that’s brain storming a procurement strategy, or knitting a Norwegian sweater. Knowing what activity you do to achieve flow can make you more mindful about how you’re contributing to a healthy lifestyle.
Note that watching TV is not considered flow. That’s just time-out, and we all need some of that too.
3. Take control
Most pop-psychology books are trying to promote changes in your life to better yourself. The pursuit is never-ending if we’re not motivated to do something differently, or our current environment is not conducive of change.
Sometimes the healthiest thing to do is step away and make a conscious effort on controlling your own outcomes.
For example, having a successful career may mean postponing a catch-up with friends, and being mindful may mean trying meditation, instead of watching Law & Order repeats.
At worst you’ll be seen as anti-social for skipping team drinks and declaring that you’d prefer to go to the gym. If it’s what you want, is that so bad?
4. Prioritise. And wear socks
Finally, here’s a hot tip that has stuck with me for years and served well. When we’re faced with work, family, and staying healthy, sometimes we need to forget about the chores and just accept feeling the dirt on the floorboards.
But as we progress in our careers our salaries inevitably will increase and it may be more feasible to outsource the cleaning. Alternatively…just wear socks.
Everyone’s measure to achieve healthy mind, body, and career is going to differ – so there’s no need to compare yourself and feel the need to run a marathon, study a PhD, or aspire to be CEO. Sometimes it’s as easy as leaving your desk to go for a walk at lunch.
As long as you’re in control, keeping the momentum, and satisfied overall – you’re doing fine.
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