By Dr. Tina Colton
One of the most common coaching objectives cited by clients during their first coaching session is the desire to “get back into balance.” Two things strike me about this desire. First, how we tend to frame it as something we “get back to” – as if it is a natural state a deeper, wiser part of us remembers.
And second, initially it sounds like a simple matter of prioritization and allocation. What matters most to you personally and professionally? And if you were to segment your time out, how much time should you dedicate to each work/life priority? Easy…block off your calendar and get ‘er it done! Right? NOT!
From my own personal experience and in working with clients at sorting through this desire, balance is less about how we spend our time and on what activities, and more about restoring or “resetting” to this inner sense of equilibrium. (Sounds mysterious and yet compelling at the same time…perhaps I flatter myself…) This inner sense of equilibrium provides us with greater clarity, ease, and confidence, to make decisions, take action, and enjoy our life.
As you would probably guess, given the personalized nature of this restorative process, there is no “cookie cutter” approach but rather a process of self-discovery. One key way of supporting this self-discovery is staying tuned into our current state of balance. Fortunately, most of us realize when we’re out of balance…eventually.
We tend to notice this state of disequilibrium through feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, or perhaps even a physical symptom. For some of us, you may know someone like this, we tend to ignore smaller signals like feelings of anxiety, fatigue, or muscle pain, and require a dramatic episode which seems to come careening out of the sky. For me, this has ranged from being diagnosed with a serious illness to totaling my car.
Fortunately, learning through my experiences, I’ve come to notice more “subtle evidence” of my disequilibrium sooner – which certainly serves to save time, suffering, and car repair expenses! For me, these signs start out subtly, are embedded in my every day activities, and can be easily explained away as being “focused” or “attentive.” Slowly, however, they become more pervasive, such as a need to check my e-mail five times in an hour to make sure a message was not missed, and morph into a way of operating which if unchecked, determines my emotional state.
For example, I may get attached to a specific response or outcome for a project, relationship, etc. If someone or something does not match this “right” or “desirable” response or outcome – things are off track and my failure is eminent! Needless to say, overtime this “subtle evidence” can take on a life of its own and eventually feel as dramatic and despairing as the external dramas.
Learning with my clients, and through my own experiences, I’ve come to see the value of incorporating a combination of mindfulness and mindlessness practices as a way to stay tuned into this “subtle evidence” and use it as a way to transform mild signals into productive resources for restoring inner equilibrium.
Mindfulness involves focusing the mind’s energy on a productive thought path. This includes noticing the quality of your thinking. Are you spending more time worrying about the future, trying to control outcomes, or defending your point of view? How does this line of thought support your desire for balance? How does this way of thinking feel in your body?
Common tools for mindfulness are journaling, reflection, reframing limiting beliefs, and certain types of meditation.
Mindlessness entails, as it would suggest, releasing your mind in some way from mental activity. Some common practices which provide this release are guided meditations, sensuous experiences that engage our physical and emotional states, and physical activities supporting repetitive movement to “zone out.”
Perhaps you have already developed your own “best practices” for restoring or maintaining inner equilibrium. If not, customize your own approach by experimenting with an array of mindfulness and mindlessness practices and decide what works best for you. Expect that over time, your favorite tools will evolve – just as you will!
Checking-in on your current state of balance:
• Find a quiet, private space, and your favorite resource for taking notes.
• Close your eyes, or gently rest your gaze, and allow a deep inhale and exhale into and out of your abdomen. Take 5-10 more deep breaths, expanding your inhale and exhale just a bit with each one.
• Keeping your focus on the breath. Begin to notice how you’re feeling physically as you breathe. Simply taking note of what’s happening in your body. With your next exhale, expand your awareness to your emotional state – how are you feeling in this moment? Continue breathing and observing for a few more breaths.
• When you’re ready, open your eyes and jot down your observations. Ask yourself, “What has this check-in helped me to become more aware of in my current state of balance?” Based on this knowledge, what might be one small action you can take in supporting your inner balance? It might be to slow down, take a nap, delegate a task, or reschedule plans. Schedule something restorative to you – perhaps a walk in nature or your favorite physical activity.
The next time you desire a greater sense of inner balance, along with gaining clarity on your priorities, spend some time tuning in to your “subtler signs” of disequilibrium. It may provide you with greater insights on how to return to that desired state – without all the time, suffering, and car expenses!