The Four Bs of Balance

When my pals and I were in our twenties, I don’t remember worrying much about finding balance in our lives. We worked hard, played hard, stayed up late and damn the consequences. But now as a mid-career professionals, many of us with children, I find we are all talking about it, and I also hear it from my clients. We know that imbalance is inherently unstable and unsustainable, but it can be hard to envision a different way.

So what is balance, and how can we achieve it?

Stand on one foot and you’ll see that balance is not static. You wobble and waver. Even if you manage to stand pretty still, your feet are working, toes gripping, ankles flexing. Balance is active and dynamic. It  doesn’t mean that everything in your life receives equal weight and attention – but each area gets what it needs. A moving target, balance is a state of being in which you are living according to your values, and moving toward a state of better alignment rather than becoming more off-kilter. And like Justice Potter Stewart‘s definition of obscenity — that he knew it when he saw it — you know it when you feel it.

Balance consists of the four Bs:

Basics – The basics are your fundamental values, which are the foundation of a balanced life. To feel in balance, you need to know what your values are (family, career development, health, creativity, humor, etc.), how you prioritize them,  and how they show up in your daily life. The relative importance of your values shifts over time, and so your emphasis will shift, but you should always be making conscious choices about how you are weighting various elements of your life. If you are honoring your highest values and not stepping on them you will feel better balanced.

Boundaries – Establishing and respecting boundaries means being clear about what you will do and what you won’t. Will you respond to work email in the evening? Will you answer the phone during a family dinner? Boundaries are particularly hard to maintain in the context of high-tech, high-speed communication capability, where phone calls and emails follow us everywhere and multi-tasking is de rigeur. They are also challenging for those of us who do some or all of our work from home. However, clear limits protect the sacred areas of your life and are essential to sustainability.

Being – Living in balance is in part about being fully present in your life. Often when we feel out of balance we are rushing around and lose touch with our own selves. We feel swept up and not in control, and the day passes in a whirl. We may feel our life passing by.  Pausing long enough to allow ourselves to become conscious of our feelings, choices, and needs, slows down time for a moment. This helps restore balance. In contrast, multi-tasking is antithetical to being in the moment (see Boundaries).

Blessings (Count ’em) – Balance is a feeling. One way to cultivate this feeling is to direct your thoughts to appreciation of what is right in your life as a way to counter the day-to-day pressures that threaten to overwhelm you. Rather than allow your self-perception and your sense of the world around you to be determined by the crisis du jour, make gratitude part of your day.

These four Bs are the cornerstones of life lived in balance. To these I might add a fifth B — a buddy. Having the support of your partner, a friend, or a co-worker really helps in developing the four Bs.