When a friend suggested that I blog about creating a reasonable balance in university, I was somewhat dismayed. Me, with my workaholic tendencies, advising others in an area that I struggle with and have only recently begun improving? This would be worse than than the blind leading the blind, it would be the blind leading the seeing masses!
Ok, so maybe my life isn’t that off-kilter. In fact, I would even say that I have recently made large improvements in this area. With this in mind, I am finally emerging from weeks of procrastination to write this post.
What is balance, and why does it matter?
balance: An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.Oxford Living Dictionaries
Most of us are familiar with the consequences of being physically off-balance, having fallen or tripped at least once in our lives.
But what if we took this understanding of balance, and applied it to different areas of life? Does evenly distributing the weight we give to different aspects of life, and the energy we dedicate to each area, help us to remain steady?
As someone who went from completely dismissing this idea, to considering “balance” to be my theme of the year, I agree with most of the above statement. However, I don’t think that even distribution is always necessary or ideal. I’ve found the following analogy helpful for considering the idea of overall balance as opposed to constant balance.
Whenever we walk, we have achieved balance in the sense that we are standing upright, on our own two feet, and moving forward in a somewhat orderly (or maybe not) fashion. However, the weight distribution across each foot, and on each leg, is always changing. We might stop for a few minutes, and stand with our weight mostly centred, or lean to one side. The area over which our weight is centred constantly moves and changes in the process of maintaining balance. If we attempt to stand completely still, or even on one leg, for too long, then we get tired and may even fall over.
In the same way, I believe that life is a process of alternating between different phases, when it’s necessary to put more or less weight on a different foot or area of life. Sometimes it’s necessary to put more time and effort into school or work, and other times we need to invest more energy into relationships. At some point, it’s important to sit down, take a breather, and just do nothing at all. The key is to figure out how to distribute your time and energy in a way that works for whatever season of life you’re in, and not focus exclusively on one area for too long.
Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way. Pouring all of my time and energy into one thing, mainly school, meant that any threats to my success in that area seemed catastrophic. Just imagine investing so much time and energy into a project that you neglect almost every other area of your life. If anything seemed to endanger that project, it would be pretty stressful, wouldn’t it? I felt that same way about school, which pushed me to work even harder to ensure success. This stress often led to burnout, which meant that from time to time, I was unable to accomplish anything at all. Creating a more balanced lifestyle was a huge factor in cutting short this constant negative cycle.
Walking Towards a More Balanced Life
Talking about the importance of balance is one thing, but what are some practical ways to be a more balanced individual? The following points are steps that helped me, especially in the university context.
1. Start necessary tasks early.
Beginning projects and assignments early gives me the flexibility to break them into super small chunks, so that I evenly distribute them across my schedule. This way, instead of having to spend entire days on assignments, I have the option to intersperse time spent on school with other, more enjoyable activities.
Bonus: If you get really good at this, exams and final papers can (I make no promises, people) become virtually stress-free.
2. Schedule time for school, family, chill time, etc.
Chances are, if you’re struggling with balance, you tend toward one of two extremes. You may be more inclined to spend too much time working, or you may struggle to find motivation. I, unfortunately, have spent time on both ends of the spectrum. Either way, setting aside specific time to spend on school, with people, or simply doing things I enjoy, has been very helpful.
I like to set aside an entire day each week when I don’t do anything school related. Another thing I have found helpful is having a designated family night that happens on the same day, every week. Without forcing myself to take a break and focus on other things, my natural tendency is to spend all of my time on schoolwork. By the same token, I use most of my time on campus to work on papers, and most of my weekday evenings doing class readings, so that I can make the most of unexpected opportunities when they present themselves.
3. Find what helps you function efficiently.
If you’re functioning inefficiently, then everything, including balance, gets harder. My productivity skyrockets when I have adequate sleep, nourishment, and exercise. Other things, like figuring out that my brain seems to stop functioning after 9:00 pm, have been total game changers. Developing healthy habits that help me function well, reduces the time required to accomplish tasks, giving more time for enjoyable activities.
Experiment and see what you need to do in order to work at your best. Maybe you need to work in a completely silent space. Maybe you study best late at night, or right after lunch. Make changes until you find what works and what doesn’t.
4. Discover what motivates you.
I find that working on some goal or project related to my hobbies helps motivate me to “get my life together,” so to speak. Recently this has taken the form of my blog, but it could be anything, as long as it relates to what you enjoy. Setting a goal, such as posting once a week, is essential because it means I have to be consistently organised and efficient with other areas of my life.
5. Don’t box yourself in.
There is no one formula for living a perfectly balanced life. As time and circumstances change, you may have to adjust.
General rules and habits that work most of the time might not work during busy seasons, but don’t let this discourage you. Make changes as necessary and try resuming regularly scheduled programming once things calm down. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is throwing out perfectly good routines, just because they didn’t work out when things got a little hectic.
In closing, here is a continuation of my walking analogy/preview of a later post:
When we walk, we don’t usually think about what’s supporting us. We take it for granted that the ground will just stay there, making it possible to do…well basically everything. Just imagine a sinkhole that spreads throughout the entire planet. What happens then?
Until next time,