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Self-Help

Five Ways to Live a Balanced Life

A balanced life is a reward in itself. Here's how to achieve it.

Key points

  • The rewards of a balanced life are many psychologically, emotionally, physically, and socially.
  • Maintaining a balanced life is more challenging than ever in this day and age.
  • Balance means addressing health, self, life, relationships, and even finding balance in the imbalance.
  • To achieve balance requires determination, intention, and patience.
Marcelo Moreira/Pexels
Source: Marcelo Moreira/Pexels

Living a balanced life is one of those highly coveted goals to which we all aspire, along with happiness, inner peace, and love. Yet, in this day and age, balance is also more difficult than ever to achieve.

Between career, family, self-care, technology, and everything else in our busy lives, it can feel as if one more new ball to the juggling act will cause us to fall off that tightrope called life and plummet to our deaths (mixed metaphors intended).

You may wonder whether it’s even worth expending effort to strive toward a goal that seems largely unattainable. No doubt something as sought after as life balance can’t possibly be achieved quickly or with little effort. At the same time, I would suggest that life balance is within the reach of most of us if we are determined, intentional, and patient.

Certainly, the rewards of life balance are enticing. They include:

  • Purpose: A sense that life is meaningful and rewarding
  • Life-affirming values
  • Clear, focused, and uncluttered thinking
  • Mostly positive emotions (e.g., love, joy, excitement, pride, contentment)
  • Physical benefits: Feeling healthy, nourished, rested, relaxed
  • Social benefits: Nurturing relationships
  • Mindfulness: Staying in the present, not worrying about the past or future

Now, those are qualities worth aspiring to! I see life balance as an interconnected collection of five different types of balance in our lives.

Balance in Health

There is nothing more important to a balanced life than your physical and mental health. Quite simply because the health of our body and mind are so central to everything that we think, feel, and experience, they form the foundation upon which all other forms of balance are built.

Physical health involves:

  • Being free of illness, injury, and pain
  • Being physically active
  • Having sufficient nourishment
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Being able to engage in physical activities that you value
  • Being capable of minimizing and managing the normal stressors of life

Mental health entails:

  • Being free of mental illness
  • Feeling good about the person you are
  • Caring deeply about something beyond yourself
  • Having meaning, satisfaction, and joy in your life
  • Having mostly positive emotions
  • Being mostly free of doubt, worry, or uncertainty

Because of its central role in your life, your physical and mental health must be the starting point for creating balance of all sorts.

Balance in Self

You cannot have balance in your life if you don’t have balance in yourself (or, more accurately, in your self). If you think of your self-identity as a pie, a balanced self-identity is comprised of many pieces of the pie with no single slice too large, all contributing meaningfully to your sense of self. The danger of having an outsized piece of your self-identity is that you may fall victim to the “I am one self” mentality, where one piece of the self-identity pie dominates how you view yourself and how you react to influential events in your life.

This out-of-proportion slice is often rooted in achievement and career and related to accomplishment. The problem is that when something goes wrong related to that supersized part of your self-identity, meaning it is no longer a source of sustenance but rather of deprivation, then that slice of the self-identity pie is, for all intents and purposes, removed, and you are left with the question, “Who am I?” That absence alone is a serious source of imbalance that is almost impossible to rebalance in the short term.

The goal of balance in self is to broaden your self-identity. Another metaphor that can illustrate a self-identity in balance is a diversified investment portfolio. Such a stock portfolio means that you have invested your savings in many different stocks, the benefit being that if one or a few stocks tank, your investment is still safe because you still have other money invested elsewhere. Applied to a balanced self-identity, if you lose your job, get a divorce, or experience some other unfortunate life event, though certainly painful, you can turn to other aspects of your self-identity to gain the validation and “warm fuzzies” (as a colleague of mine once described) needed to maintain or regain a healthy balance.

This sort of “self-identity portfolio” involves investing in many aspects of yourself, meaning devoting time and energy to parts of yourself that may have been overshadowed by overinvestment in one dominant piece of your self-identity. There are two benefits to this diversification. First, you are able to gain affirmation from many sources, so you aren’t overly dependent on any single source. Second, by definition, when the other slices of your self-identity pie grow, that one overriding piece gets smaller.

Balance in Life

So much of life balance involves managing the day-to-day tasks that fill our lives. Setting priorities, managing time effectively, and delegating to others enables us to get done all those unavoidable “must-dos” we all have on a post-it on our desk, on a dry-erase board on our fridge, or recorded in our phone’s Notes app.

The other part of achieving balance in our lives consists of activities that we want to do rather than need to do. These pursuits bring us happiness, pride, and inspiration. They nourish our souls and energize our lives. These avocations can be physical, intellectual, artistic, or spiritual. These passions are our “rocket fuel” that can replenish our stores when they are drained by our daily responsibilities. Importantly, these interests propel us to grow into the best version of ourselves and enable us to feel deeply and vitally when those unrelenting responsibilities numb us to life.

An unfortunate reality of life is that, as Maslow so eloquently categorized, we must fulfill our needs before we can fulfill our wants. And when inordinate amounts of time and energy are spent on those needs, there can often be insufficient quantities of both left over to satisfy the wants that then refill our tanks. Prioritizing sources of meaning, fulfillment, and joy can keep you buoyed when, with an imbalanced self-identity caused by having to juggle an inordinate number of balls, you might sink.

Balance in Relationships

To paraphrase the English poet John Donne (to avoid sexist language), “No [one] is an island, Entire of itself; [Everyone] is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” In other words, as social creatures, our ability to maintain balance in our lives means maintaining balance in our relationships. How that balance in our connections with others is sustained is quite personal, depending on each person’s personality, social needs, past experiences, and goals. For some, relationship balance might mean a partner, immediate and extended family, friends, co-workers, people around a shared passion, or charitable work. It might mean a small group of people or a large social network.

Relationship balance can be thought of in several ways. First, it can involve having your healthiest needs for connection, deep emotions (including love), support, and communication with others. Second, one of the most unbalanced aspects of relationships occurs when one party feels that they are giving to the other party without an equitable reciprocity that meets their own needs. Relationship balance must have equity in giving and receiving from those involved. What I mean by this is that each member of a relationship must feel that their needs are being met while also giving sufficiently to meet the needs of the other person.

Balance in the Imbalance

What I’m about to say may seem odd after evangelizing about the importance of life balance so far in this article. But there is something to be said for imbalance in our lives. There can be value in throwing ourselves disproportionately into one activity, particularly if that commitment is driven by passion and purpose. To aspire to greatness (whether personal or objective) or a higher calling in any facet of life, whether academic, professional, athletic, artistic, a cause, or any number of other areas, we must make choices in how we devote our time and energy. Given that time and energy are in limited supply, the choice is a zero-sum game. Though this life of imbalance may feel precarious at times, it is also an opportunity to plumb the depths of who we are and what we are capable of; in other words, it provides us with the chance to find a higher degree of meaning, satisfaction, and joy than might not be attainable while living a balanced life.

The rewards are great for an “all in!” life, but the risks are not insignificant, either. Such an intense devotion to a singular path can lead to fatigue and burnout. The goal, then, is to “find balance in the imbalance,” which means looking for opportunities for brief periods of balance in your daily life to prevent the scale from tipping completely and irrevocably to one side. Whether reading, playing a musical instrument, taking walks, cooking, or anything else that you enjoy and that doesn’t take much time, these passing respites can be what keep your imbalanced life in just enough balance for you to gain all that your unstable life has to offer.

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