So often we address the issue of balance in life here on our blog and the only things we are sure about is that not one size fits all and we could never answer the question fully in one post alone.
The article below is based on a few thoughts by our resident psychologist, Dr Rick Norris.
Please feel free to comment below.
Aims of this article:
- Explore what is meant by work / life balance
- Identify key areas involved in life’s balancing act
- Ask about balance within and without!
- Discover ‘rust out’ as well as ‘burn out’
I often work with people whose source of stress is the lack of a ‘work/life balance’; but what exactly do we mean by the phrase ‘work/life balance? For most of my clients it simply means that they feel they are working too hard and don’t have sufficient time for the other areas of their lives. In this article I would like to explore in a little more detail what a balanced life means. To lead a balanced life we might want to actively address a number of elements of our lives and get a balance within each area.
The first area of our lives is work and although it’s not necessarily the most important element of our lives, men in particular tend to define themselves through their job. If you’re at a party and you are introduced to a man and ask the question “Tell me a little bit about yourself” you are almost guaranteed to find the first piece of information they share with you is what they do for a living, although this is less likely to be the case for women. The balance at work is between burn-out and rust-out. Most people will be familiar with the phrase ‘burn-out’, which is usually used to describe someone who is working so hard that they are experiencing a state of emotional and physical exhaustion. Fewer people will be familiar with the phrase ‘rust-out’ which refers to a situation at work where individuals feel apathetic, disinterested or bored. In a previous article I mentioned the seven positive things that work gives us, so we should not forget what a blessing it is to have rewarding and stimulating work.
Take time to look at your career and plan how you want to develop your role or consider how you might want to change your role for a different one in the future. Previous articles have touched on the idea that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to become trapped in the misery of a job we no longer enjoy. Constantly try to develop your career so that you feel more fulfilled because if you love what you’re doing you’ll never work another day in your life!
Financial well-being is clearly linked to work although it is worth noting that it’s not simply the amount of money that we earn that makes us happy. A 2009 study by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deighton found that although people’s happiness rose in line with their income, it plateaued at $75,000 dollars (about £55,000, although we should increase this slightly in line with inflation!). The 2015 figure for annual earnings in the UK is almost exactly half of £55,000 at £27,400; so, for most people earning more money would make them happier. However, we have also touched on the idea in previous articles that it’s about having enough money to sustain a reasonable life style; so, it’s not just about what we earn it’s about how we spend what we earn. So as with work there are two sides of the equation where a balance needs to be found: income and expenditure.
It can be really helpful to take stock of your outgoings and question some of your spending habits; most of us can probably save quite a lot of money if we are simply more conscious of our spending patterns. Equally there may be other ways we can earn money over time from investing wisely. It’s interesting to note that most of the wealthiest people in the world earn relatively little from their salary; it’s their investments that make up the majority of their income. It doesn’t have to be an investment in a pension, a rental property or stocks and shares, it could be about investing in yourself for example paying to go on a course that allows you to change career or earn additional income because you have a second string to your bow. (Editor’s note: Albert Einstein said that compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. If you don’t know what this is, Google it and be amazed – we can all benefit even with very little to invest in the beginning).
This area of our life relates predominantly to our physical well-being because all the elements of a balanced life feed into our psychological well-being. With regard to our physical health yet again we can argue that there is a balance to be had, this time between a healthy diet and getting sufficient exercise. Food and drink are some of the great pleasures in life – as the saying goes, a little of what you fancy does you good; but a surfeit of appetising but unhealthy food causes untold harm. Getting a balance with exercise is important too. A 2013 study on over a million adults by the University of Bristol found 80% of those surveyed failed to meet the government target of taking moderate exercise at least 12 times in a four-week period.
Again, the key to this area of your life is to be more aware of what you eat and how much you exercise. Keeping a food and exercise journal (visit www.waetugo.com after reading this) can be really revealing in terms of helping us to gain a better balance with our health. Technology can also play its part with Fitbits and mobile phone apps that help track what we consume and how much exercise we actually get – it doesn’t have to be a hard-core session in the gym, 10,000 steps a day makes a huge difference!
Arguably this is one of the most, if not the most important areas of our lives with loneliness featuring as one of the most significant factors in suicide ideation. The balance in this sphere of our lives, for many, is finding time between friends and family. I often describe this as the three strands: spending time with your partner; spending time with children and the wider family; spending time with friends. Spending insufficient time in any of these strands can result in jeopardising those relationships.
In my book Think Yourself Happy I identify nurturing relationships with friends and family as one of the most important activities in building good psychological well-being. I dubbed it ‘phone a friend’ after the phrase from the quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It’s about making the effort to keep in touch with the people who matter most in your life. There have never been so many ways for us to do this with social media and technology, but nothing beats face to face contact and more importantly the power of touch. However, it’s important to recognise that we may have to rationalise our relationships otherwise we end up with quantity but not necessarily quality. It may also be useful to think of the concept of friends for a reason, friends for a season and friends for a lifetime; most of us will have relatively few friends for a lifetime. So, put some active thought into who and how you are going to maintain the important relationships in your life. (Editor’s note: Think for a moment that you have saved for twenty years to go on a world cruise. As you step onto the boat you get a message that one of your family or friends is ill and would benefit from your presence. Who in your life at this moment in time would you get off the boat for and forego your cruise? The people you are now thinking about might be the ones you start giving your ‘quality’ time too.)
This is defined as the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; once again we can see the need for balance within this element. You don’t have to be a poor person to go to heaven; it’s how you use your lifetime’s accumulated wealth to make the world a better place that counts. Many people might find the concept of ‘spirituality’ a little highbrow but there is a quote that I really like which helps to explain it in practical terms “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”—Malcolm Forbes.
Think about how you can make a contribution to someone else’s life. It could be visiting a lonely elderly person, helping out in your community, making a charitable donation or helping out a neighbour. Surprisingly, the more you give the more you get back in terms of psychological well-being.
If we want to have a balanced life we need to spend a little time identifying how we get the balance within each of the five areas described above. These five areas may not be the only areas of your life that warrant some thought but at least it’s a start!
Now you’ve read the article, we would love to hear your own thoughts on balancing life. It doesn’t have to be about work / life balance either; not all of us have careers but fill our time elsewhere.
Thanks for reading.