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How To Balance Your Life Better

Do you spend a lot of time doing things you wouldn’t choose to do, if you had a choice? Perhaps your life feels out of control or maybe you hate your job. If you’ve nodded your head at all, your life is off balance. But it’s your choice: you can find balance before it’s too late.

Chicken or Egg: Identifying the Causes

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, imbalance is “the state of being out of equilibrium” and stress is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.” So does stress cause imbalance or does imbalance cause stress? Both. And neither. While they feed off one another, there are common underlying reasons for both.

The Federal agency NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) identifies work as a major culprit of stress. In a recent report, NIOSH revealed, “The nature of work is changing at whirlwind speed. Perhaps now more than ever before, job stress poses a threat to the health of workers and, in turn, to the health organizations.”

NIOSH posted a survey by Northwestern National Life, in which 40% of workers reported that their jobs were “very or extremely stressful.” Northwestern National Life’s study also revealed that one-fourth of employees rate their jobs as the number-one stressors in their lives.

In an informal survey of my own, I asked forty people to identify their main causes of stress. I found similar results to the NIOSH survey. The mains causes of stress were as follows:

Work and money, receiving the most votes, can have a rippling effect, creating difficulties in other areas of your life. For instance, if you’re unhappy at work and/or worried about money, it can take a toll on your personal life (#3) and on your sleeping patterns (#4).

Asking the Hard Questions: Eliminate the Clutter
What do you want from life? What do you need? What could you cut out? Linda Manassee Buell, professional life coach and founder and owner of Simplify Life, finds that most people who come to her are simply too full. “They have filled their lives to overflowing so that the first thing they have to do is start with a process of eliminating.”

As a starting point for eliminating, Ms. Buell advises to “go through each day and notice or keep a list of anything that is ‘draining’ your energy.” Whether it’s the clutter on your desk or your overcrowded schedule that doesn’t allow for exercise, Ms. Buell believes that clearing the clutter can help you achieve a healthier life balance. The goal is simple: clear out what you don’t want to make room for what you do want. For some, clearing the clutter might even make stressful jobs more tolerable. For others, their job IS the clutter.

More Hard Questions: Who Are You and What Do You Want?
Steve Kaye, PhD, professional speaker, consultant, and founder and owner of One Great Meeting agrees that cutting out the negative can lead to healthier life balance. Dr. Kaye is good example of balance: he seems to be happy and enjoying life. Can you enjoy a life that is seriously off balance? Dr. Kaye doesn’t believe so.

To accomplish balance, Dr. Kaye recommends taking responsibility for your own life. He argues that if you don’t know what you want and what your purpose is, others will decide for you. To avoid this, Dr. Kaye recommends sitting down with paper and pencil to answer these questions:

Once you answer these questions, you can move on to make positive choices in your life, including positive career choices.

Good Career Choices Matter
Can you be truly happy if you’re working at a job that makes you miserable? Mike Heuring, Director of Career Services at the University of Montana, Missoula, thinks not. The reason? We spend a lot of time at work, often spending more waking hours at work than at home. For this purpose, when advising students, Mr. Heuring suggests: “figure out what you want to do based on your skills, abilities, values and interests, then find a major that will train you to be employable in your chosen position.”

Even if you’re already well into years in a job, it’s not too late to start a new career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people, on average, change careers more than three times in their working life. And there’s no rule saying you can’t change careers more often. Life is short. Do what makes you happy.

Ms. Buell worked for seventeen years in the corporate world before becoming a professional life coach. Her desire for better life balance eventually led her in another direction. For Ms. Buell, the best way to achieve balance was in finding a career that helped others find their balance.

Your Turn: Find Your Balance
Finding balance takes work. If it seems like too much work make a change, remember that time is limited. Dr. Kaye has a vivid memory of a relative, before dying, muttering to him: “It could have been so different.” Dr. Kaye finds this tragic, and in his work, he sees many people heading for this. “They live on autopilot, just letting things happen. They have no goals, make no plans, and get no results. All they have are a lot of unfulfilled dreams.”

So in the end, it can be tragic to remain in imbalance. In “Simplify Your Life: 7 Simple Strategies for doing what you love to do,” Ms. Buell maps out how to avoid this:

Define a simpler more satisfying life:

It’s Not a Sprint! Accomplish Balance Endurance
Finding balance does not happen overnight. Remember, it takes work. “The key is that this is not a ‘project,’ something that you do quickly and it is done,” says Ms. Buell. “Creating a Healthy Life Balance is a ‘process,’ something that will evolve over time.”

Publish date: June 20, 2008