This article is written for the participants of the Healthy Charleston Challenge program (a 12 week exercise, nutrition and behavior modification program at the Medical University of South Carolina), but it can apply to everyone. This program and living a healthy lifestyle go beyond nutrition and exercise...it’s about true behavior change...it’s about addressing the mind, our behaviors and our habits. I want to address the topic of BALANCE...achieving personal goals while striking a life balance...what does balance mean to you? Is it even possible? I often promote striving for balance because that’s a key to lifestyle change sustainability, but I think it’s sometimes misconstrued as an excuse to “have your cake and eat it too”. It’s not ordering pizza and going to happy hour 3-4 nights a week and then eating healthy and hitting the gym the other 3-4 nights a week. If health, fitness and wellness are your goals, then that’s not balance...that’s spinning your wheels. Speaking of wheels, that will be an analogy throughout this article and I’ll be referring to a model known as “the wheel of life”. More on that later.
Firstly though, let me start off by saying, I’m not an expert in any of this...I’m not a certified life coach...I’m not perfect at any of this. This is something I have to work at EVERY SINGLE DAY. Being in the fitness industry doesn’t make me superhuman. I’m perfectly imperfect but striving to do my best...progress is what we’re after. Lifestyle change is not an overnight process...it’s a daily process in the constant making that takes constant effort and work. And...you must WANT it.
To achieve any goal, focus is required. Balance? Single minded focus? Is one approach better than the other? Does it have to be one or the other? I think it’s both. Both are necessary, so I think we need to find a balanced approach between balanced living and focused living.
Balanced living comes at a cost and single minded focus living comes at a cost as well. Balance is in the process, but it’s not the goal. Single minded focus is what gets the job done. Single-mindedness can be an important skill. There are times where we need to be able to focus and put certain things on the forefront. For my Healthy Charleston Challenge participants, the 12 weeks of the program are absolutely a time of single minded focus. I believe in taking time for total immersion in order to build habits and restructure behavior. This is not a time to figure out how you can make group workouts jive with your party schedule. Yeah, but what about balance? First, let me be bluntly clear: balance doesn't mean half-paced, half-hearted or half-assed. Personal development speaker, Jim Rohn, said, "All disciplines affect each other. Every new discipline affects all of our other disciplines. Every new discipline that we impose on ourselves will affect the rest of our personal performance in a positive way."
Unfortunately, this also works the other way around. Every lack of discipline (or bad habit essentially) affects the rest of your habits and disciplines and will alter your performance in a negative way.
Balance recognizes that life is a zero-sum game in so many ways, and this is a fact that very few want to face. We want to believe we can have our cake and eat it too. We’ve got to have focus and we’ve got to include boundaries.
Back to the Wheel of Life: The idea of the Wheel of Life is that every key part of our life is important, and when one area is out of harmony or out of balance, it puts a strain on the other areas. Refer to the graphic at the top of this post.
Nutrition, Friends and Family, Emotional Life, Work, Exercise, Medical Care, and Faith Life might all be key components of our life wheel. How do we balance them all?
All of those elements are important. If you ignore one, the whole wheel goes out of balance. If you overemphasize one, the whole wheel goes out of balance. If you touch one part of a wheel, the whole wheel moves, responds, and readjusts. How do we balance it all? Balance can be elusive and difficult to attain, so as I mentioned earlier, there’s another key word we need to address: BOUNDARIES
Creating boundaries are part of balance. Life can throw us curve balls making balance difficult, but setting boundaries puts you in the driver’s seat.
SUCCESS KEY 1: Set DAILY boundaries based on your PRIORITIES. So first, establish your priorities. What are your priorities? What are your obligations? What boundaries can you set for the day based upon those? Example: If making healthy lifestyle changes via exercise and nutrition are a priority, then you will need to set boundaries accordingly. Boundaries may include: the amount of time you’re willing to put into a work day. Example: I will leave work at 5 everyday in order to make time for my exercise class. We are obligated to work/study/attend school, whatever the case may be, so we must fulfill our obligations, but we do so within established boundaries which allows us to remain balanced with our priorities/goals. Career/work are one of the most challenging areas of life balance. Setting boundaries are critical. My mother will sadly serve as an example more than once in this article, but if she were here to speak, then I know she’d echo my words. Leave work at work. The work will still be there tomorrow. Work to live. Do not live to work. We take pride in our work, and we work hard while we’re at work, but there is a point in the day when the work is done whether it’s finished or not. We must set boundaries. My mom worked the job of 3 people at a stressful job for many years. She consistently worked long days and she even worked when she was sick. She literally did not have time to take care of herself. If you do not have time to take care of yourself, rather if you are not creating time...and you’re constantly missing your workout time because of overtime, then you absolutely need to create boundaries NOW. Your health depends upon it.
SUCCESS KEY 2: You must also establish boundaries with PEOPLE. Let people know what you’re up to. Family and friends would probably love to hear your new goals and should be supportive. If they’re not supportive, reconsider your social circle. Boundaries might mean: I can’t meet up for happy hour as often as I used to, but let’s choose a special day each week for a friend date. Since we are focusing on the priority/goal of health/wellness/fitness, social boundaries might also mean activity boundaries: meaning, choosing social activities that do not sabotage your goals but allow you to still spend quality time with friends and family. We’ve all heard the saying, “if you can’t beat ‘em, then join ‘em.” Well, let’s work that to our advantage...invite your friends to join you at your workouts or for a healthy activity. I think creating balance in the FRIENDS/FAMILY category can be extra challenging, especially when your priorities/goals include remodeling your lifestyle to be healthier. It’s almost as if social functions and activities surrounding food or alcohol come out of the wood works as soon as you decide you’re embarking on a fitness/healthy nutrition journey. Remember, it’s okay to say NO, but you don’t have to become a hermit...you just have to set boundaries. Just because someone brings donuts to the office to celebrate a coworker’s birthday does not mean you have to eat them to be polite. Attend, sing happy birthday and skip the donuts. If an out of town friend drops in unexpectedly in the middle of your brand new journey into healthier living, then enjoy their company while honoring your established priorities and boundaries. Example: Honor life balance and the importance of time with friends/family by setting a date night to go to dinner together, but honor your own personal goals by making the healthiest choices you can on the menu and setting boundaries that you will skip dessert and limit yourself to one glass of wine. Again, balance is achieved with boundaries. You did not have to sacrifice time with your family/friends, but you also did not have to sacrifice your goals. Another very important area of setting boundaries in the family/friends category is in care taking. I see this so often with women. Women are care takers by nature and will take care of everyone else at the expense of themselves. This happened to my mother. She was only 47 when she passed away due to a heart attack. She had literally sacrificed making her own health and wellness a priority to be there for everyone else. IMPORTANT STATEMENT—LET THIS SOAK IN: You cannot be there for others if you are not FIRST there for yourself. YOU need to become a priority in your life. This is NOT selfish. Take care of yourself by taking care of your health. Fitness/Nutrition/Wellness need to all become as much of a priority as hygiene...you wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth or showering, right?
SUCCESS KEY 3: You won’t be perfect. Failing sometimes helps us better learn our boundaries and as a result, we can redefine them as needed so we can draw clearer lines in the future. It’s a process...a daily process...a never ending process...a growth process.
So in conclusion, it’s not only about the word balance. It’s a recipe of single minded focus, boundaries, and balance. We must FOCUS on our priorities/goals, we must set BOUNDARIES according to those established priorities/goals and we will achieve more BALANCE in doing so. WE MUST DO THIS DAILY.
Today, take some time to reflect on all of this.
- Write down all of your MAIN PRIORITIES/GOALS. Example as it applies to this article: achieve a healthy body weight and improve my health. Be as specific as you wish: improve my cholesterol levels; get off of blood pressure medication; manage my blood glucose levels with a better diet and exercise.
- Write down the daily actions you must take to achieve them. Example: (specific actions)—attend 6pm group workout 3 days per week and a cardio class 2 days per week. Name the specific days you’ll workout and write them in your schedule like appointments. Food log daily. Meal prep ahead of time.
- Write down the boundaries you must set each day to achieve them. Examples: I will see my daily workouts as important appointments and will leave work at 5pm daily to make my workouts. I will not skip workouts for happy hour and will save social time for my established date night with friends. I will make the best nutrition choices possible while out with family and friends. If I choose to drink, then I will limit alcohol intake to prioritize my health. I will grocery shop for healthy foods on Saturday and meal prep for the week on Sunday.
You get the idea...start a journal, draw out your own life wheel. Establish how satisfied you are in each major spoke of your life wheel. For the areas you’re less satisfied, identify your goals for that area, your needed actions to improve it, and the necessary boundaries to improve that area of your life wheel.
I hope this article got the wheels turning and helps you on your journey to living your healthiest, happiest life.