Perhaps you’ve heard the term “work-life balance” so often that it makes you want to scream — but you don’t have time to do that because as you read this, it’s not even 8 am, you’re late for a deadline, you have a class to teach, your daughter’s soccer coach wants to talk to you later today, you have 24 unread emails, and you forgot (again!) to pack a healthy snack for your daughter to eat before practice.
As hardworking academics know, work and life are not opposite categories, not quantities or substances that can be held in the hand, measured, weighed and balanced equally. They are more like fluids that run together, mix and leak and can make us feel mixed up.
There’s good news, though. Once we realize that balance is fluid, we are on our way to achieving it.
The thing about balance is that each person has to define it for herself. What works for one person may not work for someone else. What helped you at one point in your life may not be helpful now.
This is because we are fluid. We grow and we change and we are not the same from one year to the next.
You are not even the same as you were when you started reading this post.
So in the spirit of fluidity and growth, let me offer some 4-minute practices that may help you feel what balance feels like—right here, right now—for you in your life.
Read through these four 4-minute balance techniques adapted from my book, Earth Joy Writing, to decide which one is best for you right now.
1. Balance with Doing
Perhaps you are feeling something overwhelming, something that you want to respond to by expressing some kind of emotion—crying, screaming, fuming, getting into bed and stewing. If so, tell yourself that for just four minutes you are going to do something.
It could be as simple as sweeping the floor. You could do the dishes or pet your cat. You could take out the trash or straighten the books on a bookcase.
When we tend to respond to stress with overwhelming emotion, an easy way to start to move into balance is by doing.
Let the feelings go. Simply move your body. And see how doing this could move you one small step closer toward resolving the situation that caused your urge for an emotional overflow.
2. Balance with Feeling
Perhaps at work you get upset about something and are tempted to act in a big way in response to it—tell off your chair, fire out an e-mail and cc 100 people, walk out of your job.
And maybe you hold in those impulses during the day but when you get home, you yell about the dirty dishes or rant about the news.
Try this—tell yourself that instead of acting on your overwhelming feelings, you are going to feel them instead. Set a timer for 4 minutes. This doesn’t have to take all day. You can do it right now. Sit and close your eyes and breathe. Set your music to shuffle and listen to one song and let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.
Allow yourself to open—just a tiny bit—toward the pain you are feeling instead of unleashing this pain against the world or yourself. Just a tiny bit.
3. Balance with Thinking
There is a wonderful exercise that many business people do each year to get ready for tax time, and it is called “balancing the books.”
To do it, you record all the expenses for the year, and you balance them by recording all the income. By doing this, you get a clear picture of what the business has lost or gained over the course of the year. Being honest about this is vitally important for the health of the business, and in turn, for the health of our whole economy.
You can balance the books, too—the next time you are in a tight spot, uncertain of your next step, unhappy and stuck, or angry and spinning, sit down with your journal and write about the situation in a way that balances both emotion and event.
If you are drowning in feeling, become an investigative reporter on your own life. Give yourself four minutes to write what happened to trigger these feelings. Simply write down the questions, Who? What? When? Where? Why, and How? And then answer them. Let yourself clear about it. When we get the story out, we can see what action might need to come next.
4. Balance with Being
Perhaps you are an analyzer. You ruminate about a situation over and over, playing out what happened, what might happen, what should have happened, and what could happen in your mind.
If this is true for you, try the opposite and give your mind a rest for four minutes and simply be.
It helps to do this on the page. Set a timer and for four minutes, write, “I am… ” statements. Just fill in the blank with whatever comes to you. No need to rush through it.
Simply acknowledging what is happening, right here, right now, in a spirit of openness, gentleness, and acceptance is the essence of mindfulness. It is also the way to peace.
And isn’t that what work-life balance is all about, anyway?
Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D., is the author of 13 books of scholarship, poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and she works as a writing coach to academic women from around the world. Get your own, free 5-Day Clarity Writing Training at www.cassiepremosteele.com Cassie will also be presenting a TAA Webinar, “3 Essential Steps to Breaking Your Writing Block,” on Thursday, April 21, 12-1 p.m. ET.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Text & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.