Productivity

Maintain Balance by Checking In

Photo by Jonathan Pendleton under Unsplash license

I believe that balance is the key to doing anything well. A successful task, job, career; a happy pet, spouse, child; a healthy mind, body, soul. To achieve these things, our lives and the components that make up our lives and our selfs [sic] must be balanced.

But there’s a human problem that comes along with balance – that it can be difficult to detect a gradual shift in balance.

You know the story of the boiling frog, don’t you? It is said that if you put a frog into boiling water (Don’t this at home, folks!), the frog would jump out. But if you put a frog in tepid water and slowly bring it to a boil (please don’t try this, either) the frog will remain in the pool and allow itself to be cooked alive.

While we know this to be generally false today (the frog will eventually jump out of the water), when it comes to humans and balance, we act like the boiling frog – we often wait until the water is too hot to make a change.

If one side of your house or apartment sunk a foot into the ground overnight, you’d notice, right? Your world inside the structure would feel physically out of balance. Every room would feel like a hill. But if that same change occurred at a rate of one centimeter per year (taking just over 30 years to reach one foot), it would take a long time before you noticed.

It’s simple enough to demonstrate this behavior with physical balance – when you can physically see and measure that something is not balanced – but what about when balance is just about leveling the parts of your life?

Consider a job in which you are salaried to work 40 hours each week. You feel like there is plenty of time outside of work to relax and hang out with friends and family, or travel, or work on that side project or hobby. Then one week a deadline comes up and you put in a few extra hours. No big deal. Until the next week, when you feel like you have to put in a couple extra hours to prep for that presentation. And then you add another thing and another thing. And bit by bit your workload increases. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to change your schedule one hour at a time, so you don’t notice. And then one day working 60 hours each week becomes the norm, and you’ll wonder how it ever got to that point.

Spoiler alert! It got to that point a little bit at a time.

It can happen with anything in life. Suppose one day you forget to kiss your significant other goodbye as you walk out the door – your hands were full or you were in a hurry, or … something. Quickly the one-time excuse can become a habit. And then it leads to other behaviors. Maybe you stop saying, “Good morning,” because you wake up at different times from one another. Eventually the relationship just seems to fizzle out. That doesn’t happen overnight. Most relationships don’t end because we suddenly decide we don’t like the other person or feel disconnected to them. Most of the time it’s little changes that happen over a long period of time, until one day you wake up and realize you aren’t close to the other person any more.

This slow shift in balance is a sad reality of human nature.

But it’s something we can fix simply by being more mindful of what we’re doing and by noticing subtle changes as they take occur in our lives.

One way to accomplish mindfulness it by regularly checking in with ourselves. This is a common practice during meditation. After slowing the breath and closing the eyes, checking with how we are feeling is a great way to enter a meditative state of mind.

But you don’t have to meditate to check in. All you have to do is take some quiet time for self-reflection. (I like to do it on my commute to work.) When checking in, ask yourself questions like:

  • What has changed since I last checked in?
  • Are these changes positive or negative?
  • What do I have to do to maintain the positive changes and remove the negative ones?
  • Do I feel balanced in everything I do?
  • What do I have to change to get back in balance?

You can handle these check-ins however it fits into your life, but it’s important to make the check-ins regular, focused, and meaningful.

I practice three types of check-ins:

  1. I check in daily (or sometimes weekly) to see how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling off I attempt to find the cause and make minor adjustments until I feel better.
  2. About once every month or two I look at what I’ve done since the last monthly check-in and confirm that what I’m doing is in direct support of my goals. If not, I either make a path to change or adjust my goals.
  3. I try to get away for at least one night every year to focus on the bigger picture. I have a cabin I like to go to that is secluded. I lock myself in for a day or two and spend time reflecting on what I’ve done since the last visit, while also crafting goals for the year to come.

Regular check-ins provide a way to ensure our lives remain in balance. When we check in, we should be looking not just at what we’re doing at work or in school, but in every aspect of life – our personal relationships, our living situation, the things we own, the city in which we call home. Does everything feel right? Does it all feel balanced?

And if not, what are you going to do to change it?

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