We hear a great deal about balance in life as one path to well-being. After spending many years seeking this ever-elusive balance, assuring myself repeatedly that I would get caught up tomorrow (for sure!), I’ve come to recognize that it’s actually unattainable.
Why is balance unattainable?
First of all, the idea of balance suggests that two things are of equal or near equal weight. Yet who among us has just two things to balance in our hectic, often overscheduled days? Who has the luxury—and leisure—of playing just two roles?
In my interviews of over 100 women for my book, The Gift of Presence: A Mindfulness Guide for Women, when I asked what roles they were playing, without counting family or work responsibilities, I received a panoply of responses which included: confidante, go-to person, support system, caregiver for many, cohesiveness captain, keeper of the household, and “anything that nobody else is filling.” Sound familiar? I’m sure you can add a role or two of your own. And here is the key point: Managing our lives is less about balancing and more about juggling or integrating the multiple roles we play during our days.
Integration is where distinct aspects of a system—like the many roles we play—are able to maintain their unique qualities while being linked into a functional whole—like our lives. When integration happens, harmony follows. So it’s not about balancing just two components or roles of our lives—it’s about making space for and allowing the different aspects of our lives and connecting them in a way that makes our days or weeks as flexible, energized, and cohesive as possible. In addition, integration of our many roles is possible if we consider not just one day, but a wider time frame, as in a few days, weeks or even months. This is what I call Pacing in my book.
Pacing is one of the 3 Ps in the strategy I developed to show how mindfulness can create well-being in our everyday lives. Pacing refers to the importance of looking at our lives through a wider lens. For example, if you’re a working mom, a week when you are out of town on business, would not be the time to use only a one-week time frame for determining whether or not you’re able to integrate your various roles. Why not widen your lens to two weeks, or even a month instead? Pacing ourselves means seeing the bigger picture of our lives across time—to see more broadly and more deeply into what is needed for our well-being.
Pacing also reminds us to slow down, take our time, and remember that we set our own pace. Forget about the idea of “doing it all, all at once.” Even if we stayed up all night, every night, we couldn’t do everything, read everything, and respond to everything.
This is when it’s important to utilize what I call “selective neglect.” Decide what you can let go of, and do let it go. Wisdom lies not in doing it all, but in knowing what not to do. That’s the power of Pacing in our lives and what integration can create over time. It’s a life that we can all learn to lead.