What comes up for you when you think about balance? For most working women, work-life balance is top of mind. It’s the idea that one area of life (usually work) is throwing the other areas of life (usually family) out of balance.
In the last few decades more employers see the idea of offering to meet their employees need for more work-life balance as a win/win situation. They believe that if they create an environment that their employees are happy working in, they will stay longer and be more productive.
It sounds like a no-brainer from the employee’s and employer’s point of view. Achieving balance seems simple – the employee negotiates spending X amount of hours at work and Y amount of hours at home and wah-lah! They are happy, fulfilled and living their best life.
If only it were that simple! I’ve worked with women who changed their work situation by getting a different job which would allow them more flexibility yet they still didn’t feel the balance they were seeking. I’ve also worked with women who work 60+ hours a week, only see their children on the weekends and have no issue with work-life balance.
So why is there a disparity? If it’s not about the number of hours you spend in each area of your life then what is it that creates balance? What’s the “magic formula”?
This week I’m going to discuss what you really want when seeking balance, what balance looks like and the best way to achieve it.
What you are really seeking
Seeking work-life balance can feel like a game of chess. If you move this piece here and that piece there, the result should be a balanced life.
In this age of technology there are so many more options for flexibility and telecommuting, especially in the field of accounting. If your current employer doesn’t offer you what you want, there are many other possibilities available which adds even more temptation to move the chess pieces around the board.
The most important thing to know when you are seeking balance is that what you really want is the FEELING of balance, not X number of hours at work and Y number of hours at home. Where you work and how much time you work is not the reason that you feel imbalanced.
The reason you want the new job, the new flexible schedule or whatever you believe will give you work-life balance is because you believe you will feel better in the having of it. You may believe that if you change your job you’ll be happier or if you work closer to home you’ll be less stressed.
Feeling imbalanced does not come from your situation. You can work 80 hours a week and feel balanced or work 20 hours a week and feel completely stressed and overwhelmed.
Believe me I get your confusion about what creates work-life balance. I used to think that my schedule needed to be “just so” in order for me to feel balanced but then something changed a number of years ago just before tax season started.
I have been a CPA in public accounting for over 30 years so I’ve had 30+ years of tax seasons. Each year I would dread the imbalance I felt knowing all the extra hours that were ahead of me from mid-January to mid-April. But one year, it all changed.
The extra hours, extra work and extra pressure didn’t throw me off balance. I actually felt less stress and had more fun than I had ever had in my career.
What was the difference? I learned what balance looked like no matter what situation I was in.
What does balance look like?
I want to be clear that having a schedule that works for you in your career development, works for you financially and works for your family is wonderful. There’s nothing wrong with having more time to spend on things other than work.
What’s important to understand is that when you aren’t feeling balance in your life it’s because you are feeling more negative emotion than positive. It’s like the emotional scale is tipped in the direction of feeling overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated more often than in the direction of happy, content and motivated.
You may already feel the scales leaning towards more negative than positive emotion and want to make a “course correction”. This is when it seems like alarm bells go off, you want to feel better and you believe that changing things around you will tip the scale in the other direction.
Maybe you believe that by changing your work situation or taking different actions like making time for yoga classes, that these changes will make you feel better. However, more times than not that better feeling doesn’t last and you are back in the cycle of feeling negative emotion and wanting relief.
This all too familiar space makes you want to resist, react or avoid the negative emotions you are feeling and believe that the pieces on the chess board need to be moved around again.
As an accountant you naturally understand what a Balance Sheet comprises:
Assets = Liabilities + Capital
What I learned that year that everything changed for me is what a balanced life really looks like:
Positive Emotion = Negative Emotion + Willingness to Feel Negative Emotion
Being out of balance means you feel negative emotion greater than 50% of the time. It doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong, it just means that you aren’t supervising your mind.
Since the feeling of balance is never created by your circumstances, then the more willing you are to feel negative emotions the more you balance the equation. By understanding that it’s ok for life to be 50/50, that just by acknowledging that “this is the part of the day that seems stressful” you actually create the balance you are seeking.
In my situation, I had been working a flexible, part-time schedule for years so I had the X and Y part of the equation in place yet I still felt imbalanced. I discovered that when I was resisting the feeling of frustration, overwhelm or any other negative emotion, it actually kept me stuck in that negative emotion.
When you learn how to stop feeling bad for feeling bad, you actually feel better. Once I was willing to feel frustrated with tax season instead of resisting it, I actually began to feel better about tax season.
Since your negative-biased primitive brain is in control much more than you realize, it creates a lot more negative emotion than is necessary which is why you often feel out of balance. The only thing that has thrown off the scale is that your brain has been unsupervised.
When you learn how to supervise your brain you give your negative emotions space so they can fade away. By acknowledging what you are feeling and the thoughts producing those feelings, you don’t get stuck in the negative loop of resistance and imbalance. Achieving balance is not as difficult as you may believe.
How to achieve balance
So far I’ve discussed that what you are really seeking when you want balance in your life is the feeling of balance, not a perfect formula of X hours at work and Y hours elsewhere; you are really looking for emotional balance. The equation for emotional balance is positive emotions on one side of the scale and the willingness to feel negative emotion on the other side.
In order to achieve emotional balance you have to learn how to feel any emotion without resisting, reacting or avoiding. You may believe that feeling your negative feelings is not helpful but I assure you, it’s what you want to get good at in order to achieve balance.
Did you know that it only takes 90 seconds for an emotion to be processed by your body? According to Harvard-trained brain specialist, Jill Bolte Taylor, when a person has an emotion there is a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that 90 seconds, any remaining emotional response is just you choosing to stay in that emotional loop.
She explains that it only takes 90 seconds for the chemicals in your body that are released when you feel an emotion to be flushed out of the body. This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening and then you can watch it go away.
If you are still feeling the negative emotion, you need to look at the thoughts that are re-creating that feeling. Resisting, judging or reacting are the actions often taken within the first 90 second window that keeps you in a loop of thinking, feeling, judging and resisting over and over again.
When you believe you shouldn’t be experiencing negative emotion you are judging yourself and your circumstances. The way to achieve balance is to accept that life is supposed to be 50/50, allow the negative 50% to pass through you without judgment and manage your mind to not believe something has gone wrong.
Let’s face it, without the contrast of emotions life would be flat. By being willing to feel heartbreak when you lose someone, you also open yourself to feel love; if you are willing to feel hurt for your son when he doesn’t get picked for the basketball team you also open yourself to feel excitement when he makes the debate team.
What usually happens when you are aware you are feeling a negative emotion is you have some judgement or argument with yourself that something or someone shouldn’t be the way they are. In order to achieve balance, practice thinking “I am frustrated right now and that’s ok” or “I am willing to feel stressed because that’s what’s true for me in this moment”.
When you accept that negative emotion is just part of the deal, you’ll find the scales tipping more on the positive side because there’s no emotion that you aren’t willing to feel. There’s nothing that’s gone wrong and no chess piece that needs to be moved in order to feel better.
When working with clients I suggest that they imagine a closet full of emotions, some positive and some negative but all are in their size. By overriding the primitive brain and choosing how you want to feel on purpose you learn how to balance the scale.
Let’s say that today you heard about a relative’s illness and you want to choose sadness; you can choose it for much longer than 90 seconds but with the power of managing your mind, you can also choose when to replace the feeling of sadness with the feeling of gratitude.
When you make a negative emotion mean something negative about you, this just adds to the imbalance of the equation. From this place of judgment, you may believe the answer is to take action like getting a new job, buffering with food or shopping or to resist by shutting down emotionally.
The issue is that there may be many options for changing your current work situation or adding more family time to your schedule, but unless you manage your mind, you will bring the same patterns of thoughts with you. When you are willing to allow all the feelings instead of resisting, reacting or avoiding, that’s when you have achieved balance.
By all means create any schedule and move any piece you want on the chess board of your life but make sure you like your reasons because people, places and things do not create how you feel. By learning the skill of managing your mind you become the boss of your emotions and that boss lady knows how to live her best, balanced life.
- The most important thing to know when you are seeking balance is that what you really want is the FEELING of balance, not X number of hours at work and Y number of hours at home.
- What’s important to understand is that when you aren’t feeling balance in your life it’s because you are feeling more negative emotion than positive.
- When you learn how to stop feeling bad for feeling bad, you actually feel better.
- When you accept that negative emotion is just part of the deal, you’ll find the scales tipping more on the positive side because there’s no emotion that you aren’t willing to feel.
If you’d like some help with achieving balance, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.