Health is a large word. It embraces not the body only, but the mind and spirit as well; . . . and not today's pain or pleasure alone, but the whole being and outlook of a man.
~ James H. West
Is your life balanced? I happen to be someone who consciously or unconsciously asks this question almost constantly. I'm hardwired to do it. It can be both a blessing and a curse.
Continual analysis can sometimes lead to a lack of decision-making and action. Constant action without deliberation can lead to disarray and imbalance. I suffer from the former malady, and Mr. Cents tends toward the latter. Together, we balance each other out.
I've written about Your Balance Sheet and Net Worth and Evaluating Your Balance Sheet before, but those articles only addressed the financial part of your life. Balance Junkie is all about striking a balance within and among all of the major components of your life.
I view my life in terms of one very large balance sheet. In strict accounting terminology, my characterization of a life balance sheet is probably incorrect. A balance sheet usually implies 2 main variables: assets and liabilities. I'm not an accountant, so I'm going to give myself a pass on that. I hope you will too. 😉
The life balance sheet that I envision is more like a web of interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent variables over which we can exercise some degree of control. So I guess it's not so much a balance sheet as a network of related balance sheets.
A Balance Sheet for Your Life
I think of all of the different parts of life in terms of fitness and balance. At different times in our lives, we may be more fit in one area than another. For example, we might be financially and psychologically fit, but we may be off balance in our interpersonal and physical fitness. The idea is that if we let one or more of these components or sub-components become too unbalanced for too long, that will eventually have an effect on other components and on our cumulative sense of balance and fitness.
Likewise, if we can improve one quadrant of our life balance sheet, that might lead to insights on how to improve the others. I'll give a brief overview of how I see each of the 4 quadrants here, but a single post won't do them justice. If readers find this helpful, I'll write more about each in the future.
Physical Fitness: Calories In vs. Calories Out
“The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they'll ease
Your will they'll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
~ Nursery Rhyme quoted by Wayne Fields, What the River Knows, 1990
Eat, exercise and rest moderately. Too much or too little of each leads to unhealthy consequences. It really is just that simple. You can try every diet on the planet, but if you don't eat regular, modest meals that include foods from all of the 4 food groups and take in a few less calories than you burn, you'll probably run into trouble.
Financial Fitness: Money In vs. Money Out
“Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine but not health; acquaintance, but not friends; servants, but not loyalty; days of joy, but not peace or happiness.”
~ Henrik Ibsen
I've written before that money and calories have a lot in common. We definitely need to take more money in than we allow to go out if we want to achieve financial fitness. (Take a look at 10 Steps to Fiscal Fitness if you're interested in more detail.) Although achieving a balance between money coming in and money going out is an absolute staple of personal financial success, achieving a balance between the pursuit of money and the purpose of that pursuit is a staple of personal success.
Interpersonal Fitness: Giving vs. Receiving
“Love all, trust a few, and do wrong to no one.”
~ William Shakespeare
Each of our relationships with our spouses, children, extended family, friends, co-workers and business associates requires that we spend some energy on them. Likewise, when those relationships are healthy and balanced, we can draw energy from them that we can use in other parts of our lives. The trick is to try to achieve a balance between the energy you're giving in your relationships and the energy you're receiving from them.
Psychological Fitness: Half Empty vs. Half Full
“It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away. I'm looking for the truth.” And so it goes away. Puzzling.
~ Robert M. Pirsig
Sometimes, to be happy, we just need to get out of our own way. Whether we're focusing too much on the negative, or too busy pursuing happiness to find it, we can sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot and thereby knock ourselves off balance. Occasionally taking some time to evaluate how we're doing psychologically can be really helpful in terms of re-orienting ourselves to achieve our goals and our sense of balance.
Sometimes we just need to adjust the way we look at things in order to achieve better results. Late last year, Gail Vaz-Oxlade wrote a great article called Happy Is as Happy Does. It's amazing how powerful positive thinking can be when we let it. At the same time, we need to balance that with some reality checks as well. Visualizing your goals only gets you so far. Eventually, we do need to act.
Cumulative Fitness Balance: Your Life's Net Worth
The interaction and overall balance that is derived from the 4 quadrants leads to a sense of the aggregate level of balance in our lives. The Cumulative Fitness Balance is sort of like a net worth calculation for your life. If you feel like your life's net worth is negative, then you're off balance and it's time for some change.
It's important to note that balance, like perfection, is not necessarily an endpoint, but rather a journey. We can continually strive to achieve balance, but we must be comfortable with getting close to it, even if we can never truly grasp it. Along with horseshoes and hand grenades, I think close counts when we're talking about balance.
Evaluating Your Balance Sheet
Having answered the “where are you” question by drawing up your balance sheet, it's time to ask yourself the next question: Are you happy with where you are? For some of you, the answer will be a proud yes. For some, it will be a big fat no, and for many more it will be something in between.
If your debt levels are very high, and especially if they are higher than you thought, I'm guessing you are pretty uncomfortable with your position. Maybe you are happy that you have minimal debt, but you're not sure about some of your investments. Again, discomfort means change is needed.
Take a good look at each line item on your balance sheet. Make a note of which items you are comfortable with and which ones you're not. You might want to rate each item on a “comfort scale” of say 1 to 5 stars, smiley faces, or whatever floats your boat. Use any scale or symbol you want, but take a good look at each item and evaluate it as honestly as possible.
Once you've identified your problem areas and resolved to change, you're halfway there. It's like cleaning out your closet, refrigerator, or (insert annoying, time-consuming task here). Getting started is the hard part. Once you actually get going, the work can be self-reinforcing as you happily chuck one moldy container of who knows what after another. Before you know it, your closet, fridge, or balance sheet looks great.
Are you comfortable with your balance sheet or are you ready for some change?