One of the outcomes of the global pandemic is a rapidly shifting notion of what we value as humans.
After many months of having our lives and work routines upended, lots of us have been participating in a giant experiment about what we want.
Some have quit jobs they did not find satisfying enough as they came to value other things when they were away from the office. Some value the ability to work remotely and have learned to enjoy the benefits of being able to work flexibly so their work fits into life rather than trying to fit life into work. Others are deciding that they want to live closer to extended family and have relocated.
As an executive coach to senior leaders, one of the most common coaching goals I hear from clients is, “I want more work-life balance.”
Implicit in this goal is the idea of wanting to work less, when in fact it is more complex than that. I believe we are in a moment that is affording us the chance to meaningfully create a new relationship to how we live and work.
Is it really about work, or is there more to unpack?
I believe it’s about seeing something beyond the number of hours we work versus how much we are away from our work. When we think of needing a balance between work and life, we imagine that balance is somehow outside of us. Rather than seeing balance as something external to us, we can instead shift to seeing it as an intrinsic birthright and do the inner work of learning to access and experience it every single day.
When we are centered within ourselves, we experience work-life integration naturally. When we are fully present—having an embodied experience in the moment—our lives will feel balanced.
Now the question becomes, how do I do this?
When we redefine what work-life balance means to each of us, it’s helpful to envision what it looks like:
Would you be able to identify it if you had it?
What will it feel like?
What will you be saying about your life when you felt it?
Is it spending more time with family and friends?
Is it having an effective self-care practice?
Is it not having to routinely work at night or on weekends?
For each of us, the definition will be different. First, it’s important to spend some time reflecting on our core values. When I am centered and balanced internally, I am able to align with my core values most of the time. The actions I take are usually in alignment with my values.
>> How well am I spending my time in alignment with what I say matters most to me?
>> How many of my activities reflect my values?
For example, if contributing to others is a core value and your job is not fulfilling that need, then you will likely not feel balanced. This often has more to do with being out of alignment with what matters to you more than the number of hours you are working. It is possible that even though we may work a lot, we have a perception of balance because we are wanting to be of value and contribute to helping others.
Secondly, it is important to understand the impact of our mood and emotions on how balanced we feel. Moods and emotions are not a still life on canvas that are immutable and static. They are more like landscapes in motion, in which there is both ebb and flow. Many underestimate the degree to which we are motivated and influenced by our moods and emotions. When our lives feel out of balance, we tend to see everything through a lens of dissatisfaction.
It’s important that we become aware of how our moods can prevent us from feeling open, curious, and playful.
When we are aware of our moods and emotions, we can take notice of what we are experiencing as sensations in our bodies. The body offers a clear compass as to what our true emotions and moods are. Practice taking on a mood or emotion that is different from the one you inhabit when you feel as if you don’t have work-life integration. If you are in a mood or emotional state of chronic overwork or overwhelm, how can you shift that mood or emotion?
There are many ways to shift mood and emotions.
Physical movement is a terrific way to break the cycle of mood stagnation. When we get up and move, we change the fixed, static experience our brain/body is having. Breathing is another way to quickly adjust emotional states. Learn to regulate your breath by slow, diaphragmatic belly inhalations and long exhalations.
Once we are in a mood that allows us to generate a different action, we can now act. We have a choice as to how we manage capacity. Bob Dunham, founder and CEO of the Institute for Generative Leadership, believes that learning how to manage fixed capacity is one of the most powerful moves we have.
We can choose to decline, revoke, defer, transfer responsibility, delegate, counter-offer, renegotiate, or clarify priorities. Imagine all those choices being available to you at any moment.
Next, we can consider how to access increased capacity in order to have more time for things we care about deeply. This starts with increasing our ability to have productive conversations.
>> Are you able to make requests from others?
>> How about mentoring others to develop their competencies?
>> Can you facilitate an improvement in practice or process that creates efficiencies?
>> Can you hire more talent?
In my own life, I have employed every single one of these, although not all at once. I’ve felt that whenever things felt out of balance, it was often because I had taken on too much and not made effective requests of others. This often leads to a feeling of overwhelm. I return to my practices of centering, yoga, and conscious breathwork. Finally, I learned that by enrolling others in my circle more and more, I am to receive more support and capacity.
Here are five ways to address the pervasive feeling that our work-life integration is out of whack:
1. Become clear as to what your top five core values are.
2. Envision what work/life integration is for you. How will you know you have it? What does it feel like? Do you perhaps have it right now already?
3. Reflect upon the moods and emotions you have around work-life integration. If necessary, consciously shift your mood and emotions to expand your capacity to see new possibilities through physical movement, breath practices, or other means.
4. Manage or access increased capacity—involve others
5. Create empowering conversations to move toward your desired work-life integration
In summary, I believe with the right approach to a work-life balance, it’s not a far-away destination that’s unreachable to us.
The answers are already within us, asking only that we slow down and inquire differently than we have before.
We must ask ourselves the questions that reveal what is already present, but only if we dare to look that deep.