We’re barely into the new year and I already feel like I’m slipping completely out of balance. My house is a mess. The studio is a disaster. I haven’t exercised in over a week. I haven’t even been in my backyard for days and we’ve had very high winds, so I can expect that it’s a project to add to my list. And now my mind is starting to notice my failings and I’m struggling with self-judgment.
I’m even more frustrated that I knew this was going to happen because this time of year is crushing for me. A convergence of deadlines and annual activities always hits in January and every year, I vow that I will do something different so as to avoid this annual crunch. But there’s really not anything I can do because all of the deadlines are out of my control. On top of the regular avalanche of work, our migration to the new website, email accounts and shared online workspace has not been going smoothly, so everything feels much harder to do. A certain mega corporation seems to make it as hard as possible to switch accounts within their own platform for some reason.
So lots of things are out of my control, but what I can control is my mind, when I remember to do the inner work. I’ve been hunkered down for over a week, laser focused on finishing everything that has to be done each day, knowing there’s another round of tasks that are due the next. And that laser-focus prevents me from paying attention to my mind and body. It’s my ability to block out everything else in order to achieve a goal that is actually throwing me out of balance.
I’ve talked about the importance of monotasking in mindfulness, so it might seem like being laser-focused on something is very mindful, but it’s not. Mindfulness is about being in the present moment, aware of everything that is happening, internally and externally. As I’m ignoring the aches that are cropping up from sitting all day, I’m being mindless to my body’s needs. Cognitively, I’m fully aware that this is just stupid, yet I am driven to keep doing it in order to finish something just under each deadline. That’s my choice of course, but it’s very short-sighted.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. We get side-tracked by believing if we just push through, we’ll finish whatever it is and then we’ll catch up on exercise, eating healthy and getting enough sleep. But that doesn’t work. If we don’t take care of ourselves regularly, the damage builds up. Our bodies suffer, our laser-focus eventually diminishes and we end up slowing ourselves down and risking illness.
It’s very common to slide into imbalance. It’s like putting the frog in a slowly warming pot. But we don’t have to wait until it’s too late to get out of that pot. It’s simply a matter of awareness. I had my wake up moment a couple of days ago when I emerged from the studio around lunchtime to get something to eat. I realized I hadn’t showered and hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet. Disgust aside, that was a stark reminder that although I’d already worked over six hours, I had completely ignored my self-care, right down to grooming.
Instead of judging myself for my little slide, I chose to reset. I reminded myself to be compassionate with myself for having to be under this type of pressure and to start easing back a little bit. I still have a couple of weeks of this level of work to get through, but I can remember that pausing periodically to stretch or breathe will actually help me make it to the finish line. I can remember to brush my teeth for goodness’ sake!
My normal practice is to take multiple breaks throughout each day to briefly rest and refresh, so why abandon this practice when I need it the most? Based on conversations with my clients, it seems to be human nature. When we’re overwhelmed and feeling pressured, we start reacting to the situation by identifying what can be cut or eliminated until we finish the job. I was talking to a leader the other day who has massive change occurring in her organization and is feeling extremely stressed. When I asked if she was meditating every day, she said she had stopped because she was too busy right now. But these circumstances are exactly when we need to maintain our mindfulness practices, not throw them aside. At least I know I’m not alone, but we need to do better for ourselves.
I recently interviewed author Keith Fiveson and we talked about finding balance in an unbalanced world. We discussed how we don’t have to make major changes to get more into balance because simple small actions can make a big difference. Keep in mind that when I say balance, I’m not talking about every area of our lives being in perfect balance because that’s just not possible. But I’m referring to ensuring that even though one domain may be dominating our time and attention, the rest can’t just be ignored. I think it’s important to note that most of us, regardless of our mindfulness practice, are not immune to sliding out of balance, but especially in our uncertain world these days, it’s critical that we self-correct when we realize that we have.
If your year is off to a hectic bang, take just a few minutes to think about how you want to feel each day. I started with assessing my workload and realizing that I wasn’t finding enjoyment in my tasks because I’ve been too focused on the deadlines and that’s not how I want to feel. I’ll continue to monotask because it’s more effective, but starting today, my breathing pauses come back into the schedule. So does a walk, even if it’s not a long one.
The messiness around me is bothering me, so perhaps I’ll take little clean-up breaks as well. Again, I believe like most people, I look at something that needs to be done and see it as a big job which just adds to my overwhelm. But I could look at it differently. I could start with something as simple as straightening my desk. When I go to the kitchen to get water, I could wipe down the counter, or sweep the kitchen floor, both of which wouldn’t take even 5 minutes. I can take a breathing break in the backyard and pick up wind-blown debris on my way back into my office. I know that just these small steps will make me feel more in control, restoring my sense of balance.
Paying attention to my thoughts and reframing them is also key to restoring balance. I am blessed to have so much work and I have the ability to enjoy each task if I choose to. I’m grateful that I have a home to clean. I’m so fortunate that I’m returning to good health after a rather rough year and so of course want to take the time to support my body’s recovery. I basically need to snap out of it and return to a better blend of living and working. Right now, work is going to get most of my attention because I have to meet my obligations but that doesn’t mean I need to set aside my own health and well-being.
It's normal to slide into mindlessness sometimes, but noticing that you have is mindful and remembering that temporary pressures and deadlines are pretty insignificant in the bigger picture. Twenty years from now, I’m not going to look back and think, thank goodness I got that report in on time in 2022. Right? We have to just forgive ourselves for the crazy way our minds work sometimes.
If you’re feeling out of balance, remember that you deserve to feel good and enjoy all aspects of life. Start by doing one small thing that makes you feel better. As next week’s guest will talk about, basic self-care is key to getting back in balance, from conscious breathing to sleeping to eating well. We can all do that without sacrificing a substantial amount of time or energy. And that will support us in meeting our goals and objectives, especially when under pressure.
Be kind to yourself. Focus on loving everything about you. Remember that we’re human and not perfect. When we accept that, we feel better, we have more to give others and we enjoy life more. How we live life is a choice and when we make a poor choice, we can always choose to mindfully adjust in order to get back into better balance and good health.
Don’t miss our upcoming Minding Your Mind lunchtime webinar series. You can register on our home page. And join us next week for an interview with Keith Fiveson when we’ll discuss his new book, The Mindfulness Experience, 8 Strategies to Live Life Now.