"Making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions." Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness
Everyone I know is busy.
Everyone I know has 24 hours of free time each day.
Those seem like contradictory statements, but they are both true.
“I’m too busy” is a story we tell ourselves. It’s our “out” when we don’t want to do something.
For example, I’m too busy to take up hockey but I’m not too busy to catch the last episode of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
We make time for what’s important to us. We all have 24 hours in the day. How we choose to use them is our choice. I choose to work for 8 (or so) hours of that day, as do many Americans. I also teach yoga in the evenings and blog. My schedule is busy, but it’s by choice. I think that’s an important truth to accept; We choose to be busy.
The more commitments we make, the less wiggle room we have. And often the easiest thing to nix from the to-do list is self-care. We skip our workout and neglect our body’s desire to move. We skip our meditation, bubble bath, walk, etc. and leave our minds filled with stress. Other things are more important.
That last sentence just isn’t true. Personally, I find self-care to be the most important. Because I’m not a good wife, colleague, yoga teacher, writer, friend or human when I haven’t addressed my personal needs first.
Sure, I can get by. But I’ll get by on coffee fumes and anxiety … which I used to do, but I much prefer happiness.
The key realization that helped me find a balance between work and health was that every hour of the day is a choice. Work may feel like an obligation, but it’s not. It’s a choice. Everything we do is a choice. If we’re unhappy with one of those choices, we can make a different one. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
Here are some choices I make that help me find balance between work and health (in mind and in body).
1. Morning Check-in
I used to say I wasn’t a morning person. But really, that was a choice. Now I love waking up early, because that’s my self-care time. I wake up at 5 a.m. most days, and begin each morning by checking in with myself. How’s my body feeling? What’s on my mind? What would best serve me today? Maybe that’s a run and yoga or lifting weights or quite frankly maybe it’s going back to bed on some occasions. Sleeping is self-care, too. In fact, sleeping is the self-care I need to indulge in more often.
2. Move Daily
A big struggle many have is an all-or-nothing mentality. It’s either hit the gym for a two-hour long session or sit on the couch and eat ice cream. Although I do love working out for two hours, that’s not realistic on a daily basis with my schedule. But I commit to moving every day. Sometimes it’s just a few sun salutations in the morning and a short walk during my lunch break. More and more companies are offering wellness incentives and on-site fitness facilities to encourage exercise. This makes sense to me on so many levels. If I ran a company I would want happy, energetic, productive employees. You know what encourages all those things? Movement. Even five minutes of movement can have a big impact on my mood and energy.
3. Plan Lunches
Diets aren’t my thing. However, if I don’t plan my lunches for the work week, I end up making a not-so-good food choice that actually makes me less productive at work — I feel sluggish. I plan my lunches on Sundays and I have some quick and easy go-tos when I’m particularly strapped for time. Recently, I ate PB&Js for three weeks. I know it’s not a super food but it takes little preparation and it’s a healthier choice than takeout. Also — who doesn’t love PB&Js?
4. Make Mindful Choices at Work
Offices are filled with junk food. Donuts, bagels, pizza, candy jars, cookies, birthday cake, Friday beers, etc. I partake in all of these things, but I strive to make mindful choices. Confession: I have caught myself in a chocolate wrapper while working to make a stressful deadline. It happens. I strive to make mindful choices, which is the most I can expect of myself. Before eating a donut, for example, I think: Why do I want this donut? How will this make me feel? Sometimes, I want the donut because it tastes good and I feel good enough that I don’t think it will bring me down. But more times than not, I realize that I don’t really want the donut. Sure, it tastes good for a minute. But maybe I already ate and I’m already tired, so crashing after a sugar high just in time for a meeting isn’t the best choice. It’s a powerful thing. It becomes a wise choice, rather than a restriction. It’s a practice of power; not willpower.
5. Have Self-Compassion
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And if it’s nothing sometimes, that’s OK. I make healthy choices more time than not. But there are days that I sleep in, eat takeout and don’t exercise. Negative thoughts try to fill my head. I might feel inadequate. Coupled with low energy, it’s no bueno. In these cases, I try to practice self-compassion. I ask myself, “What would I tell a friend who was having these thoughts?” It helps put things into perspective and makes me realize how irrational these thoughts are. I’m not less of a person because I didn’t work out. I’m not less of a person for eating donuts or pizza. I’m a human, and I am enough.