Pursuing Life Balance Using Deliberate Imbalance

Redefining the Holy Grail of work-life balance and embracing the sway

image of person balancing on one leg standing on a rock against a beautiful orange and red sunset

We search for the Holy Grail of work-life balance, but do we understand what that means?

Is it an equal split of our time and attention between work, family, and other areas of life? Is it a destination that makes everything better when we reach it?

This model is easy to understand, but it’s not accurate.

When we think of balance, most of us think of a static state where everything is equal with no movement or sway. 

I spent the first part of my career as a physical therapist helping patients regain physical balance. To me, balance is a dynamic state with a constant give and take between forces to maintain a position.

Let’s look at an example.

When you balance on one leg, you appear to be motionless as you maintain that “static” position. The reality is that the muscles in your body are constantly contracting and relaxing as your body mass shifts to maintain this apparent state of stillness.

The muscle contractions are controlled by a neuromuscular feedback loop. As your body shifts within your base of support, nerve impulses fire the appropriate muscles to keep your center of gravity within the base of support.

I believe the same is true in life. Our actions and attention ebb and flow between the areas of life as we try to achieve a balanced state.

What Is Life Balance?

A balanced life is similar to the single-leg standing example above. You appear to be standing still in a static balanced position, but there are many small movements happening. As you try to achieve balance, muscles fire causing your body to sway back and forth over your center of gravity.

Balance is achieved when the movements become small enough that it’s difficult to see them. It’s a dynamic state that requires frequent small adjustments. The feedback system is a critical part of achieving balance.

If you’re trying to find balance in your life, you should identify the main areas like health, finances, relationships, and any other area you want to monitor. You’ll need to pay attention to each of these areas to assess what’s happening. 

Sometimes you might spend more time on work, while at other times you need to spend more time on your relationships or your health. The wheel of life model can help you monitor these areas, but deliberate imbalance will allow you to make changes.

Read: Using a Wheel of Life to Guide Personal Growth

Deliberate Imbalance

Once you’ve identified target areas in your life, you can make changes in these areas by using the concept of deliberate imbalance to influence your outcomes. Going back to the example of standing on one leg, you can make yourself fall by deliberately shifting your body weight in any direction as long as the movement is outside of your base of support.

By adding effort (shifting your weight), you change the outcome of the situation. Instead of remaining in the single-leg stance, your body falls to the ground or you take an step to avoid falling. 

You can use this concept to your advantage if you know where to focus the shift of effort. This is called deliberate imbalance.

The key to using deliberate imbalance is knowing where to apply your efforts. You can identify trouble areas using the areas of life. Once you’ve decided which area needs attention, you should review where you’re currently spending your time and energy.

Review everything on your calendar and categorize the events into the areas of life that you identified for your wheel of life. If you use Google Calendar, you can use color-coded tags for each area so they’re easy to see. Do the same with your to-do list or task management app. Many of these apps also allow you to use color-coded tags. Be consistent with the colors for each area in your wheel of life and across your apps.

Next, make a list of all of your current commitments and any associated activities. Categorize them in each of the areas of life as well. If you use Word or Google apps to create your list, you can highlight the text to match the colors used in your calendar and task management apps. If you’re making your list with pen and paper, use highlighters to mark each entry by area of life.

I know this seems like a lot of work upfront, but it will help you assess whether your current actions and commitments are aligned with the areas of life that need more attention. Once you’ve completed these steps, you should be able to see the areas of life for all of your calendar events, tasks, projects, and commitments. How do they match up with your wheel of life? Are you spending time and effort in the areas that need work?

If you find that your current actions and attention aren’t aligned with the areas that need work, use deliberate imbalance to shift the focus to those areas. As you make changes, you can monitor your success by updating your wheel of life. This is your feedback system. It will guide your efforts and help you achieve a truly “balanced” life.