I recently had the privilege of leading a mindfulness talk, titled Mindfulness for Life-Work Balancing, to a group of leaders from a Houston-based education collaborative. These leaders were mainly coordinators and managers from various educational service centers and schools.
Within minutes of meeting the group it was evident that each leader was dealing with an exponentially full plate — managing their team, managing their time, managing their family’s expectations, and attempting to gather a semblance of rest and peace of mind along the way.
I’ll propose the same message to you that I offered to them: “Work-Life Balance” is a myth that is linguistically flawed. But, before exploring why I believe this, it’s important to acknowledge something.
It’s key to acknowledge that any mindfulness-based approach cannot be expected to function on top of an already-existing paradigm that doesn’t honor the innate design of the body and the mind.
Let me explain briefly. If we ever wish to cultivate rest and peace of mind, it’s imperative that we listen to, and intentionally honor, our primal “rest & digest” mechanism. And, in a culture primed for sensory-stimuli addiction, this can seem nearly impossible.
Mindful Tip: Two ways of honoring the “rest & digest” process are to (a) taking deep breaths throughout you day (not just during periods of psychological strain), and (b) to alter your language and thought patterns.
We’re attached to power and we’re addicted to control. We need power chargers for smartphones that leave us distracted. We consume Instagram to fulfill our need for instant gratification. We strive for “followers” and “likes” to feel a sense of accomplishment and recognition.
I’m the first to admit that I’m addicted to my Iphone, to Instagram, to checking my email, and I regularly read or scroll through my phone while eating. It’s absurd, however, to expect my mindfulness practice to flourish with these habits in place, yet this is how some companies expect mindfulness strategies and tools to work for their overstressed, over-worked colleagues.
Mindful Tip: Know yourself and know how/when you work at your best! Rather demonizing technology, your bosses, or your working environment, put structures in place that empower you to be more mindful while engaging. Example: Schedule specific time for your email and Instagram so you’re not apt to mindlessly engage throughout your day.
So, with a common agreement not to use mindfulness simply to tolerate unnecessary levels of stress, or toxic work environments my initial proposal has firmer ground to stand on:
We’re getting the language of “work-life balance” confused, such that our starting point for mindfulness is less effective.
Mindfulness for Life-Work Balancing helps us to mentally reset our focus with people — our family, friends and loved ones — at the forefront of our actions. By adopting the mindset that static balance is unachievable, we get to embrace the notion that we’re all players in a constant balancing act.
Choosing this life-work balancing approach also does a few other things. It lets you off of the hook for having to be “good” at self-care or mindfulness. Being “good” at mindfulness can often welcome self-judgement and shame when we don’t fulfill on our commitments.
Choosing to focus on life-work balancing also gets you in action around the things that matter most in your life. For example, if you really say that life, family and friends come first, any conflict or non-workability would absolutely require that you get in communication and express your commitment to your partner, child, friend, etc.
Here’s one final nudge for opting in to a Life-Work Balancing mindset, rather than a Work-Life Balance mindset. Saying, “I’m terrible at work-life balance,” is akin to a person walking saying, “I’m terrible at walking.” Either you’re walking or your not. The irony of the former statement is that the moment you say, “I’m terrible at mindfulness,” is the moment you’re actually being mindful in the matter.