My problem with the ubiquitous balance conversation, especially around New Year’s resolution-making time, is that it never really goes anywhere. It’s too simplistic. Most often the premise of the common resolution to be more balanced is that we are all stressed-out from working too hard, and, therefore, we must resolve to. . . what? Get more massages? Exercise more? Learn to meditate? Take yoga? Take more time off? These may all be helpful in reducing blood pressure and creating more peace and pleasure, but is that what it’s really all about?
The Big Picture
In this issue of the Opening Bell, Jim talks about the possibility that being on purpose might actually be more important—and satisfying—than achieving balance (whatever that is). This year, let’s put the whole balance conversation aside and create a different one—one about the Big Picture: your life. Rather than attempting a fierce resolution to do something the evil twin within is going to fight you tooth and nail over until you cave in by about the 15th of the month, let’s attempt a new strategy: it’s called Reflection, and the kind I’m talking about deserves the capital R.
The Unbidden State
By Reflection I mean a particular mood or state that most often arrives unbidden, maybe when you are sitting on a comfortable sofa gazing into the fireplace or lying on the beach in the sun, or just sitting ocean-side mesmerized by the ebb and flow of the waves. You find yourself reflecting on your life—you are lost in thought. It is often in this relaxed state of enjoyment, that important insights emerge, creative ideas develop. Even great music and scientific discoveries have been the result of such states. Charles Townes, the renowned physicist, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus from U.C. Berkeley is known for discovering the maser beam, precursor to the laser. He solved the scientific problem with which he had wrestled and labored for many years, not in the laboratory where he spent most of his time, but while sitting on a park bench on his lunch hour enjoying the sun and watching the birds. He described the episode as being a religious experience. Everything came together for him in an unbidden instant.
Intentional Time for Reflection
One of the things that actually gets us off balance is that we don’t seem to be intentional about the time we do have, however scarce, and we don’t tend to create intentional time for reflection on ourselves and our lives. Reflection is constitutive to being human. However many things we share with animals biologically, the ability and tendency to reflect on the meaning of life is not one of them. Reflection requires language, memory, feeling, judgment, a sense of self, a perspective, a point of view, and will, all of which result in an implicit desire for a good or better life, which requires intentional reflective time. Contrary to popular belief, intentional reflection is a form of action.
The results of intentional reflection—time specifically set aside in a relaxing, enjoyable atmosphere for the express purpose of reflecting on your life and yourself—can be immeasurable. This year, why not avoid both the balance question and the resolutions and intentionally take some time to reflect on these things: What’s working in your life? What’s not? What activities do you love to do? Are you doing them enough? What’s not working in your life? What or who tends to bring you down or cause you pain? Do you need to avoid them? What do you care about most? Are you attending sufficiently to that concern? What do you want your life to say when you are gone?
Jot down your reflections in a notebook—just simple bullet points—allow them to prioritize themselves, and gradually begin to develop a gentle plan of action to move yourself closer to the life you want and intend to have today, tomorrow, this week, this month, next month and for the rest of the year. Keep it simple. You don’t have to be perfect, just intentional and focused. Remember who you are and what you are about even as you tread lightly back into your busy life.
Happy New Year! May it be more meaningful, purposeful, and satisfying. For more on this theme, check out my career/life coaching blog and tell me how things are going as the year progresses.
Our dear Bonnie Bonetti-Bell was the force behind our Career/Life Coaching services, until her passing in 2019. As a principal of our firm, Bonnie had an innate talent for seeing the best in people. Moreover, she helped others see the best in themselves. Bonnie is fondly remembered and deeply missed.