A Fine Balance
Cutting the addiction: Toby Harris instructs how not to allow striving for equilibrium tip the balance into creating stress of its own
There’s pressure to keep busy, stay healthy and an often intolerable pressure to remain happy in the process. Advice as to the necessity of achieving a balance between work and lifestyle is bandied around as if there’s a prescribed formula, yet there is no one-size-fits-all solution; we need to make it our own. For me, equilibrium comes naturally when we’re engaging with what we want to achieve, prioritising when we want to achieve it and recognising that life’s demands change from day to day. While the idea of work/life balance can be constructive, it can also induce a burden of its own. As priorities shift, excess in the short term might be necessary, so succumbing to a vice from time to time isn’t always such a bad thing either.
People often romanticise the idea of not having a care in the world, but research shows that low-to-moderate time pressure actually produces the happiest people. This is because having nothing to care about might get rather boring, while being ridiculously busy isn’t fun either – it induces stress and stifles creativity. Studies show that our minds can wander just as easily when we’re busy as when we’re idle. A psychology report in 2010 assessed 2,250 adults to find out what they were thinking as they carried out various activities. It found that 43 per cent of participants found their minds wandering to pleasant thoughts, while 27 per cent strayed to some darker issues. The rest were somewhere in between. Even when thinking happy thoughts, participants were no happier than when they were fully engaged in their activity. All this suggests that being busy without being rushed enables us to produce our best work and it demonstrates how, if we engage with what we do, we’re likely to be happier than when we let our minds go astray.
It can be difficult to achieve balance at work, but leisure time is short-lived and riddled with pressures too. There are a lot of balls to juggle between catching up with family, going out and keeping fit. And it becomes especially difficult when exercise and boozing hardly go hand-in-hand. For me, the key is to actively engage in order to maximise the present, whether for work or for play. That might mean sometimes doing just the thing we feel we shouldn’t or cutting ourselves a bit of slack when we stray from a path we feel obliged to follow. It is all about perspective because we can only do one thing at a time… and there’s always a big picture to balance.