Feel like you are in a competition with yourself to squeeze the very most out of every day? To be at the top of your game, all day, every day and in every capacity? To be the winner of your own race? Welcome to the game of life, a constant juxtaposition of motivation and drive with balance and happiness.
During this balancing act it can so easily become a struggle to fit it “all” in. Maintaining a healthy personal and social life with a career, relationships and families is challenging. What usually happens as a result is that we prioritize, run a little triage and attend to those wounds bleeding the most noticeably to us. And that approach, to a large extent is quite effective. The problem though, is often those that can do the most damage are internal wounds, harder to see but just as problematic. And just like what happens in the body, while it all appears fine for a little while, sooner or later it’s going to bleed out and manifest itself in your life.
A large part of this is due to expectations, yours and others, of your time and duties. Ask yourself though, who sets the expectations? Who creates the sense of guilt, duty or obligation? Whose perceptions of satisfactory time management are running your life? Is it other people, or is it you? There are certain things that must be done, no question, the repercussions of not doing them are too great to ignore. However, as the one responsible for your own reactions, it is your choice to create the associated emotions and place that weight upon yourself. You, and your mindset, are what creates your “have to,” as opposed to your “get to,” list.
As a point of reference, consider The Four Agreements. First, “be impeccable with your word.” This goes beyond positive self talk and not engaging in gossiping about others. In regard to time management, it means to say what you mean and mean what you say. It means to follow through with what you’ve agreed to doing, to be dependable, trustworthy, and most of all, realistic and clear about your commitments.
Making false promises or agreeing to things you well know you are unable to complete or follow through with, although made for the sake of pleasing others in that moment or because you truly would like to be able to do it, result in eroding trust and respect and create opportunities for stress for all parties.
Instead, set yourself up for success. Recognize what is most important in the long term as well as the short term. See the forest and the trees. Recognize an opportunity when it presents itself; you may want to adjust other tasks accordingly to make room for something new, be willing to give up something that is good for something that is great. Acknowledge what you can and cannot commit to, given the circumstances of your life in that moment. If it turns out you cannot realistically do something, be forthcoming about it. If you require more time, ask for it. Take on what you can reasonably do, ask for help when you need it and communicate that clearly to all involved parties.
Remember the second agreement, “don’t take anything personally, nothing others do is because of you.” This is not to say we don’t affect others with our actions, but rather that at the root of all behavior is our own ego. Each person carries with them their own agenda and assumptions, each shaped by their perception of reality. Choosing to allow those to supersede or overshadow your own creates a sense of tension, guilt and negativity.
In healthy relationships where roles are clearly defined, mutual respect well established, loyalty consistently demonstrated and concern for the well-being of the family unit prioritized, time alone is a joy and is encouraged, expected, and reciprocated. Caring for oneself is actually caring for the family, as it is impossible to be a great caregiver to others if you have not tended to yourself and your own needs and wants as well. This is why we are instructed to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. Helping others requires our own preparation.
The third agreement, “don’t make assumptions,” underlies both of its predecessors. Assuming that others know what your intent, goal, purpose or motivation is for something, to the extent that if affects them, creates massive opportunities for hurt feelings, anger, resentment, guilt, blame or sadness for you and those around you. However, creating a shared understanding by communicating clearly and regularly eliminates ambiguity and decreases the potential for misinterpretation and misunderstandings.
This certainly does not guarantee an absence of disagreements nor imply regularly compromising what you want simply to make others happy. Identifying your purpose, articulating your needs, wants, plans and obligations while also taking care to seek out, listen to, and consider those of others whose lives are intertwined with yours or are affected by your choices actually increases productivity and maximizes efficiency. Being mutually clear about your actions, intentions and purpose sets a framework for understanding that generates high performance levels and in turn, increases the happiness of everyone.
The fourth agreement, “always do your best,” reminds us that so long as we are putting 100% of our efforts into doing our best right now, in this moment, we can ask nothing more of ourselves. Your best, however, looks different every day. What you bring to work, to the mat, to the gym, to the table, today, is different from moment to moment. The amount of sleep you had, what you’ve eaten, what kinds of tasks you’ve engaged in already or are preparing to engage in, things going on in your life requiring more time and and energy than usual, all affect the current version of your “best.” Understanding that, recognizing what you can offer in this moment to yourself and others, is the key to finding balance in your life. If you are truly doing your best, then you cannot ask for more.
Sometimes today’s “best” isn’t enough to complete something as we or others expected it to be done. That’s okay. Tomorrows best might be. Your best, combined with someone else’s best might be even better. Sometimes admitting that you are not doing your “best” is okay too. Considering why that is, making a conscious choice to reflect on it and what you choose to do about it the catalyst for change in your life. Our long term joy is gleaned from these moments. Learning to be mindful of the moment, see your presence in the present, is what carries us through the failures, helps us pick ourselves up when we fall and is how we discover who we are.
In fact, we spend our whole lives defining, and redefining, discovering, and rediscovering, who are are. We are a constant work in progress. Continual, never ending growth, shifting, change. Thus our course is never stagnant nor still yet our growth is often incremental. Who we are today is not who we were yesterday and it’s not who we’ll be tomorrow. Each day brings lessons, challenges and opportunities for transformation. They are ours to acknowledge, ours to accept, ours to master.
And while we cannot control many of the events of our lives, we can control our reactions. Over time, these experiences, and our reactions to them, form our habits, attitudes and beliefs. In turn, those three foundational cognitive processes determine our behavior, both conscious and not. The key here, however, is that it is a choice. We choose how to react to life. We choose to maintain, or to modify, our own patterns.
Quite profoundly, however, is that none of that exists in a vacuum. It is not decontextualized training, nor does life hold still and wait for us to catch up with it. Opportunities come and go. Many, and some of the very best ones, such as people, never come back. We do not learn how to be happy, to to react, how to be still, in isolation or separate from the world. We learn as we go, and we learn from and with others. As we are learning who we are and what we want to be and do with our lives, we share our lives with others. Humans are not designed to live in solitude, we are social creatures by nature. Our joy is multiplied when shared with and experienced by others. Take the time to curate and nurture your relationships, share your love, bring good to others.
Remember, life is a journey, not a destination, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride no matter what path and vehicle you choose. Have goals, have vision, have ambition, be mindful of the road. But stop asking yourself if it’s the “right” path every five minutes and just keep moving forward anyway. The question isn’t so much “have I figured out where I’m going yet?,” but instead the question, the real one, the one that matters at the end of a lifetime, is “am I bringing the right people with me?”
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