Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

Live In Peace With Everyone

“Do all you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NLT)

Easier said than done. Especially when nothing you do or say is acceptable. Especially when the other person wants nothing to do with you. Especially when your moral compasses are pointing in different directions.

Many people live this out by acting like nothing is wrong. Fake pleasantries. Small talk. Avoid any words of depth. Tolerate. I get being civil, cordial and amicable, but even those can be taken to the extreme and used as avoidance techniques.

When others are not peaceable, I retreat. I keep outwardly silent and avoid interaction. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure retreating isn’t living out the scripture any more than is pretending everything’s okay.

And sometimes, I’m the one not being peaceable. I’m the one making things difficult.

Do All You Can

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

Those beginning words are key. After all, sometimes we do all we can, and a relationship still falls apart, and people still don’t get along.

Because it’s not always possible, and it doesn’t just depend on you.

Live at Peace

Scripture has a lot to say about living at peace, though. And when it comes to doing your part, it tells us that it’s not always an easy road to take.

“Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” (Psalm 34:14)

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

See the commonality in all of these Scripture? Living at peace involves work. It takes effort.

What might this effort look like?

  • Don’t get even.
  • Let emotions fade.
  • Don’t start an argument.
  • Don’t provoke.
  • Don’t prolong a controversy.
  • Don’t push buttons.
  • Keep quiet.

Doing all you can looks very different from one relationship to the next. Plus, there are many other ways to work at living in peace with everyone not mentioned here. Too many to list.

So, let’s end with Paul’s words of advice and encouragement to help us in this endeavor to do our part in living at peace with everyone.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourself united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Love Holds the Key

Some of my favorite stories involve time periods where guards protected castles and all they stood for with fierce loyalty. The stories include bravery and courage. They show strength that goes well beyond what seems possible. Most importantly, these qualities are wrapped in love shown as compassion toward others.

Picture a guard in armor with this sense of duty as you read some of Paul’s closing words in 1 Corinthians. The terms used here are military words, and making that connection gives a better depth of understanding about how to live for Christ.

“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

This verse expressed succinctly show how to carry out all of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Be on guard.

Watch so you’re not surprised by the enemy. Attacks and challenges will come at some point. Be ready for them. Always be in full armor.

Stand true to what you believe.

Know what you believe and why you believe it. Refuse to compromise. Fix your faith in the Gospel. Determine to keep your ranks unbroken.

Be courageous.

Be brave. Don’t flinch when attacked. Maintain your ground. Resist! Press forward. Refuse to let fear of failure or criticism stop you.

Be strong.

True strength comes from God. Even in weakness, we are strong if He is our focus. Maintain your position.

Everything done in love.

Without love, everything is pointless. We only serve ourselves if love is absent.

As a Christian, I know the key to successfully living out Paul’s words falls at the end — “let everything be done in love.” First, I know it because Jesus himself declared love the most important command for us to follow.

“What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)

Second, I know it because my favorite stories, and even more so many real life ones, show these qualities carried out both in love and in the absence of love. Strength, courage, standing true, being on guard all lead to evil’s victory in the absence of love.

Love truly holds the key to victoriously living for Christ.

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

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A Higher Standard

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If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

The Toxic Impact of Multitasking

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My Multitasking Mistake

On a recent work task, I completed what I thought fell precisely in line with my directives. Instead, what I thought I needed to do was completely wrong. Not even close, actually. The mistake devastated me and threatened to send me into a dark, self-deprecating pit.

After the emotions wore off and I quit trying to blame someone else, I thought about my mistake and what led to it. Essentially, I performed a mental root cause analysis. I first tried to credit the error to the general excuse of miscommunication but realized that just lets everyone involved off the hook and doesn’t help much. So, in all honesty, I admitted that the cause of the mistake fell solely on myself, more specifically, on my attempt to multitask.

Instead of putting my full attention into a planning meeting, I got distracted by other tasks. The worst part? Well, there are two worst parts, actually. First, I wrote down the correct task needing completed. I just didn’t look at my notes because I failed to even remember I took them. Second, I thought this type of mistake existed only as a habit broken long ago. Clearly not.

The mistake serves as a reminder about the importance of maintaining focus, which impacts reality in significant ways.

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Focus Determines Reality

Not only does what you focus on determine the direction you take, but how many tasks you focus on does too. Focusing on multiple tasks at once divides and weakens your attention and productivity. It diminishes the quality of your efforts and slows overall progress.

Multitasking — originally a computer term — is technically impossible for humans. Our brains actually task flip, but it happens so quickly we can’t tell the difference. Computers can process several tasks at once. Humans cannot. Instead, as Jon Hamilton on NPR Morning Addition explains:

“Even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain if we try to do them all at once.”

“We frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks.”

I thought I’d beaten this bad habit of multitasking that contributed to my overwhelm and overload so many years ago and created the mediocre quality that eventually crept into every area of my life. And while it’s not fully returned, this backslide served to remind me of habits I need to refresh and reestablish if I am to maintain a right focus that in turn establishes the reality I desire for my life.

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The Mental Impact of Multitasking

In Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., calls multitasking toxic because it drains the brain, zaps cognitive resources and promotes early mental decline. Multitasking also decreases sharpness and increases cortisol, which can damage the memory center of the brain.

And those are just the long-term consequences. In the short term, multitasking overloads the brain, makes you less efficient, keeps thoughts at surface level and causes mistakes to occur more frequently.

Honestly, before experiencing the difference between a life filled with multitasking and one more oriented toward single-tasking, I did not buy into what Chapman asserts. Now, I realize the truth in how multitasking consumes a person’s mental resources to the point of almost complete ineffectiveness.

What toxic evidence of multitasking do you see in your life?

Next week we’ll explore the benefits of single-tasking and look at some basic habits to help get there.

Balance Requires Simplicity

My earliest memories of a simple life exist with the Amish. I grew up on a dirt road in lower Michigan with three Amish families living within a ½ mile of me as well as having the entire community within a 5-mile radius.

The closest Amish neighbors frequented our house, usually to use the telephone but sometimes to ask for rides to somewhere further than they wanted to take their horse and buggy. The Amish made their own clothes, grew and raised most of their own food and attended church in one another’s houses. They read books and played games in their leisure time, and they worked hard almost every day. Their lives created my early definition of simplicity.

When I was 18, someone very close to me went through a painful simplifying of her life. I didn’t realize it until many years later, but her life illustrated how busyness and complication seemed to happen by default. Unfortunately, not until many years later, I realized that simplicity must be deliberate; otherwise, neither it nor balance will happen consistently in a person’s life.

Since that realization about 15 years ago, I’ve learned that our lives constantly search for homeostasis, both within and without.

Homeostasis: the tendency of a system… to maintain internal stability; a state of psychological equilibrium obtained when tension or drive has been reduced or eliminated.

Our minds and bodies constantly fight for this state of balance, and if we wish for it to happen on our own terms,  we must be an intentional member of that fight. Otherwise, painful choices and an out-of-control life will one day either force us into this state of balance, or being unbalanced will be the source of our demise.

We also must come to truly understand that simplicity plays a key role in establishing and maintaining homeostasis in our lives.

Even after seeing examples at both ends of the spectrum early in life, my life still came fraught with battles for balance because it lacked simplicity. In fact, I still constantly exist in some level of that struggle as I seek to maintain some semblance of simplicity in order to live a relatively balanced life even in an unbalanced and complicated world.

The following posts reflect my struggle with maintaining simplicity with the goal of achieving balance, and I pray they help others maybe struggle just a bit less and find victory a bit sooner.

DISCUSSION: What are some examples of simplicity that you have witnessed in the lives of others that may help the rest of us in our own struggles?

Struggling for Simplicity

simplicityDo you long for simplicity? In the chaos and confusion of overwhelm and overload, do you instinctively know your life wasn’t meant to be this way?

Our bodies crave simplicity. They long for whole foods instead of processed filler. They want activity balanced with rest. When our muscles tense and stomachs ache, our bodies are telling us to satisfy the craving for simplicity.

Our minds seek simplicity too. When our thoughts whirl and our heads pound from decision overload, that’s our clue to slow down, to simplify. A clue most ignore.

Why do we ignore the signal’s our bodies and minds send us as they cry out for simplicity? Do we really believe there’s no way out, no other way to live?

Now consider the soul. As our lives burst with activity and commitment, somewhere deep inside — in the truest part of ourselves — we recognize the lack, the emptiness of it all. We realize that in the overwhelm of life, our souls are underwhelmed because we’ve neglected their care.

Pursuing Simplicity

While overwhelm and overload happen almost without effort, simplicity only comes through disciplined and deliberate choices. And, experience tells me, the motivation for making those choices only comes when my focus falls to my Creator, to His desire for my life. Nothing else works.

I’ve wavered between simplicity and overwhelm. I’ve wanted one but felt trapped in the other. Until my body and mind said, “No more,” and I finally heard my spirit’s “feed me” cry, I lived constantly worn out and depressed.

Then I pursued — and found — a simple life. You can too. How?

  1. Learn the value of small steps. Educate. Try. Assess. Educate more. Try again and again and again.
  2. Learn to rest. Develop an appreciation for quietness. Realize that life doesn’t need to constantly be filled with noise and activity.
  3. Learn to say “No.” A quality “yes” only comes by saying “no.” We just can’t do anything well without letting other things go. Lisa TerKeurst addresses this well in her book The Best Yes.
  4. Learn the value of reading. Scripture first & often. Then, lots of positive and uplifting books that feed and inspire you. Refuse to say, “I can’t.” It’s an excuse to avoid the hard work. Reading trains your mind to think like nothing else can.
  5. Learn to prioritize. Most decisions involve good, better or best, not good or bad. Find out what’s most important, and make it the most important.

The simple life still comes as a struggle for me, but I’ve tasted it enough to know not to let it go. I’m holding on the best I can, often returning to what brought me there.

Listen to the clues. Slow down. Pursue balance. Step out of the chaos. Feed your soul. Struggle for simplicity. It’s worth the effort.

DISCUSSION: How do you struggle for simplicity?

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part II

In Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I, we discussed how “busy” is the new “fine” and how stepping toward balance and away from busyness involves having actionable approaches that generate progress. In this post, we’ll explore three principles of balance that will help create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind. We’ll also consider a few essentials for maintaining balance for the long term.

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Principles of Balance

In order to truly establish an overall balanced life, a person’s actions and thinking must align. Actions create steps, and thinking defines the path. We’ve already discussed the steps, so let’s now take a look at the principles that help shape right thinking with regard to balance.

  1. Balance is subjective. Balance is personal and individual. It looks different for every person and is impacted by personality, temperament, physical needs and more. When it comes to balance, to compare is to despair. Get ideas for how to live balanced from others, but create your own definition of balance. You’ll never find balance trying to make it exactly like someone else’s.
  2. Balance requires a long-term perspective. While balance involves a short-term element (small steps, as discussed in Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I), it also requires a long-term approach. This approach involves looking at finding balance like success in the stock market. Not every day will be balanced, and there will even be seasons where you are out of balance. The goal is an overall balance lifestyle, one where the periodic unbalance doesn’t derail you into the abyss of overwhelm and overload again.
  3. Balance and simplicity go hand-in-hand. A balanced life looks more like riding a bike or yoga than it does plate spinning. Simplicity involves a freedom from complexity and division into parts, and a balanced life is a relatively simpler one. As with balance, simplicity is also subjective and will look quite different from one person to the next. Balance and simplicity working together get at the idea that focus determines reality. If everything is a priority, the nothing really is a priority. Simplifying helps bring the reality of balance into focus.

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Essentials of Balance

While balance exists as subjective, and the exact path to take to achieve it are unique to the person, some essentials do exist for every person hoping to obtain and maintain a balanced life. These essentials must be in the forefront of the mind of anyone looking for an authentically balanced life.

  • Balance is counter-cultural. You’ll likely feel like an outsider in your efforts to become less busy and especially if you truly manage to achieve a balanced life. To counteract this, I remind myself of how miserable I was when I was overwhelmed and overloaded, when busyness ran my life. This helps me stay true on my path to becoming excellent at doing fewer things rather than returning to a mediocre life at best.
  • Isolation is the quickest path to unbalance. We need others input because we can easily deceive ourselves. The benefits of accountability are unmeasurable. And while you’ll feel like an outsider amongst your overwhelmed and overloaded friends, you’ll discover there are those who desire a simpler and more balanced life too. Remember, you become who you most associate with on a regular basis.
  • Simplicity is trendy. Pursuing a minimalist lifestyle is cool these days. Yet doing so for the sake of the trend only leads to comparisons and a more fashionable busyness. And we all know fashion is impossible to keep up with. While a minimalist approach can be a balance life, for too many it can also be a fleeting fancy. Don’t get caught in the trap. Focus on the long-term perspective.

Start your journey of finding balance in a busy world by asking yourself two questions: What does balance mean to you? What would produce a more effective you?

Now take the approaches detailed in Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I and combine them with the principles of balance detailed above to not only find your balance but to also maintain it for the long term.

DISCUSSION: What are you going to do today to start your journey toward finding balance in a busy world?

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I

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“Busy” is the New “Fine”

Many people seem to equate being busy with being important. Somehow, being busy by living in a state of perpetual hustle and bustle and constant exhaustion seems to say, “I matter.” In fact, if you’re not crazy busy, others look at you with resentful longing.

This constant busyness leaves many feeling like they’re running an endless race with an illusive finish line. They feel trapped, but they remain ignorant of why. Being too busy to find balance is simply much easier that doing the hard work of changing.

I remember when most people answered the question, “How are you?” with “Fine.” Now, the pat answers more often than not is “Busy.”

After all, busy is what you’re supposed to be, right? If you’re not busy, you’re probably missing out on something. Or, maybe busyness just keeps boredom at bay. What would you do if you weren’t so busy anyway?

I remember when busyness kept me moving and gave me purpose. Those were the days when my “Busy” answer existed as both a boast and a complaint. I knew I was too busy, yet I didn’t know how else to be considered successful. Then one day I just couldn’t keep up anymore.

My crash and burn forced a choice between doing the hard work to change, to become unbusy, or remaining unhealthy, depressed and miserable. After much searching in the form of doctor visits, counseling sessions, reading, studying and praying, I came to realize that not only did my approach need to change but also my thinking.

In this process of becoming unbusy, the road to balance became increasingly clear. Right action and right thinking — the steps and the path — must partner to create a balanced life.

Stepping Toward Balance

Finding balance is not about establishing the right time-management habits or organizational strategies. After all, none of these will matter if you have too much to manage and organize in the first place.

Finding balance begins with implementing actionable approaches that allow you to do the hard work necessary to become unbusy. For me, that involved three choices that daily direct my steps through the healing process and into a relatively balanced existence.

  1. Ask “Why?” and “What?” These questions serve to get at the root cause. Why do you feel sick all the time? Why can’t you sleep? Why did you say “yes” to that commitment? What keeps you at that job when you hate it? What pushes you to be involved in every activity that comes along? Continually asking “What?” and “Why?” questions can help discover motives at the heart of chronic busyness. They help you understand your life rather than continuing to live from one reaction to the next.
  2. Refuse to quit. Persevere. Keep asking “What?” and “Why?” until you have answers, then ask some more. Dig until an understanding of the root cause emerges. We live in an information age like none ever before us, and the answers are there for those willing to pursue them. You don’t have to live in ignorance of why chronic busyness plagues your life.
  3. Keep taking small steps. Most progress happens in small steps taken gradually over time that add up to make a big difference. Rarely does progress happen in leaps and bounds. Asking “Why?” and “What?” gives the steps to take, and refusing to quit makes taking another step a non-negotiable. Eventually, if you refuse to give up, you’ll look back and realize you’ve left busyness behind and have found balance.

These three approaches kept my actions headed in the right direction. At the same time, I realized that I could take right steps but still head in the wrong direction if I was on the wrong path. So while my choices to find the root cause, not give up and keep taking small steps gave me the motivation to keep moving forward, I also needed to change my thinking in order to make sure I was headed toward balance and not just another version of busyness.

Next week, we’ll explore the principles of balance that create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind and to achieve and maintain a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: How will you take steps towards a more balanced life today?