Balance. What is it? What does it feel like? What’s the right amount of things, people and activities to make you say, “Yup! That’s it!”

In this blogspot, we’re going to take a closer look at balance and why it’s so important in our lives. We’ll begin by looking at how to define it. Then I’ll share with you where I start and how to listen to the body. I also tell you why I think we need so many more “tools” to work with the demands of our lives today than in the past. And then I share with you how I think listening and mindfulness are real game changers, with some comparisons to basketball and jazz that are familiar to me from my own experiences.

But first off, if you are looking for suggestions about apps and productivity tools, you won’t find them here. Please share your own favorites in the comments section below. And if you’re looking for others, check out Steve Dotto at Dottotech. He knows a lot about these things (and he’s pretty entertaining too).

So, let’s get to my 4 thoughts (and more) about balance, what it means to me, and how to lean into it. After finishing up the last section Embracing change, you can read more about mindfulness here on this page and then head on over to YouTube and practice with one of the videos you can find there.

You can also request a free PDF with pictures and more details about the suggestions I’ve made in this blogspot at the bottom of the page.

What does balance mean?

Since everyone is different and we all have different demands across a wide spectrum of personal and professional goals and responsibilities, balance and finding the right combinations is largely up to you. It all comes down to

  • perspective
  • choices

But you knew that already. It also depends on where you are in your life.

What phase of life are you in or going through? How old are you? How old do you feel? Physically? Mentally? What do you need to get up in the morning? What do those closest to you need from you? Do you work from a check list OR bucket list.

grandson, father and grandfather posing for a picture on a neighborhood street

At the stage of life I’m in, my mindset is to try and get things done

  • as easy and effectively as possible
  • by touching all bases
  • integrating professional, interpersonal and personal goals
  • as gracefully and dignified as possible
  • to do it all day, every day, throughout the day

(If you’re interested in other considerations about phases of life and aging, check out my friend Ardis Mayo. She also has other things of interest on her website The Reflective Pen.)

1. Start by pay attention to the body

I’m in this for the long haul. So it all starts with dedicating time and energy to being as healthy and fit as I can be. Choose what’s right for you. I personally want to enjoy life AND get things done. I don’t feel balance when I’m lost in the nebulous objectives of my future and my body feels

  • clogged up
  • hunched over
  • like I’m dragging around a bag of bones, muscles and organs all day

Whether I’m working or cleaning out my closet, I need to be able to

  • sit and stand up straight
  • look down and see my toes (not my stomach)
  • breath freely
  • have simple, accessible tools to
    • clear the mind
    • understand and accept aches, pains, etc.

There’s a lot that goes into being alive. But much of it’s basic stuff that starts here. It also only takes a little time each day to do the little things that keep us balanced. You already brush your teeth and comb your hair, don’t you? Do some of the things I’m suggesting to feel balance.

2. Keep it simple

Is life a choice between professional ambitions or family and personal responsibilities. I get it. But I also feel that to be or to be successful is NOT the question. Being a good human is. We’re multitasking anyway. So let’s do it all. Baseball great Ernie Banks once said, “What a great day for a game. Let’s play two.” Let’s start with the body.

  • listen to the body
  • take time during the day to care for it
  • try little things like
    • stretching
    • standing up occasionally
    • take short walks, even in the house
    • breathing exercises
  • treat yourself like a priority

Try this if you work at a PC

Are your eyes getting tired staring at the monitor? Give them a break.

  • anticipate, be proactive
  • look away for 5 minutes
  • soothe them with warmth, darkness (“cup” them by putting your hands over)
  • close them (move them up, down and gently to the sides)
  • massage them gently (use your fingertips to explore around the orbital bone)
  • feel the sensations

Are your back, knees and hips tight from sitting too long? Move them.

  • stand occasionally
  • stretch in your chair
  • alternate between your desk chair and a fit ball
  • rotate the knees, hips and back

The list is endless of things we can do to create harmony and balance. Contact me and we can talk about a bunch more. But it all starts with creating balance and harmony in the body. When we are fit enough to listen to and care for this body, we can do so much more for others; and we’re better at it then.

Mapping out new territory

Family and societal expectations are changing who we are and how we live. There is the pandemic and people are being challenged in new ways

  • blended families stretch resources
  • caring for ageing parents becomes heartbreaking
  • choosing between ourselves or our loved ones is an impossible dilemma

But there is opportunity in hardship. If we live close enough and are teleworking already, we may be able to bring Dad to his doctor’s appointment AND our work too. (Please tell me in the comments section below if anyone else is on their laptop in the doctor’s waiting room.)

But are we different now? Was life simpler in the past?

Life DOES SEEM more complicated because of what’s happening in our world and how the world of work is organized these days. But maybe it’s also because we have been so blessed, have received so much and now have so much more that needs to be

  • expressed
  • explored
  • cared for

to feel happy. It makes me think of my father. What worked for him and his generation? Or those just after?

man in a bucket truck with a yellow hard hat working on an electric line

Being what you do

My father is 97. He was an electrician and he bundled a lot into his vocation. It was his personal identity. On any given day – or night – he might be asked to resolve people’s problems, come up with short and long term solutions within their budgets or rescue them during power outages and emergencies.

He had purpose that he articulated with two basic principles

  • make “an honest buck”
  • care for the family

Most everything else was put on the back burner (including cleaning the garage). It got him up in the morning and helped him navigate life’s difficulties and tragedies. He would say,

“If it feels like a job, it ain’t for you. It’s gotta be part of you.”

This simplicity and unity of purpose had a profound impact on me. But I also see now that it left him with very few options when his working days were over.

an old fashioned Smith & Corona manual typewriter

3. Space and pace 

I’ve got a toolbox too. It has things from a broad spectrum of interests and desires, from opportunities he gave me as a kid to develop other talents and inclinations. It also has the stuff he taught me on the job and at home. He made me and my brothers work with him on weekends and school breaks – and he paid us too. We didn’t just earn money and the feeling of autonomy that comes from having “a buck or two for our pockets.” We were also exposed to the worlds of his clients, their professions and lifestyles. We learned how to dream big and to be curious about many things. That’s why space and pace is important. There’s so much to do.

Space and pace is a term used in today’s NBA. It means that in today’s fast-paced game, the success of your team often depends on

  • dribbling the ball up the floor quickly
  • getting to the offensive end of the court
  • moving fluidly between choreographed plays and feeling out what’s necessary
  • not standing around waiting for one person to shoot or attack the rim
  • putting groups of players together with varied skills who can do different things

Sounds like a winning recipe for what we do with our “regular lives” too. In basketball, space and pace

  • helps you diversify
  • keeps things interesting
  • gives you different options to score

In a life with lots of interests AND lots of necessities AND none of the division of labor my father’s generation had, it’s pretty much the same. You definitely need tools – and lots of them to get things done.

The toolbox

In no particular order, I need all sorts of tools (hardware, software) to

  • teach (didactics, pedagogy, experience)
  • raise our son (patience, love, communication, psychology)
  • drive him, myself around (a driver’s license)
  • be a husband (patience, love, communication, psychology)
  • be fit, strong (exercise routines, yoga, a bike)
  • feed myself, our family (an equipped kitchen, nutritious food)
  • clean our home (various machines, materials)
  • maintain our household (money, accounting support)
  • work on the website, social media (PC, mobile phone)
  • write blog (PC)
  • make videos (mobile phone, camera, mic, tripods, editing software)
  • study the guitar (guitar, books, PC, teacher)
  • take courses to stay sharp, stimulated, be stimulating and up-to-date (PC, conferences, seminars, books)
  • clarity of mind, reflexes (meditation, sports)

Though some tools have crossover value, I still need a bunch of time, patience and organization to study and apply them. As I wrote above, the simplicity and unity of purpose in my father’s life had a profound impact on me. His single-mindedness of purpose may have left him with very few outside interests when his working days were over, but maybe it wasn’t so necessary then. It is now. Balance is possible through continuous improvement and excellence.

Summing up

If I don’t use all of the tools in my toolbox daily

  • I DO NOT feel good about myself
  • I CANNOT live up to the many goals and responsibilities of a modern life

Actually, I DON’T FEEL LIKE MYSELF, like someone capable of tackling all the demands and curiosities of life. Put more succinctly: no multi-tasking, no harmony and no balance.

So do I need a daily planner? Yes, it’s good to have one sometimes; but the kind of life I live demands more. It demands improvisation. Like in jazz, you have the song, it’s structure and melody, then you have your way of expressing yourself in the song. Put another way, improvisation turns the monologue of the “to do” list, into a dialogue and a symphony. Listening is a must. As jazz great Miles Davis used to say, listening gives

“the freedom and space to hear things”

From there, we have can trust and do what is needed.

4. Embracing change

Meditation is one of the most important tools I have for all of this. It is my productivity tool. Not because it always helps me do more. Mostly because it gives me the ability to

  • listen deeply to the body and mind throughout the day
  • understand when and where I am contracted
  • identify and observe anxiety, stress, fear
  • lean toward lightness, enthusiasm

It gives me the right perspective on uncertainty and change because it helps me adapt to the needs of the moment, to not get stuck in a battle between “what I want” and “what’s needed” or happening now. When my friends talk about balance, I know what they mean. I think of it as

  • listening
  • letting go
  • being in the flow

It all comes down to this: it’s not how many things I check off, but how I live through the experience of doing them. As writer Octavia Butler once wrote,

All that you touch you Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change.

I look for balance and grounding there.

Leave your comments below. Tell me how you organize your day. Do you use productivity tools to get through the day? Do you want to know more about the ones I’ve heard about or tried? Contact me today. Let’s have a chat about my main productivity tool.

John Angelori

I am mindfulness teacher and language coach. I help people instill habits that create high levels of resilience and sensitivity, for well-being and to achieve their objectives. Since coming to Italy in 1990, I have been teaching and consulting for individuals and innovative local businesses and multinationals, I am now exploring the on-line space for new opportunities to continue to share. Look for me on Facebook, Instagram and on my website

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