Our Paleolithic ancestors were balancing themselves continuously as they went through their active, outdoor lifestyles. We have to generate our own balance challenges as an antidote for our more sedentary, indoor lifestyles. Fortunately, that’s not hard to do. From balance boards, to exercise balls, to simply standing on one foot, there are plenty of opportunities to develop and strengthen our sense of balance. And it’s not just a physical thing; the more we balance our bodies the more our minds and spirits will follow.
OK, it’s time for me to come clean with my clients. When I talk with them on the telephone, and that is my standard mode of operation, I like to talk with them while standing on a balance board from Fitter First. I know that I have discouraged you from multitasking in previous issues of Provisions, but this is one case where I find it helps me to stay focused on the conversation. While balancing my body on the board, I am better able to balance my conversation on the phone.
That’s the way balance works. Balance in one area contributes to balance in all areas. Two years ago this month, our colleague in Australia, Mike Alafaci, wrote a wonderful series of Provisions on Work / Life Balance. I would encourage you to read the series again. Here were some of Mike’s thoughts on the subject, noting the connection between inner and outer balance:
In the course of our busy lives it is easy to get out of balance on the inside. When we encounter issues and challenges in our Work / Life Balance, most of us respond by thinking.
Sometimes we get caught up in our thinking. We worry about whether something will happen or not, or we struggle to untangle a knot of thoughts and feelings in our head. After a while, we start to feel worse than before we started. And what do most of us do when we get this way? We find ourselves thinking even harder. When this happens, we are out of balance on the inside.
We can try balancing things on the outside, but if we are out of balance on the inside, it all comes undone. Learning to practice inner balance will generate sustainable, well-rounded balance.
How can we do that? How can we practice inner balance? Spiritual teachers and psychology professors have the same message: by detaching from our errant thoughts, the ones that run off without us asking them to.
This is done by becoming aware of our current thoughts and then watching them go by without making any judgment. Or, as Dr. Richard Carlson suggests, we can refuse to follow our negative thoughts by choosing to acknowledge them and then to dismiss them. Instead of fighting our thoughts, we let them drift away. Becoming aware of our ability to do this is all we need to begin practicing inner balance.
Inner balance is not something we have to learn how to do. We already do it, at least some of the time. A friend of mine finds that he can create inner balance on the golf course. Off the golf course he gets caught up in his thinking, but on the golf course his mind is still unless he is intentionally calculating a strategy. Otherwise, he is clear-headed, free of anxiety, and no longer feels driven by his thoughts. He already has the ability to practice inner balance.
But how do we practice inner balance on demand? There are many ways, but the best way is the one that works for us. Here are two good examples to get started: Because the mind is always occupied with something in the past or the future, Eckhart Tolle suggests we use the power of now to bring intense attention into our thought or emotion. He suggests that balance will be restored when we do this without applying judgment. Dr. Carlson suggests something similar by saying we do not need to be afraid of our thoughts, but can choose to watch them go by.
Another way to practice inner balance is to take our attention out of our head and down into our body. We can do this by simply taking a nice, long deep breath • the kind that goes deep into our belly. It may sound like yoga or meditation, and maybe it is in a portable way, but giving it a go without thinking about it or judging it is cheaper than going to an executive retreat for a month after experiencing corporate burnout!
As you read this, your mind may be dismissing inner balance as an overly simple form of denial. Or, even if it seems feasible, your mind may wonder how this would work when the stakes are high. How could we not think, at times of high risk and high stakes?
The answer is: There are no exceptions. Any thinking that leaves us feeling worse is thinking that is taking us out of balance. When the stakes are high, getting back into balance is the best thing we can do. Where would you rather solve a high-stakes problem from: Thinking that leaves you feeling confused and worse off, or from a state of clarity and wisdom?
Inner balance is not denial. It is a choice to acknowledge but not to dwell on thinking that leads to problems. It is the wisdom to use thought as a great servant, but not be used by it. This wisdom is realized by exercising the courage to trust our inner balance to find the right answer or action.
My daughter taught me this just the other day, as we were riding bikes along the Santa Monica beaches in Southern California. I was thinking about something that she and I had on our “To Do” list. She pointed out that there was no way “To Do” this on the beach and she didn’t want to ruin the day by talking, worrying, or planning how we were going to handle the situation. I agreed, but it took me 5-10 minutes before the item had completely left my mind.
Mike’s suggestions were helpful and right on target. Being self-critical about the distraction only added to the noise in my head. By noticing the distraction with the attitude, “Isn’t that fascinating!”, I could let it go more easily and readily.
The fact that balance takes continuous micro-adjustments is no reason for alarm. That’s just the way balance works. There’s no such thing as a steady state when it comes to balance or life. That’s what I like about standing on the balance board while talking with my clients. It reminds me of the work that has to be done in order to maintain balance. First one way, then another, and then a third. Around and around we go until we tip over. Then we get back up and start the process all over again.
Of course it takes strength to do that, to make those adjustments and then to get back up when we lose our balance. That’s why I encouraged you to strengthen your muscles through resistance training in my Provision, Make Stress Count. The older we get, especially past the age of 30, the more important it becomes to work those muscles in a disciplined exercise program. Otherwise we lose both muscle mass and muscle tone, making it difficult indeed to maintain our balance.
In addition to resistance training, balance exercises themselves are wonderful pursuits, both for the body and for the mind. Standing on a balance board, for example, offers the following benefits:
- Improved balance and coordination.
- Better proprioceptive awareness for injury prevention.
- Greater trunk and pelvic girdle stability.
- Increased leg and ankle range of motion.
- More core and upper body strength.
- Improved posture and a better overall relationship with gravity.
- Greater confidence in sports and daily living.
It’s a very real-world exercise, with all kinds of twists and turns. Other balance exercises include the extremely simple, such as standing still on one leg within reach of a steady object to prevent falling, as well the more challenging, such as standing on one leg while twisting, turning, dipping, stretching, or otherwise moving our bodies. Such one-leg exercises can be done anywhere, even in the office, at regular intervals throughout the day.
Another great balance tool is a large exercise ball, also available through Fitter First. I like to do sit-ups on the ball, since I can do two exercises at once: abdominal crunches and body balancing. I know people who have replaced their office chair with an exercise ball for the same reason. They can do their desk job at the same time as they do their balance work. That’s an easy way to avoid the sedentary lifestyle.
Both the balance boards and the exercise balls come with guides for a wide variety of exercises. I encourage you to purchase these affordable tools, perhaps one set for your home and another set for your office, as a strategy for balancing your body, mind, and spirit.
Our Paleolithic ancestors were balancing themselves continuously as they went through their active, outdoor lifestyles. We can use these tools to make our inactive, indoor lifestyles more dynamic and health promoting. Doing so represents a small step with big benefits, both in the present moment and in the trajectory of our days.
Coaching Inquiries: What balance challenges do you face on a daily basis? How could you increase both the quantity and quality of those challenges? What’s keeping you from standing on one leg or knee, right now, as you read this Provision? How could claim a more active lifestyle?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
Your Provision titled Easy Does It has been very shocking to me. My score in the stress test is much more than 5. Until now l did not know that l am stress addicted. I am starting today to use your advice and I will give feedback if you don’t mind. Do you have any coaches in Mexico City? (Ed. Note: Although we do not have any coaches in Mexico City, we have worked with people in Mexico City and elsewhere around the globe using phone and Internet technologies. Gives us a call to see if that would work for you.)
I counted seven things from the stress test in Provisions that I have or do. I found this Provision really helpful. I recently lost my husband and last year, seven days after my birthday, my mom passed away from congestive heart failure. Now, since my husband passed, I have had to file for bankruptcy and it has taken a toll on my nerves. I have prayed to God for guidance and to help me through the tough times and my friends both out of Church and in Church have been helping me too. I am really thankful for the support and guidance your recent Provisions have provided. Thanks for that.
Your Provisions on stress have been very powerful. While having a desk job, I have realized for some time that humans were not made to sit behind desks. Your recent Provisions support that hunch, while reminding me that I need to be more proactive in getting a variety of physical exertion in order to remain well and whole. Thank you!
I never thought of stress as an addiction. I think I try to avoid it on purpose. I think I handle it relatively well but can honestly say at times I meet five or more of the benchmarks for stress addiction. Certainly, eating is an all time cure for stress for me.
Here’s one for you to think about. How often do you go to the grocery store and watch people in line at the check-out? I do it almost every time I shop. I have learned that I never shop when I am in a hurry or, if I am and I am running late, that trying to hurry through the line is more stressful than just getting through it and arriving at my destination a little late.
I learned to slow down grocery shopping when I was helping my mother-in-law. We couldn’t go anywhere fast and I taught myself to enjoy the whole experience. As a result, when I am getting in line I always look for the shortest line and get in it. But prior to making my decision I usually look around at the people who are approaching and watch their body language and listen to their comments. Often, I ask them if it would be helpful if they went ahead of me. Every time they say yes, I usually see a smile come to their face and a release of stress. A small thing but maybe it helped that person to stop and take a deep breath, if just for a moment. I like doing this • a small act of kindness.
Last week at the grocery store this elderly couple was shopping. It was such a familiar sight. He was trying to help her in her power wheel chair. He couldn’t do a darn thing right and she was complaining about how awful he was. Of course, she wasn’t saying it to anyone but I happened to be there. I helped her get some of her produce and then she arrived at the deli counter after me. I had taken a number and realized that she would be much less stressed if she could get in and out fast, so I gave her my number and took another. No thank you, no smile, but when she was done getting her lunch meat she told me she wished she could shop again without him! I looked at them both, smiled and said, “No you don’t. It is nice that you can shop together.” I said nothing more but you know she stopped complaining so much. Even if just for the remainder of their shopping trip she was a little bit kinder and a little bit less stressed then I think it was helpful.
It’s a great study in people and stress. I recommend it to all!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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