“Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.” ~Thomas Merton
I’m not someone who enjoys busyness or sees it as a sign of importance. In fact, I’ve often sacrificed money and opportunities to have more time to watch movies, roam around my neighborhood, and generally live life at a slow pace.
This is the way I most enjoy experiencing my days—by creating space to just be. And I find this supports my passion as a writer, since it allows me abundant opportunities to play, explore, and expand my understanding of the world and my place within it.
But I’ve also noticed that I formerly limited myself in response to underlying fears and limiting beliefs, and then justified it with my fondness for free time.
Whenever I received an opportunity to do something that would stretch my comfort zone, I reminded myself how hectic my schedule would be if I said yes.
Whenever I considered doing something new that I feared might fail (or might succeed, giving me more responsibility), I reminded myself that I was already meeting my needs, so it would probably be best to just keep doing what I was doing.
Essentially, I allowed myself to believe I had only one healthy motivation for not growing in new directions; and while this did support my priorities and preferences, it also created a sense of stagnation.
So this year I decided to challenge those limiting beliefs and fears. I started redefining myself beyond the safe roles of writer and free spirit, and recognized that I could actually be happier for trying new things and taking more risks.
While I know the choice was ultimately positive for me, I’ve struggled a little in the execution.
I’ve tried to do more on my own than I feasibly can—from reading and editing an ever-growing number of monthly blog submissions, to mentoring new writers, to handling all aspects of the site’s daily operations, to maintaining a freelance job writing for ‘tween girls.
And in the process, I’ve sacrificed some of my needs and priorities, including exercise and relaxation.
I’ve swung the pendulum from calm to chaos, and I’ve left myself little time and space to discover the middle ground between holding myself back and pushing myself.
I’m now in the process of adjusting to this decision to do new things, and I’ve realized it requires four conscious choices:
- Recognizing my non-negotiable needs and prioritizing them
- Setting realistic expectations about what I can do and what I can’t
- Regularly checking in with myself to ensure my choices support my intentions
- Learning from my emotions instead of reacting to them
If you’re also adjusting to a busier lifestyle—whether you’re working toward a dream or taking on new responsibilities at work or at home—these tips may help:
1. Recognize your non-negotiable needs.
Write down the top two or three things you need to do daily for your emotional well-being, your physical health, and your sense of balance. Include the bare minimum you could do to meet these, and ideal times. For me, that includes:
- Daily meditation and/or deep breathing (five minutes after waking up)
- Journaling (five minutes before going to sleep)
- Daily exercise, even if just a walk outside (ten minutes around lunch time)
- Consistent sleep (eight hours—doable if I’m more efficient instead of wasting time online)
Sense of balance
- Time to relax and unwind (a half-hour bath at night)
- Time to play (a half-hour of something fun at night, preferably with someone else)
You’ve now established the bare minimum for your needs and created a plan to meet them. Even meeting the minimum might be hard. It might require you to ask for help or say no to certain requests. Think of it as saying yes to your happiness.
2. Set realistic expectations about what you can and can’t do.
I have a habit of making a schedule based on what I want to accomplish and then feeling disappointed in myself if I don’t meet that.
My schedule doesn’t often leave room for the unexpected, which could encompass tasks taking longer than I anticipated they would, or new opportunities coming up, personally or professionally.
If you’re striving to meet your boss’s expectations, you may have less leeway in being flexible. But when it comes to the arbitrary deadlines we set for ourselves, we have the power to release the pressure.
I often worry that deviations from my plan mean I’m losing control and decreasing the odds of doing what I set out to do. This actually sets me up for failure.
When I worry about what I’m not doing, I’m not focused on what I am. And that’s what’s enabled me to do things well in the past: not perfect adherence to a schedule, but focus and immersion in the process.
A better approach is to set a plan, do what we can, and then adjust as we go. Whatever we can’t comfortably fit in a day will just have to wait.
3. Regularly check in with yourself to ensure your choices are supporting your intentions.
I’ve found some contradictions in my recent mode of operating, including:
- I try to do everything myself because this site means so much to me, and I fear delegating responsibility to someone who may not care quite as much. The consequence: I’m sometimes stretched too thin to give everything the care it deserves.
- I’m taking on new projects because I know I’ll be happier for stretching myself, but I’ve deprioritized a lot of the other things that make me happy.
In recognizing these contradictions, I’m able to adjust accordingly.
I can challenge the belief that tells me I need to do everything myself, and seek help (which I’ve recently done). I can create a better balance between working toward future joy and creating joy in the process.
Take the time to check in what you really want—not just some day down the road, but in your everyday experience in the world. If you recognize you’re not enabling that, make tiny adjustments where you can.
4. Learn from your emotions instead of reacting to them.
When we’re doing something new, our emotions run the full gamut, from excitement to fear, eagerness to anxiety, and countless shades in between.
Some of these feelings are natural consequences of stretching our comfort zone, but other times they’re indicators about what’s not working and what we need to change.
I’ve learned to stop whenever I’m feeling something overwhelming and ask myself these four questions:
- What led up to this?
- Is this feeling a response to ignoring a need, pushing myself too hard, expecting too much of myself, or somehow treating myself without kindness and compassion?
- Is this a feeling I could release by coming back to the present moment (like worry about the future) or is it something with a lesson for me (like feeling overwhelmed because I need help, or anxious because I need a break)?
- If there’s a lesson, what can I do or change to apply it?
When we learn from our emotions, they become less overpowering and we become more present, more balanced, and more effective.
A while back, I wondered if the days of leisurely strolls were over, now that I’ve chosen to do a lot more. Then I realized that’s up to me. There is a grey area between underachieving and overachieving where growth and presence are both possible.
Finding that space is about making conscious choices. I know what those are for me. What are the choices that help you?
Photo by Andrew Kalat