Reminding ourselves of this concept can help us to keep life in perspective. Busyness can masquerade as “getting things done,” which may temporarily bolster our self-esteem, at least on the surface, but putting excessive focus on staying occupied can alienate us from ourselves as well as other people, and drain us physically and emotionally.
On the flip side, we generally don’t benefit from spending most of our time as couch potatoes. A lot of downtime can stem from a number of causes, some of which may legitimately benefit from rest and regrouping, such as a chronic physical illness, a recent injury or trauma, grieving a loss, or a vacation.
Or, we might be “relaxing” and spending hours on the Internet or binge-watching TV because we’re avoiding a work assignment, allowing the apathy of depression to dictate our (in)action, or dodging anxiety-provoking social situations. In these cases, passivity may not work in our favor.
At still other times, we may not be physically active, but our minds are working overtime. Sometimes worrying can feel as if we’re getting something done, when in fact excessive rumination can impair our ability to hear our inner wisdom. Over the longer term, worrying can damage our connection to that true voice inside us.
In general, wisdom is gentle, quiet, and kind. If we are yelling at ourselves, this is more likely to be our self-critical ego speaking than our inner wisdom.
So, where do we find balance?
One method is to make sure that we set aside time regularly (daily, if possible) for quiet time, social time, fun time, and growth time.
Quiet time: Begin the day with ten minutes of meditation, taking a slow walk in a quiet natural setting (such as a park or the beach), or just sitting and slowly drinking a cup of coffee or tea (no checking email, reading the paper, or watching the news).
Often ideas or realizations come to us when we allow our minds to get quiet and listen to the silence. Sometimes what comes to us is inconvenient or uncomfortable, but at least we are doing ourselves the favor of spending time with our true self.
Meditation or just simply relaxing and watching the clouds go by do need to be paired with a readiness to take action when our intuition tells us to do so. Some people go on meditation retreats for weeks or months, and while these can be extremely beneficial, we do want to be careful that these retreats are not simply excuses to procrastinate.
Social time: Call a friend or colleague, plan (or have) a meal together, and catch up on each other’s lives. We are interdependent beings, so it’s vital to our well-being that we connect regularly with other people, to nourish our need for community.
While there is certainly such a thing as being overly dependent on other people, in our individualistic society we are more likely to shirk on building and maintaining healthy relationships. How many people do you see in person or talk with on the phone on at least a weekly basis, aside from work? One? Five? Ten? It may be time to reevaluate how well-“fed” you are in the social aspect of your life.
Fun time: Make a list of at least 20 activities that you enjoy (or once enjoyed) doing. Try to incorporate one of these items in your life every day. It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. If you enjoy reading, you could set aside an hour to peruse a novel. If you’re a surfing enthusiast, you might begin the day with an hour in the ocean. If baking is your thing, whip up a batch of homemade cookies. The point is to have something to look forward to and have fun doing, on a frequent basis, so you’re dosing yourself with feel-good hormones (in a healthy way).
Growth time: Finally, designate time to move forward with projects that you’ve previously decided are important to your life as a whole, even if at the moment they do not seem that pleasant. If you’re in school, tackle that writing assignment or study for your upcoming midterm.
If a tidy home is a priority, take 30 minutes to wash the floor or vacuum the carpet. If you’re unhappy at your job, spend some time polishing up your resume and networking with individuals in your desired profession.
We are meant to grow and change during this life journey, and the other option of stagnation can eventually drag us down and weaken our belief that we can manage life. When we take steps on a regular basis that require us to stretch a bit, we learn that we can take the next thing that comes along.
Some days you may emphasize social time, while on other days you may spend much of your day in growth time. No need to divide your time equally amongst the four categories, but overall, do make an attempt to have a balanced time “diet,” much in the same way that you may try to eat balanced meals.
The idea is healthy balance and discipline, rather than rigidity. Different phases of life lend themselves to different ratios in terms of how we spend our time. However, including quietude, socializing, pleasure, and challenge in your days can be a great help in creating a fulfilling life.