I’ve always believed that if you don’t take care of your health, before long you won’t have much of anything else either.
Over the years, my definition of health has evolved beyond my old mindset of nutrition and fitness. Now I take an expanded approach that includes many parameters of health and I believe they ALL need to be fostered for us to be the healthiest, happiest people we can be.
At first glance this may seem daunting. Our minds and lives are already overflowing. We’re constantly encouraged to find a “balance” but at the same time the pressure to excel in every area of life is ever-present.
We’re being conditioned to think we have to be “perfect” at everything all the time. We need to have bodies that both LOOK and PERFORM perfectly, we need to work hard and be highly successful in our careers, we need to be perfect parents and raise perfect children, we need to be the perfect friend, the perfect partner, the perfect son or daughter, have perfectly clean houses and perfect vacations. If we are spiritually inclined, before long we add a perfect meditation or spirituality practice to that list. Which is the biggest irony of all.
Even if there were a clear definition of perfection, which there isn’t, it wouldn’t be possible it achieve it in every area of performance and life all at the same time.
We know that, but what do we do?
We feel guilty, or beat up on ourselves about the areas of life we neglect. We say things like “I really SHOULD spend more time with my kids” “I really SHOULD work late tonight” “I really SHOULD cook whole foods from scratch instead of getting take-out”. We’re spreading ourselves way too thin for the sake of being “balanced” and it’s an impossible goal. It’s a vicious trap and I think a new approach to balance would serve us all very well.
This whole concept of balance is borne out of the truth that an excess of anything over a long period of time leads to imbalances, and you won’t hear any argument from me there. But I think we’ve developed a fear of extremes and an unnatural approach to balance that just isn’t practical.
Many people hold the belief that practicing extremes is unhealthy. I hear that irritating “everything in moderation” mantra from somebody at least once a week when they find out that I recommend a paleo-approach eating style.
I think we need to challenge the belief that extremes are dangerous. I think we’re fighting our natural instincts and creating a ton of unnecessary stress by not seeing the benefit in extremes and striving for the impossible dream of “balance” on all fronts all the time.
Is my diet perfectly balanced every day? No.
Do I ALWAYS avoid gluten? No.
Do I get nine hours of sleep every night? No.
Do I exercise five to seven times every week? No.
Do I usually do all of those things? Yes.
Do I freak out if I can’t do all of those things all the time? No.
There is an ebb and flow to a healthy life, as there is with all things in nature; the tides, the moon cycles, the breath and our natural tendencies are very much a part of that. There are also examples of extremes in nature such as forest fires that create overall balance and long-term health.
That’s why I strive for something I call dynamic balance. I define dynamic balance as a “big picture” approach to life that puts a focus on longer-term thinking and can work as a framework for a healthier, happier life. The simple act of taking stock and making some decisions about the direction of our life can be empowering and pull us out of that stress cycle of simply reacting to life and living with guilt and “shoulds”.
There are areas of your life that will naturally demand more of your attention at certain times. For example, if you’re an accountant you may know that work is going to be a priority for you during tax season and that’s reasonable. That doesn’t mean that health, family or any of the other parameters have to suffer. Even with an extreme, but temporary focus on work you can lay out a plan for maintaining a lighter focus on the other parameters that allows you to maintain your health and happiness. For example, you may need to modify your fitness routine, moving it to a twice per week maintenance schedule and incorporate some family hikes on the weekends to keep you in dynamic balance during that period. After tax season, it may be prudent to shift the focus and schedule a meditation retreat, or a vacation to restore your vitality and nurture your relationships. What I see more often than not are people that want to be superhero’s and try to do it ALL even while a certain area of life is demanding more from them. What generally ends up being sacrificed is sleep and exercise; the two things that may be the most important self-care activities we can incorporate into our lifestyles. Make a note; If sleep is suffering, activity levels MUST be downscaled. Exercise can relieve stress or add to it depending on your sleep and the type of exercise you’re doing.
Rather than focusing on achieving this type of “do-it-all” balance in your day to day life, I encourage a widening of the lens. Take a look at your priorities and see where you’d like to stretch your edges a bit. If your energy is low you may want to focus on improving your sleep over the course of the next 30-90 days. Working on your sleep could involve some diet changes, getting to bed earlier or maybe some stress protocols. Those things are going to take time and effort and naturally leave you with less time and effort for other things. Some might call that extreme, AND THAT’S OKAY.
For example, if I’m training for strength, I don’t expect to be at the top of my game in endurance at the same time. If I’m working on a project and I have to forfeit some sleep, I’m not going to beat up on myself because I skipped breakfast or missed my meditation practice or my workout that day.
That brings us to another example of “healthy” extremes. If someone’s physical health is suffering, or if they just want to reach a higher level of health, I think a period of extremely clean eating like strict paleo or a detox is mandatory. You just can’t correct blood sugar dysregulation or leaky gut or reduce inflammation and learn how your body responds to food while you’re eating “everything in moderation”. In this case, and in many others, the benefits of the extreme approach are invaluable and we’d never achieve anything other than mediocrity without it.
I also recommend that we commit time to quiet contemplation, self-exploration or growth work on a regular basis to be the happiest, healthiest person we can be. That might take the form of a daily meditation ritual sometimes, or it may take shape in weekend spiritual retreats, but at a very high level of development it might be an extreme period that requires 8 hours a day spent in meditation.
Finding that sweet spot of dynamic balance requires zooming out and looking at a bigger picture, a little foresight and planning, some self-experimentation, self-awareness and near constant adjustment. It usually also requires some concentrated effort in specific areas to push your growth edges.
So, how is your dynamic balance? Are you expecting yourself to give 100% in every area ALL the time or can you soften your approach and make a plan to push your growth edges and still work in enough of the other areas to keep yourself from stagnating?
Here are some ideas:
If your fitness/movement patterns are stagnant or you’re dealing with body aches and pains a movement class might be a great idea
If your sleep has been taking a back seat it might be time to consult with a holistic nutritionist or naturopathic doctor to create a sleep protocol.
If you’ve been noticing that you’re being triggered or stressed by things that you don’t think should trigger or stress you, it may be time to do some growth work and look at the programmed beliefs and limitations that you’re living with.
If your energy has been low or your digestion has been off it may be time for a strict gluten, dairy and sugar free health reset and gut-healing protocol.
If you feel like your career or business isn’t giving you the fulfilment and excitement you crave, it may be time to re-think your professional life and talk to a career counsellor or create a new direction.
If you feel like your marriage is stagnating maybe it’s time to do some growth work, go on a vacation or get some couples counselling.
Your life is happening now, so don’t let the pressure to be the best at everything stand in the way of your happiness and achieving greatness in the areas of your life that are most important to you. It all starts with a plan.