How to imbalance your life

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Work-life balance, for many, seems an unachievable reality. Chances are, you’re stretched – and stressed – beyond belief.

But, stop. Ask yourself, what makes you happy? And, how can you be happier? Business great Marcus Buckingham is the author of Find Your Strongest Life. In it, he looks at what makes the happiest, most successful women just that – the happiest, most successful women.

Admittedly being a man, I’m not the most ideal candidate for this book, but as Buckingham assures his audience, the same lessons apply to us gentlefolk.

Buckingham’s bread and butter with the legendary Gallup Organization is measuring things that are difficult to measure – think empathy or assertiveness. He studies the best in the business to see what common thing makes them tick.

So, what do those who qualify as ‘the happiest and most successful’ do?

To find out, he asked some key questions:

  • How often do you do the things you really like to do?
  • How often do you positively anticipate before the start of each day?
  • How often do you become so involved in what you’re doing that you lose track of time?
  • How often do you feel invigorated at the end of a long and busy day?
  • How often do you feel an emotional high in your life?

If you answered ‘every day’ to four out of five of those questions, congratulations! You’ve got what it takes to make the grade for a subjective measure of wellbeing. If not, KEEP READING.

Buckingham says your relative measure of subjective happiness has very little to do with your bank account balance or how successful your business is. Instead, it’s determined by your emotional choices.

Consider this – do kids want to spend more time with their working mothers? No, says Buckingham, survey results reveal kids want their mothers to be less stressed and tired.

This proves you can’t be all things to all people, no matter how good you are at multitasking. Instead, you have to choose what you want to do and do it well. Multitasking, by definition, is divided attention. And Buckingham says studies prove that when you multitask, your IQ drops 10 percentage points. Let’s put this in perspective: if you smoke marijuana, you lose four percentage points. Ten points? That’s equivalent to losing one night’s sleep! You’re so busy concentrating on concentrating, you lose sight of the task at hand.

Focus on the ‘want to do’ instead of the ‘should do’. It boils down to your relationship with yourself – you need to celebrate what you do best rather than focus on what you struggle with. According to Buckingham’s research, the happiest and most successful women don’t agonise over who they aren’t.

“They accept and act on who they are,” he says. “They have discovered the role they were born to play and they play it.”

So, to be happy and successful and be able to answer four out of those five questions with a confident ‘every day’, what should you do differently?

First, don’t multitask. Buckingham says multitasking is juggling. In juggling, the core skill is throwing. This isn’t about catching, rather it’s about keeping things at bay. Don’t push things away, draw them close. If you need to push something away, ask yourself if you really need it in your life.

Two, don’t strive for balance. Let’s face it – what are you going to do when you strike balance? It’s a case of “nobody move!”, and more importantly, it’s a bad metaphor. As our PM likes to say, let’s go for growth.

Three, catch and cradle. Yes, goals, dreams and vision are all important for both your professional and personal life, but continually striving for the next big thing to tick off your list, you miss the moments that matter most. You miss what you have achieved.

And four, sweat the small stuff. Know and act on the specific details of what invigorates them. Let go of anything that doesn’t. You need to be deliberate in your actions, to be creative – how are you going to catch and cradle what matters the most to you? And, finally, you need to celebrate it. Whether it’s a morning walk that floats your boat, or time with your kids or a weekly massage – don’t think about it, do it (and enjoy it).

The challenge, says Buckingham, is to understand the moments that stimulate you and then to deliberately imbalance your life towards them. Cradle them, catch them, give them your full attention (as opposed to intention – remember, your life is what you choose to pay attention to!). So, you need to gradually and deliberately build your life towards what makes you happy.

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