Note from Bob: Bobb Biehl, is for me, the wisest man I have ever met! I have been privileged to call him my friend and my personal mentor since 1980. It was then – in 1980 – that Bobb first introduced me to his hobby of collecting questions.
Excerpted with Bobb’s permission from Chapter Three of his book “Leading with Confidence”
“Cheryl,” I said to my wife in a moment I haven’t forgotten, “life is a constant struggle for balance.”
I was about 25 or 30 at the time, and that single, simple statement seemed to best express my overwhelming feelings about life.
I think the statement still is true. Imbalance causes distortion and breakage in our lives—and when, after a struggle, the balance is restored, we find that it brings beauty and strength.
I’m reminded of Alexander Calder’s sculptured mobiles, with their big swirling metal pieces suspended on steel wires. As long as a mobile is balanced, there is beauty. But if even one piece is yanked away, the balance and beauty are destroyed.
How in the world do you maintain personal balance at the hectic pace we live today? Everything in life seems to be going three times faster than ever before; we have twice the responsibilities, four times the options, 72 times the problems, and only half the budget.
How do you maintain balance in all of that?
I grew up in northern Michigan and can remember being outside in blizzards so blinding I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. Maybe your life sometimes seems like one of those blizzards—a lot of little pieces flying around, obscuring your vision.
A blizzard, of course, can’t be a blizzard without the wind. The same is true for the blizzard feeling that overtakes our minds and our lives. By shutting off the wind, you could end the blizzard.
And you can. The wind is your schedule. You have to shut down your schedule to let all those pieces in your life settle to the ground, so you can see clearly.
When you feel you’re in a blizzard, bring your schedule to a halt—even for as short a time as an hour. Go for a snack at a restaurant, or retreat to a park bench. Go somewhere, and—to help you focus your life and regain balance—ask yourself the questions in this chapter.
I’ve become convinced that most people think of their lives as consisting of thousands of pieces that must constantly be kept in balance. I’ve seen the sense of relief expressed in their eyes when I tell them that there really are only seven categories—a much more manageable number.
I suggest that you memorize these seven categories, to help you keep them in balance. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
Everything you do affects the other areas. Typically, if you spend an hour exercising, you can’t spend it at work. If you spend a dollar on doing something with your friends, you can’t spend it on your personal growth or on your child. No matter the size of your resources, every decision you make has implications in all seven of these areas. In a sense, if you give to one, you actually are taking from the others.
That’s why it’s helpful to memorize the list. Then, as you approach a decision, you can always mentally review the implications for each area: “If we decide to take a week’s vacation next month, what will be the financial impact, and what will be the impact on our family, on my personal growth, and on my physical, professional, social, and spiritual development?”
Suppose I’ve just earned an extra, unexpected thousand dollars. Should I invest it and make even more money? Should I spend it on my spouse and family (on something they’ve been wanting)? Or on my personal growth (perhaps an outlay for a new hobby or travel or some interesting seminars)? On my physical development (new exercise equipment or a health club membership)? On my professional development (working capital for the company)? On my social life (having parties or buying gifts for friends)? Or on my spiritual development?
By branding the list into your memory and realizing that every decision you make has implications in all seven areas, you have a constant context for making decisions and keeping in balance.
You’ll also, therefore, be better able to put your finger on any specific area in which you’re out of balance. Rather than having to live with a vague sense that something’s wrong, you can ask, “In which of these seven areas am I actually feeling pressure?”
That’s the first step toward regaining balance: pinpointing the area in which your imbalance is really happening.
Perhaps you’re feeling tremendous financial pressure, which is causing you to shift most of your mental and emotional energy in that direction. And though you may be spending time with your family, you aren’t really “with” them. You’re thinking about and focusing on the financial pressure you feel. In your time away from your schedule, put your finger on that point of pressure and begin asking what you can do to reduce it.
If you could do just three things to cut the pressure in half—and regain 50 percent of your lost balance—what would they be? If you focus on those three areas, you can walk away from that park bench an hour later with a lot more personal balance than when you sat down.
What will go wrong? Stay in touch with reality.
Getting balanced may mean a new diet. It may mean a new exercise regimen. It may mean a new schedule. It may mean a variety of things—so are you really willing to pay the price of gaining balance? If not—are you willing to pay the price of living with imbalance?
If an invisible observer could somehow see and hear both your thoughts and actions, day in and day out—what would this person say you are most devoted to? Is it your family? Your career? What is the dominant preoccupation of your mind, your heart, and your life? And is that the way you want it to be?
After you manage to stop the blizzard long enough to identify some critical steps to take, think about what difference taking those steps will make. Who will benefit? Who will lose? How will it affect your spouse, your children, your job, and your personal interests?
As a friend once told me, “Alone, you’re always alone; but it takes only one other person to make a team.” Who can you team up with in mutual accountability to regain a stronger sense of balance?
And remember that the more emotional the issue, the more deeply you need an objective outsider to help you achieve or regain balance.
Whenever you feel lonely, identify the specific kind of loneliness you feel. This is especially crucial in the process of seeking to regain balance because loneliness can be either a cause or a by-product of imbalance.
Not all loneliness is social. In fact, loneliness takes many forms:
At first glance, a truly adequate amount of time devoted to “stopping the blizzard” will probably seem to be too much. But go ahead and count on it: commit a disproportionate amount of time keeping your life in focus and balance because both focus and balance are keys to long-term effectiveness. I need not tell you that if you don’t keep in balance today, you’ll suffer for it tomorrow. Life’s just that way.
Bobb Biehl is an Executive Mentor. In 1976, he founded Masterplanning Group International. As its president, he has consulted personally with over 500 clients. In that time, he has met one-to-one with over 5,000 executives
Based on these thousands of hours of practical “rubber-meets-the-runway” experience, he has originated 35 leadership / management tools (books, tapes, notebooks) in the area of personal and organizational development – all of which are available to you at BobbBiehl.com
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