According to Joe Robinson “Work Life Balance” is a controversial phrase because it’s debatable whether “balance”, if one imagines an equally weighted scale, is really possible (especially for most senior managers and executives).
Nevertheless, the concept of “balance” is an important one for our healthy and well-being and working towards an enjoyable and fulfilling life outside work hours is an important and admirable goal. Research suggests that those who do live a more balanced lifestyle are not just healthier, but they also perform better in the workplace.
Researchers Leaf van Boven of the University of Colorado and Cornell’s Thomas Gilovich have found that we’re happier when we choose experiences over material things. Whether it’s a vacation, painting a canvas, playing chess, or walking a park trail, these moments of full engagement contact a deeply personal realm that feeds core self-determination needs.
“Experiences really satisfy desires for self-actualization,” Van Boven says. “They help people become the type of people they would like to become.”
Experiences are the nexus of now and a great work-life balance equalizer. The road to life satisfaction runs straight through engagement, not status. It’s not the money. It’s not the popularity. It’s the experience.Experience is an intrinsic affair, done for internal goals like learning, fun, and growth. But here’s something that may make it easier to make the leap to a more experiential life: People actually like you better when they see you as someone with interesting experiences.
Fifty percent of your potential happiness is genetic, say researchers. Another 10 percent comes from your circumstances (geography, family, health). That leaves you with 40 percent you can actually do something about. This falls into a realm known as “intentional activities.” Your happiness depends on the activities you choose to participate in on this planet, your experiences.
Van Boven and his colleagues Margaret Campbell and Thomas Gilovich found that people found the materially oriented to be less socially desirable but were keenly interested in the doings of experiential people. Experience is two mints in one: a direct route to your own happiness, and an admired path by others.
Why is this realm so potent?
Experiences can’t be compared to anyone else’s experience, so they don’t lose their value through social comparison like objects do. They are your personal event.
The interactive nature of experiences sets off multiple neuron firings in the brain that form memories that stick with you, creating the positive memories that remind you that you like your life.
The more positive and novel the recent experiences you can recall, the higher your life satisfaction, report researchers Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky. Another reason experiences are so fulfilling is that they tend to be done with others, satisfying your core need for social connection.
Our brains, want two things more than anything else for long-term fulfillment, novelty and challenge.
There’s a skill-set needed to activate a participant life. Some of the most important skills are those that open the door to direct experiences, from attention-directing to the pursuit of competence.
THE MOMENT OF LIVING
The magic of direct experience comes from its ability to root us fully in the moment of living. You can’t be anywhere else than where you are when you’re immersed in your experience, which makes it a great stress management tool. There’s no room for the static of self-talk and worries about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
When you’re in an activity where your skills meet a challenge, you’re vaulted into the higher realms of optimal experience, or flow, a state of absorption so complete that your thoughts and deeds are one. This is as good as it gets on the third planet from the sun, as close to anything that can be imagined to what we know as happiness, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of flow, has put it. And it’s out there, if you are.
But what exactly makes us happy?
Social psychologists have decoded much of the puzzle of subjective well-being over the last two decades, showing that the external metrics assumed to be the route to happiness can’t deliver the goods. There’s a momentary bump from toys, money or a promotion, and then it’s gone, because these outer symbols are based on what others think.
What works is the secret agent of happiness—the subtler art of internal gratification, and understanding it is a key piece of work-life balance.
PLEASURE VS. GRATIFICATION
We usually don’t have time or patience for that. The reflex for positive mood states tends to gravitate to quick-fixes, the sensory and momentary delights that University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman calls “pleasures.” The impulse is to make a beeline for that hunk of Swiss chocolate or boost the adrenaline with a cinematic nail-biter. You feel good briefly but it doesn’t fill you up.
There’s a big difference of opinion between the body’s idea of happiness and that of the mind. Pleasures are fun, but they’re cotton candy for your brain, which has a higher threshold for satisfaction and demands a more engaged version of happiness, what Seligman calls “gratifications.” but their effect on well-being is ephemeral. “Once the external stimulus is gone, the positive emotion sinks beneath the wave of ongoing emotion without a trace,” Seligman has written.
Since pleasures are easy and what’s drilled into us, they can wind up the only strategy for happiness, leaving us always wanting more. It’s the “Is that all there is?” syndrome. They keep you chasing the next momentary hit while doing nothing to fill the void that fuels the chase.
According to Jen Uscher in an article in WebMD, many people are putting in extra hours, or using their smartphones to be on call when they’re not physically at work.
“But even if you don’t have much control over the hours you have to work, you can ask yourself: In what other ways am I bringing greater enjoyment into my life?” says psychologist Robert Brooks, PhD, co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life.. “Focus your time and attention on things you can control.”
Here are some ways to bring a little more balance to your daily routine:
When you plan your week, make it a point to schedule time with your family and friends, and activities that help you recharge. “It helps to be proactive about scheduling,” says Laura Stack, a productivity expert and author of SuperCompetent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best.
Pace yourself – through the day, week, month and year. Take regular, short breaks rather than one long one at the end of the day, week or year. View these breaks as an important part of your self-care. Make your breaks count by leaving mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and other work related devices in the office or switched off. Just as it’s important to be “on” when your at your desk or in the office it’s just as important to switch “off” when you’re taking a break.
Be a healthy role model for your colleagues and staff – take all your annual leave and once you’ve left the office, try not to check emails or messages. Pay attention to how your colleagues and staff balance their lives (a stressed or burnt out employee is not going to be much use) and where appropriate, actively encourage others to take breaks. It’s simple not possible to be an effective employee, let alone an effective manager or leader if you’re sick and tired. Achieving a level of balance in your life is vitally important for you, and those around you.
Make time to exercise and cultivate relaxing and stimulating hobbies to offset your busy lifestyle.
Research shows exercise can help you to be more alert. For many executives, it’s recommended such hobbies are non-competitive. For almost everyone, it’s recommended that at least some time each week is spend engaging in activities that are deeply relaxing
“Slowly build more activities into your schedule that are important to you,” Stack says. “You have to make a little time for the things that ignite your joy.”