In my early twenties I suffered a health crisis that made me painfully aware that if we don’t take care of our health, before too long we won’t be able to enjoy our lives at all. I had the unfortunate but informative experience of being sick and in pain and seeing how it clouded my entire life and I decided that I needed to take care of myself if I wanted to have a good life.
Over the years, my definition of health has evolved beyond my old mindset of nutrition and fitness. My own life path and evolution has expanded my approach and now includes many parameters of health that I believe 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 and the things we prioritize are a bit screwy. We’re told 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. Perfection has become the enemy of “good enough”.
We seem to know this, but instead of living from that place of self-compassion and acceptance, 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.
Extremes can be a part of balance? Huh?
Many people hold the belief that practising extremes is unhealthy. I commonly hear the “I believe in eating everything in moderation” mantra when I tell people that I recommend an ancestral eating style that substantially reduces (if not eliminates) processed foods such as grains, sugars and certain oils. Don’t even get me started on our definition of “moderation”.
To create dynamic balance 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 inflammatory foods? 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 feel guilty or beat up on myself if I don’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, and storms 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, find the minimum effective dose and move 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. We’re living with this pressure to be superhero’s and try to do it ALL even while a certain area of life is demanding more from us. In my experience with clients, the things that generally end up being sacrificed are sleep, whole-food nutrition and exercise; the three things that may be the most important self-care activities we can incorporate into our lifestyles. As a side note; if sleep is suffering, activity levels MUST be adjusted. Exercise can relieve stress or add to it depending on your sleep and the type of exercise you’re doing. It’s really common for people to go to the gym and slug out a killer workout even when their stress levels are through the roof and they aren’t sleeping because they aren’t able to assess the big picture and recognize what type of activity their body needs in that moment. That’s a recipe for disaster that leads to burn-out and injuries.
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 what your body, mind and spirit truly need and see where you need 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, shifting the type and/or quantity of exercise you’re doing, getting to bed earlier or maybe a stress reduction plan. 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 high-intensity workout that day. I find ways to put just enough effort into all the areas to prevent negative impacts while still having the space to focus on the growth edge.
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 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 a new level or health or performance 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 regular meditation ritual sometimes, or it may take shape in weekend spiritual retreats, but to reach a new level of development it might be an extreme period that requires 8 hours a day spent in meditation for a period of time.
Finding that sweet spot of dynamic balance requires zooming out and looking at a bigger picture, having the knowledge you need to be effective in all areas with the minimum effective dose, a little strategizing, 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 or losing ground?
Here are some ideas:
If your fitness/movement patterns are stagnant or you’re dealing with body aches and pains, a functional movement class might be a great idea.
If your sleep has been suffering it might be time to consult with a holistic nutritionist or naturopathic doctor to look at your hormone levels, assess your stress levels and create a sleep improvement plan.
If you’ve been noticing that you’re being triggered or stressed more than you think is normal, it may be time to do some growth work and look at the programmed beliefs and limitations that impact your relationship with life.
If your energy has been low, you’re struggling with chronic health problems or your digestion is off, it may be time for a strict gluten, dairy and sugar free health reset and gut-healing protocol and then learn simple strategies to eat well with minimal effort going forward.
If you feel like your career or business isn’t giving you the fulfillment 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 DO IT ALL 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 an assessment and a plan.
Learn more and start assessing your own life and health now with my 3-part series on The Dynamic Balance Approach to Overall Wellness.
First take the Dynamic Balance Assessment
In this session we’ll uncover what it means to be truly well and how our current “sick-care” system limits our ability to be optimally well. You’ll leave the session with a fresh perspective on how to approach health and wellness without being overwhelmed by conflicting opinions and advice.
Here we’ll pull apart the concept of Dynamic Balance and look more specifically at the most obvious starting place; physical wellness. Do you know which systems you need in place to be physically well? Where should you start? How do you create physical wellness without sacrificing other spokes on the wheel? You’ll leave the session with renewed enthusiasm and a clear direction forward to improve your physical wellness as well as a sense of the bigger, longer-term approach you should take.
To make the most of the Dynamic Balance approach to wellness we MUST address the age-old question of why we human beings resist doing what we know is good for us. After all, knowing what action to take next is very different from TAKING that action. We’ll explore this topic and put some solid strategies and mind-set shifts in place to give you the best chance of successfully implementing what you’ve learned in the series.