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Finding Balance

Or, Not.

As a dancer you are so practiced and proficient at balance...at least when referring to being on your leg. Ironically, you are probably also terrible at it when talking about it in a different context - how it applies to your "big picture" life. How do I know this? Because I struggle with this myself still. Your perfectionist personality (also known as those demons in your head whispering that you have to be the best in everything 100% of the time) doesn't like balance and will trick you to tip the scales whenever possible.

Have you ever felt so happy and satisfied about achieving a major goal you've been working hard towards only to realize a few days later that you've fallen behind in other aspects of your life? That powerful sense of accomplishment gets replaced by self-contempt as you immediately start berating yourself for slacking off:

How could you let yourself slide backwards like that? Three months ago you were at your peak in this area! What's wrong with you? Why can't you maintain your progress?

I fall into this kind of self-talk more often than I'd like to admit. Once I peak with one goal and move onto my next, I expect myself to stay in top condition there even as I divert my attention to the new task at hand. When I unavoidably start sliding backwards, my demons don't miss the opportunity to mess with me. Luckily, my coach is there to pull me out of the deep end where I'm drowning in my own disgrace. (*Side Note: That's one of the upsides to having a coach - they can almost immediately see what you are blind to, saving you time and suffering, instead of struggling to figure things out for yourself).

Accomplishing a goal requires intense focus and consistent, specific efforts. This works out great for that goal, but, what inevitably ends up happening while you are focusing on that one aspect is that other areas of your life will start to fall out of balance. This will just happen naturally as you neglect to give them the same attention and focus dedicated to your main goal.

This is not something to fault yourself for. It is something you have to acknowledge as a reality precisely so that you don't fault yourself for it. We like to pretend we are superheroes that can juggle a million things and excel in all of them at once if we just work hard enough. But real life simply doesn't work that way.

If you think about a time when you were pushing hard towards a goal, I'm sure you can acknowledge certain sacrifices you had to make in other areas of your life in order to peak in that single area. Maybe you gave up certain foods for the time being or said no to parties? Maybe you kept yourself out of relationships or turned down vacations? Maybe your intense focus prevented you from being the happy, carefree personality you like to embody?

It's a necessary evil to make some sacrifices when you push to optimize a singular aspect of your life. You only have so much mental RAM, so you have to decide where to allocate your resources. Think of it like your phone or laptop. If you open too many windows or apps at once, things start screwing up. Keys will stick, the connection will slow, messages will get lost. There just isn't enough energy to go around to handle all the open apps adeptly.

With this limited amount of RAM, when you choose to supercharge one aspect of your life, the scale will tip as most of your attention gets diverted to that singular goal and your big picture life will get out of balance. What is your "big picture" life? Think of it as your ideal day. Everything from your attitude, to the way you interact with people, to your health, to your physical prowess, to your emotions, to your engagement in the world around you, to your fulfillment in the work you do would be factors. Your ideal "big picture" life requires you to optimize all of these areas, not to 100% each, but to spread your energy and focus around so as to create balance between them...creating proficiency in your life as you live the way you really want to be living.

This doesn't mean you should never strive hardcore for the goal. It just means there are two ways of going about things here (a.k.a. two mindsets I use to manage my demons):

  1. GO FOR THE GOAL: Put your hardcore effort and focus into a singular goal. This is absolutely necessary to succeed at something at a high level, especially if it involves fat loss or physical prowess & transformation. But, recognize that other areas of your life are going to fall out of balance during this phase. Don't expect yourself to stay where you are at in all areas while you level up in your area of focus. You may actually backslide in these other areas for the time being. But, because you are aware of this sacrifice and are making a conscious choice in light of it, your demons have no ground to tear you down from.
  2. GO FOR BALANCE: Realize you want to optimize your life in general. This requires you to be okay with not being at your peak in any one area...but rather "peaking" in your big picture life. Think of your goal as having the optimal day…one day at a time. Because you are not sacrificing for one particular goal, you can divide up your attention and focus to keep all the areas of your life that are important to you in balance where your energy feeds them equally. Here's an exercise that will help you with this: 

Find a quiet space and close your eyes. Imagine what your ideal day would both look and feel like. We are not talking about a vacation day…but a normal day where you would be on your path, feeding your passion and purpose. Start from the moment you wake up until you fall asleep at night. How would you start your day? What would you eat for breakfast? How would that breakfast make you feel? How would you interact with strangers on the street or the guy who makes your coffee? How would you nurture your relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend? What kind of attitude would you have at work? What kind of energy would you bring to class and rehearsals? Go through each moment of the day, paying attention to the qualities that are important to you. Visualize what those moments would look like and how they would feel in your body and energetically. Notice how many aspects of your life are important to you - friends, attitude, health, passions, self-expression, vibrancy, relationships, progress, purposeful work, etc.

 

Then, recognize how easy it is to neglect even one of these when you start focusing intensely on a singular goal. This step requires you to be realistic about your ideal day. At first you might think your ideal day involves walking around at your leanest weight. But, then you have to acknowledge that when you are at your leanest, you are most likely not feeling vibrant or free because of your strict diet and depletion from your efforts. And, even though laying on the beach all day sounds nice at first, you need to recognize that in actuality you want to feel the pride in being able to support yourself…so you have to factor your job into the mix (but what you can adjust is the way you feel about your job - instead of dreading it…you find a way to appreciate it for the financial freedom and opportunities it gives you). You'll probably discover a lot of factors that are important to you that you weren't even conscious of before this exercise began:)

When you break things down like this, you soon realize you are a complicated being with many facets and infinite possibilities for your life. The beauty lies in being able to design your life your way. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, you decide whether you spend your energy optimizing one goal...or optimizing your big picture life.

This is why I have two different tracks in my Fat Loss Game Plan. One of them is for serious fat loss mode, when you have a specific goal to cut for a photo shoot or other event. The other is for when you want to optimize your big picture life. You still get the benefits from good healthy eating but also the freedom to keep your life balanced with fun experiences and vibrant living.

Keeping these two mindsets on hand can help you not tear yourself down when your perfectionist demons demand that you be 100% in peak condition in all aspects of your life simultaneously. You can now confidently say to them:

Thank you. In some twisted way, I know you just want the best for me. But, what you are asking me to do is impossible. Right now my priorities lie with X, and I'm okay with sacrificing a little here and there to achieve what is important to me right now. Now bug off.

Photo credit: Steve Vaccariello

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