Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Self-knowledge is the starting point

Work-life balance is a uniquely human concern. It’s not something that animals, living in tune with themselves and their environment, face.  Obvious statements of course – but it’s worth considering that the reason work-life balance can be of concern is that as humans we have the ability to override our natural instincts and feelings, rather than just respond to them as their arise.  It’s our choice, and choice is, after all, what makes us human.

So we can continue working when tired, we can force ourselves to do what we’ve decided it is necessary to do.  We can work hard, sacrificing family and personal time, for the promise of later reward, rather than needing instant gratification of our desires and wishes. All this has been to the good – if humanity had not pushed itself to the limits, our world today would be without the greatest works of art and scientific discovery.

But there is a hidden danger – people can become so good at overriding their instinct, feelings and messages their body is trying to give them that they don’t even hear the message anymore. Many people who are suffering stress for example, don’t even realise they are. Yet you can’t suppress feelings forever. Trying to do so will eventually result in burn-out.

My point in writing this is that the first thing anyone needs to do is to learn to listen to themselves and observe. Taking action is secondary to understanding your situation. It can be obvious things - how much time are you spending forcing yourself on when you’d really rather be somewhere else for example. How much caffeine, sugar and other stimulants do you need to get through a day? Do you suffer irritation or mood swings without always being able to put the finger on why? It can be in simple behaviours too – I once realised I was stressed when I found my hands were saw from continually gripping the steering wheel too tightly!

Listening to yourself does have to be learnt. My recommendation for anyone who thinks they may have work-life balance or stress issues is to keep a diary for a month and simply note your feelings and observations about what you do, and always ask the question “why do I feel what I feel”.  Work-life balance ultimately is about being satisfied and fulfilled in your life – and that begins with self-knowledge.