Cultivating Balance in the 21st Century

Demanding jobs, raising young children or simply keeping up with the obligations associated with a busy life can result in feeling that one’s life lacks balance. It can be hard to feel entitled to balance in the modern age. The messages to be productive, to earn and spend more money, to achieve and overachieve (for both adults and children) and to post the results on social media are unrelenting. Seldom do people at the end of their lives wish they’d spent more time in the office. More often they wish they had given themselves permission to live a more balanced life so they could enjoy life more. But where is the instruction manual on how to do it?

It helps to start by noticing, and then questioning, the “should” messages in life. Perhaps certain “shoulds” were useful at one time but are not any more. It’s important to discover whose voice is behind the shoulds, and ask whether it is someone who has our best interests at heart. Another useful early step is to figure out which parts of life are in or out of balance. A good tool for this is the Wheel of Life (see illustration). To use it, mark each segment of life with a line from the center out toward the edge that corresponds to the numbers zero to 10. A line that stops near the center of the circle (0) indicates low satisfaction, whereas one that ends near the edge (10) equals great satisfaction. This provides a visual for the level of contentment in each area, and reveals the overall balance and imbalance of one’s life. Next, think of one step that can increase each number by a small amount. Since balance is the theme, shoot for only a halfpoint improvement in no more than one or two areas at once.

It takes surprisingly little time to cultivate more balance. To make a small improvement in the health and wellness segment, for example, research shows that just 20 to 30 seconds of relaxation breathing can begin to calm the body. Ideally the belly (not the chest) will go in and out with each breath. This may take practice, and breathing while lying on the back can help. Focus on the breath and, when the mind wanders, return focus back to the breath.

For those that want more fun, recreation and creativity in life, small chunks of time each day can be reclaimed for these goals, with bigger chunks available on weekends and holidays. It also helps to look at how efficiently time is being used, and whether we’re truly present for the things we’re doing or constantly preoccupied and multi-tasking. While Type A personalities might need justification for letting up even a little, studies demonstrate that taking breaks actually improves performance and productivity.

No one ever said that balancing life in the 21st century is easy, but the rewards of greater health, peace of mind and relationships make the effort well worthwhile.

Karen Welling, LICSW, is a coach and licensed therapist in Somerville who combines coaching principles with such techniques such as EFT and EMDR to help people achieve their goals. For more information, call 617-623-3703 or email

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