Back before I found balance, the term never really made sense to me.
“Balance” was this thing that therapists told me I should be aiming for, but what did that even mean? Was I supposed to become a monk or a super yogini? What did balance really take? What would I have to give up?!
After years of trying and failing and trying again to find balance, I believe I’ve finally really found it… and it didn’t take giving up all the fun stuff life has to offer. It just took a division of focus, something that my OCD brain hasn’t always done so well.
To me, balance means that focus and energy is placed evenly throughout all your needs categories. If that still doesn’t make sense, let me paint a picture for you.
Imagine you’re in front of an empty easel about to create a colorful masterpiece, but all you have is a bucket overflowing with white paint. The rest of your buckets of colors are empty or down to the dredges. That painting isn’t going to be as vibrant as you’d hoped!
What you need is an array of equally-full paint buckets, and that’s where your needs categories come in.
Your needs buckets
In my eyes, there are four buckets that everyone needs to attend to in order to feel balanced. Here they are:
When any of these buckets starts to get low on paint or starts to overflow, the other buckets become imbalanced, too.
To get that life balance that everyone’s always talking about, all you’ve got to do is take care of your buckets by making sure each is evenly attended to.
What goes into each bucket?
Each bucket represents your needs as a human being. Everyone on this planet has these buckets whether they choose to acknowledge them or not. Without an even amount of focus and energy on each of them, we can start to feel spread too thin, isolated, unmotivated or just blegh.
Balance feels like inspiration, physical energy, love, belonging, understanding and purpose. Sounds a lot better than “blegh,” right?
To make sure each bucket is balanced, we’ll visit each individually to discuss what might go into yours. As you read about each bucket, jot down a few ideas to fill your own. We’re going to start getting you on your way to balance right away!
We humans are social animals (yep, even you, introverts). We thrive on connection. Without it, we start to feel isolated and unloved.
To keep your bucket full, you’ll want to make sure to make social appointments with friends and family, have physical touch with people (unless that’s triggering for you) and feel a sense of belonging and/or understanding with people in your life (maybe that’s a therapist).
For me, this bucket is a hard one to keep full. I’m an incredibly independent introvert. I’ve always fended for myself. Reaching out to people is actually incredibly hard for me because I’m honestly afraid that I’m not going to be interesting enough. I know, however, that if I listen to that voice that tells me I’m not worthy of having relationships just because I’m not always sure what to say, I’m letting fear win. In order to keep this bucket full for me, I do this:
- Teach at least one mantra-based bootcamp a week
- Reach out to a source of support at least once a week
- Make a date with a friend at least once a week
- Work in coffee shops if I start to feel isolated
- Have dinners with my husband every night
- Go to support groups once a week
You’ll notice that a few of those overlap with other categories like Health or Self-Care. That’s normal! It’ll probably happen in each of your buckets.
I’d bet money that you’ve gone through a period of lack in this category. Whether it was during the holidays or on vacation or maybe work got so demanding that these needs fell by the wayside.
Whatever the reason, awareness that this bucket requires balance just like any other can open up a new way of focusing on it. Here are some ideas from my Health Bucket to make sure I feel good and balanced throughout the week:
- Move my body at least 3x/week in the way that my body wants to move
- Honor my body’s need to rest and recover
- Eat at least 3 meals a day (usually 2-3 snacks, too)
- Protein at every meal (otherwise I’m hungry and lethargic all day)
- Eat vegetables as often as possible because they make me feel like a superhero
- Take the supplements prescribed by my naturopath
- Go to support groups once a week
- Go to therapy regularly (timing varies depending on how I’m feeling)
Health includes both physical and mental/emotional health needs. Start thinking of the things that make you feel good and put them in your bucket!
This one is going to be so different for everyone! Being of service is something that I’ve talked about before, but I never mentioned that it could be an actual human need. After talking with so many of my clients over the years, I’ve realized that it is necessary in order to live a full, rich life of purpose.
For me, a full Service Bucket requires:
- Writing to you here
- Connecting with you through social media
- Being very active in my Strong Inside Out Bootcamp and Intentional Eating Facebook groups
- Teaching my mantra-based bootcamp at least once a week
- Coaching calls and group coaching calls
For you, it might be:
- Being there for your children (making meals for them, reading bedtime stories, etc.)
- Holding a safe, productive space for your employees
- Providing the work you do for your clients
- Volunteering your time for charity, PTA or after-school activities
- Listening to a friend who’s going through a hard time
This bucket is an entirely personal one. Take your time deciding what deserves to be in here!
This is probably my favorite bucket, but it wasn’t always that way.
I was awakened to the glory of self-care over the past few years since I left my personal training business. I used to be so busy caring for other people that I spent hardly any time at all on myself! What happened was that I lost out on precious time with my brother who moved away, I got overworked and super stressed and I burnt out on what I loved to do so much!
Now, I make sure that my Self-Care Bucket is always full so that I am a fuller version of myself for all those that I want to help. Here’s what’s in my Self-Care Bucket:
- Meditation every morning
- Half-days on Fridays (woot!)
- No-work days on Sundays and very light days on Saturdays
- Movement at least 3x/week
- Therapy/support groups
- Journaling as needed
Self-Care is usually the bucket that my clients find the most empty at the start of our work. Spend some time brainstorming about what you might want to try filling this bucket with, then go make a habit of it!
Too much of a good thing
It’s just as important to ensure that your bucket is full as it is to keep it from overflowing.
Too much of anything is… well, too much. Here are a few examples on what it’s like to overload each bucket:
Too much Social
If I were to overload my Social Bucket, I might find that my Health Bucket starts to drain because of my lack of sleep. I might watch my Self-Care Bucket empty out because I’m not giving myself enough quiet time. You might notice this happening to you when you go to conferences or big family get-togethers.
When you feel overwhelmed by social activities, take a look at what you really want to be doing and what feels more draining to you. Be honest with yourself here – this is a judgment free zone! When you determine which social events feel good and which don’t, practice the powerful act of standing up for your needs: say no. It’s scary, I know! It’s a great way to start building self-confidence and healthy boundaries, though.
Too much Health
If I put too much energy into my Health Bucket, I might find that I start to become obsessive about nutrition (maybe even forming disordered thoughts around what I’m supposed to and not supposed to eat) or I might overtrain my body resulting in injury or hormonal imbalance. Spending too much time thinking about and acting on your health regimen takes time and energy away from your other buckets.
When you start to feel rigid or forced around your health regimen, try taking a step back from your health commitments. If you’re on a strict diet, try giving yourself permission to eat what your body truly wants instead of what a book says you should eat. If you’re on a rigid exercise plan, try listening to your body; what does she really need to feel rested and energetic?
Too much Service
An overflowing Service Bucket might lead you to take on too much, leaving nothing for yourself. Too much service can feel the same as too much social: you feel drained, maybe even resentful of the causes that matter so much to you.
If you’re feeling drained from too much service, the answer is almost always to come back to stillness and silence. You need some YOU time, friend! Set aside some time to do some hefty self-caring. If stillness and silence doesn’t sound fun to you, just do something for yourself and just yourself.
At first, you might feel guilty doing this because you’re so used to giving all of yourself to other people. Stay with it. Through practice, you’ll find that you’re better able to be there for all those people you want to help if you have more energy and space. That goes for you, too, mommies and daddies!
Too much Self-Care
This category would be reeeeeally hard to overdo, honestly. I’ve never come across a client in any of my courses or coaching that’s had this issue, nor have I met anyone with this issue. You’re most likely safe from filling this bucket too full.
That said, too much self-care could potentially – and very rarely – drain your other buckets because of excess time and energy spent on this one category. Again, this is probably never ever going to be a problem for you or me. If you start to feel drained from self-care, however, here’s what I recommend:
- Take a look at the amount of time you’re spending on self-care each week.
- Now, imagine that your best friend/child told you she was doing that much self-care. Would you tell her it’s too much, or would you say “that’s great!” (or not enough)?
- If you honestly think it’s too much, back off a bit and ask yourself what other bucket is lacking to balance it out.
- If you’re just being hard on yourself OR you’re tired of your current self-care, change it up! Explore new tools and settle on the ones that feel refreshing and stress-relieving.
Now that you’ve jotted down a few ideas for yourself for each bucket, outline a loving, balanced schedule for the actions you listed for each category. Most likely, some of the actions you listed already exist in your schedule. Some don’t need extra time at all to implement.
When you do this outline, make sure that you’re not overwhelming your schedule. It’s almost always best to start slow and work your way into more commitments than it is to overwhelm yourself from the start and burn out a couple weeks in.
Now, go practice what you’ve outlined and know that it’s not supposed to be perfect; your outline is meant to conform to your needs. You might find that some actions rub you the wrong way or feel like just another thing you’ve got to do. When you realize you’re feeling that way, move on to the next part of this article to bring yourself back to balance.
You might find that creating balance in your life requires an easing back (or eliminating) of other things that drain you. This is an essential part of the process. In order to become the balanced, centered person you want to become, your life might need a little rearranging.
Keep your buckets balanced
Keeping your buckets balanced is a cinch once you’ve done the work of outlining what commitments you want to make in each category and made those actions habit through practice. Every week or so, do a check in by asking yourself these two questions about each bucket:
“What are my feelings/energy around this part of my life?”
“Do I need to change anything in order to feel the way I want to feel?”
When you’ve answered these questions, do a quick 1-minute free write about how you could take action on balancing your buckets out again.
Then, do it. :)
Balance doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. It can be a simple, gentle rearranging of your commitments.
Here’s to real-life balance and embracing the imperfection on the way!
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Photos all via Creative Commons 2.0 via flickr (license): 1: “happy bucket” by Daniel Novta; 2: “Red Buckets in a Row” by Don DeBold; 3: “Bucket & Spades” by DLG Images; 4: “bucket” by John Loo (adapted); 5: “bucket and no walrus” by wonderferret; 6: “Ice Bucket” by Radarsmum67.