Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change


257: The Myth of “Balance”

Strive as we might for work-life balance, the truth is balance is a myth. Learn more about what to do instead of find your work-life balance at TaraSwiger.com/podcast257

How do you balance business and family? How do you balance alone time with together time? What if you just need to be alone to work on your business but you feel like you should be with your family? Today, I'm going to give you a super honest answer. Ya ready?

So let’s start by being honest about balance: it’s not real. Or at least, this ideal goal of work-life balance, where you’re always happy with how much time and energy you’re spending on each area of your life and it always feel balanced and equal – that ideal is not a goal worth pursuing, if it even is possible.

Why? Because life is full of curves and changes and YOU are not balanced. What you want is not balanced. When I talk to you about balance, what you tell me is that you want the projects you care about to get more energy. You want to feel like you’re connected with your partner and kids. You want to feel enthusiastic and in the flow with your work.

You don’t want to give 50% to family and 50% to work and then where is your self-care and FUN going to come in? You want to give 100% to your family when you’re with them. You want to have 100% energy to work on your dream, when you do it. You want to be 100% in on girls night or the novel you’re reading or the nap you’re taking. Right?

The goal isn’t to have everything perfectly balanced. And if you keep pursuing that as a goal, you’re always going to feel like you’re coming up short. I’m gonna suggest that your goal may be, instead, to be fully engaged and enthusiastic about most of what you’re doing with your day, and to have the time to spend on the things you care about.

But first you have to get really honest with yourself (just like we talked about last week). Take an assessment of your life – where are you spending your time and your energy?

Start by identifying the categories of activities: What takes up your actual time? If you’re not sure, track your time for a week – every hour write down what you’re doing.

I’m gonna share my list with you, but yours will be different of course:

  • Cleaning and life-admin (dishes, vacuuming, making meal list, talking to Jay about finances/parenting/etc, scheduling stuff, going to meetings)
  • Being a loving mom to the kids in my life (hanging out with past foster babes, hands-on care of new foster babes)
  • Loving partnership (anything with Jay that isn’t managing our life – we eat dinner together, talking about our day, going to movies, going on trips)
  • Work (podcast, doTERRA, IG, emails)
  • Reading and learning and entertainment (novels, non-fiction, listening to podcasts, watching biz trainings)
  • Joyful movement (walking, dancing, running, lifting)
  • Community (hanging out with friends and family, coffee dates, texting with friends)

In a life that feels full and enthusiastic and satisfying, I don’t want all of these things to take up the same 10%. I want to be fully present for them, when I’m doing them (well, life admin stuff can be distracted with listening to podcasts!) and when I’m not doing them, I want to let go of them.

For me, and a lot of you, the problem isn’t that I’m not doing what matters or that I’m doing the wrong stuff, it’s that I’m kinda always thinking about the other categories no matter what I’m in the middle of. For working moms, it may be that you’re thinking about your kid’s cough when you’re working. Or you’re thinking about your next IG post when you’re with your kid. And I’ll be honest. I don’t know how to stop that. I know that having boundaries around your time (like I talk about in my Time class, at TaraSwiger.com/time) can help keep everything from bleeding together and overwhelming you. But it’s also natural that you’re going to think of other things.

What helps me is to know: It’s ok, I HAVE TIME for that later, I don’t need to do it now. It’s having peace of mind that I do have time allotted for everything so I don’t have to keep obsessing over it right now, now is the time for X.

And this is how boundaries and deciding your day before you start it can really help. Yes, you’re still gonna be distracted by other stuff in your life, but knowing that you have time for both will really help.

After you took a look at your categories, look at where you’re spending your time. And then decide where you want to spend your time, not forever, just *this week*. What categories need some love and attention? When can you give them that? Block it off in your calendar, or put it on your priority list for that day. There’s a book Pick Three, where the idea is each day you don’t have to do everything, you can just get to three categories, and rotate the three you work on.

I don’t totally agree with that theory because you never really get a break from life admin and mom-ing and being in partnership. But you can decide which days or hours those categories will get your undivided attention. Like maybe Monday you are focused on work and life admin, whereas Saturday you take your family to the library and park and really PLAY with them or you go out to the movies with your friends.

Here’s the thing I hope you’re absorbing from this: There’s no way to do it “right” and for a lot of us driven Type A types, that’s SUPER annoying. We want to get it RIGHT. We want to spend the right amount of time with our family, we want to have the right amount of time for our business, we want to have a clean house).

But the awesome thing is: there’s no one right way…which means you can’t get it WRONG. You can only keep experimenting and figure out what works for you RIGHT NOW. What works for you this week? What does your family need? What does your life need? What does your business need THIS WEEK?

And guess what? You’ll have another week next week where you can shift your focus.

I know this is something a lot of you really struggle with, and that is getting in the way of you enjoying your business or life. If that’s you and if doing the exercise in this podcast still isn’t helping you bring a sense of enthusiasm and calm to your life, I highly recommend working with someone to help you through it, someone who can help you identify what you want to change and then hold you accountable for changing it. My friend Joeli Kelly is who I talk to and she is a certified life coach and has spots available now. This isn’t an ad, this is just a real-life recommendation. If you need more help with this, go to JoeliCreates.com to get an expert help. Tell her this episode sent you, so she’ll know how to help!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

231: How stress is affecting your biz (& what to do about it) with Joeli Kelley

Chronic stress can have disastrous effects on your life. And when you run a creative business, these effects can spill into affecting your business too! Learn more about how to balance out the stress we all feel at TaraSwiger.com/podcast231

Do you always seem to be coming down with some cold or bug? Do you feel exhausted all the time? When you sit down to work, do you find it difficult to focus and get distracted by Facebook and social media? Do you find yourself struggling to get motivated to send your newsletter or record that video? Well, stay tuned, because today we are going to talk about the one factor that might be the reason for all of those things.

I'm Joeli Kelly, and I'm filling in for Tara this episode

Today I want to touch on something I've been severely affected by and see affecting my friends on a pretty much daily basis: stress.

Firstly, let's define what stress is: Stress is an extra physiological demand on your body. It can be physical, environmental, or emotional and it can be painful or pleasurable. Basically, stress is anything that disrupts our current state of being.

Next, we need to talk about our nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system maintains normal functions when we are not under stress. It keeps the heart rate at a reasonable pace, supports healthy digestion and relaxes our muscles. But when we are under stress, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and starts responding to that stress so that we stay alive. One of the ways the body reacts to stress is by releasing stress hormones. When we experience a stressor, the adrenal glands get a message to release noradrenaline, adrenaline, and/or cortisol depending on the situation and the perceived threat. When the stress is gone, everything is supposed to go back to normal.

These hormones affect more than the areas we might think they do. For example, we all have probably experienced a moment of stress that sent our heart rate soaring, made our breathing get shallow, and our palms get sweaty. But there are other effects that are less obvious. The hormone cortisol regulates the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbs. It gets released because in times of stress the body wants us to start using up the fastest available energy first. So cortisol instructs our bodies to release a flood of glucose and then it also inhibits insulin production, so the glucose is used and not stored. This is good if the stress is short-term like during a workout, but pretty bad if we are experiencing chronic stress.

What are some examples of chronic stress? Not sleeping enough. Not eating a nutritious diet. Being in a job with a lot of pressure or high demands (even if these high demands only come from ourselves). Going through times of uncertainty or significant change or very emotional times like grief and loss. Dealing with worry about money and finances.

Long-term stress (either chronic or too many periods of acute stress like overexercising) starts to affect our physical well being. It can cause headaches & muscle pain, and fatigue. Stress affects the absorption of nutrients, raises levels of stomach acid (causing heartburn and stomach upset), and can cause inflammation in the intestines – there is a significant link between IBS and stress. It can also cause sleep problems and a lowered immune system. So if you're getting sick all the time, you're most likely under too much stress. It also affects our mood due to its effect on other hormones in our body which causes us to feel anxiety, unmotivated, unfocused, overwhelmed, irritable, and depressed. I don't want to get into too many details here, but you can research further how stress affects serotonin levels for example (which it's been shown that low levels lead to anger control issues, depression, migraines and IBS.) The main point is that stress affects our body physically by raising certain hormone levels and affects our emotional well being by lowering the levels of other hormones, and long-term this can be very damaging.

Now stress is normal, and in the short term can even be good (for example our muscles grow and get stronger by first being stressed through exercise), and we are never going to eliminate all stress. That's absolutely not the goal. The goal is to balance things out. We all know that after we exercise we should stretch and rest. The same is true for other areas of our life. If we have a stressful job, then we need to balance that out with something that brings the scale back to the center.

There is a chemical our brain makes called GABA which is an inhibitor – basically, it lowers the activity of other cells, particularly those that cause anxiety – which in turn helps us relax and balances our mood. If we don't have enough of it, it leads to anxiety disorders. (Many drugs that are anti-depressants work by interacting with GABA and its receptors.) One of the things we can do to balance periods of stress is to get our body producing more of this chemical and others, like serotonin that we mentioned earlier.

There are many ways to achieve this balance, but I'm going to touch on six that I think are easy enough for everyone to do.

The first way is exercise. Yes, too much exercise actually raises our stress levels, but you should be moving your body in some way every day. Exercise releases serotonin and dopamine and helps burn off some of the excess energy that our body creates as a response to stress. Doing gentle exercise like walking and yoga is an excellent option if you don't want to do anything too strenuous.

The next way is getting enough sleep. You need a minimum of 7 hours, with 8-9 being the ideal. The importance of getting good quality, restful sleep really can't be emphasized enough. It's a time for our body to rest and reset.

Third, diet and hydration. I know this is a bit boring. But poor nutrition and dehydration add stress to the body. So drink water, eat your fruit and veg, get your B12, Vitamin D, Omegas and maybe add a probiotic if gut health is a concern. Of course, a doctor or qualified nutritionist should be consulted if you need specific advice in this area.

Fourth, meditation. Meditation has been shown to increase levels of GABA and reduce levels of cortisol and noradrenaline. Studies show that 20 minutes a day is ideal, but honestly, 5-10 minutes is going to do you wonders. Even one minute of focused breathing can help calm down our stress responses.

Fifth, connecting with friends. A lot of times when our anxiety is high, or our mood is really low we withdraw from our friends and social situations. This is actually really counterproductive. Studies have shown that when we spend time with friends our cortisol levels go down and endorphins are released. Basically spending time with friends, having fun, and talking about our problems is vital for balancing out our stress.

Lastly, having a hobby. Having something that is fun and we can look forward to can be really helpful for managing stress. Hobbies might bring us into social situations, or it might be something we do alone. But if it's fun and feels relaxing, then it's worth doing. (Note: mindlessly watching TV that we don't really enjoy doesn't count nor does binge-watching Netflix for long periods of time.)

Now we can carry on for months and months in our high-stress lives, and not think of anything of it until something happens which forces us to rest. When that illness or burnout hits, we might turn to things like mediation and healthy eating to help us get back on track. But then when we start feeling better, our healthy habits start to slip away again, and we go back to the grind. Please don't do this. Please don't wait for things in your life to slow down before you rest, or say “well I just get through this launch and then I'll rest.” Because you know and I know, that you most likely won't rest. You'll find something else to throw yourself into. And meanwhile, the stress builds and builds in your body.

Start getting yourself back in balance today.

Now, we all are aware that knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things.

If you:

  • need help identifying the habits that would make the most significant difference to your life
  • want to design an action plan that you're actually excited about
  • would like to understand your motivation style so you can actually get stuff done
  • and want to be held accountable along the way, so you actually follow through with it all
  • then you might want to work with a coach.

You can google “wellness life coach” to find people trained in this area, or you can get in touch with me! I've been helping women create lives they love for the past few years, and nothing would make me happier than to see all women reduce a bit of the stress in their lives. (After all, we can't smash the patriarchy if we're all burnt out!) I offer a free 20-minute introductory chat so we can talk more — you can email me hello@joelicreates.com or find me on Instagram (I'm @joelicreates there) if you would like to chat more. And be sure to let me know you heard me on Tara's podcast!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

My secret to “balance”


If you follow me on Instagram, then you might have seen this last week:
17119208052_92961b33ac_o“In the 2 days since my Big Spring Adventures (#craftcation15 followed by a week in SoCal with bro, followed by 5 days with out-of-town friends) have ended, I've been in deep #introvertrecovery. Snuggling, reading, baking, finishing my taxes, staring at the wall” 

My real-life friends tell me that based on my Instagram account, my life looks either incredibly lazy (reading, snuggling dogs, etc) or incredibly adventurous (travel, conferences, etc). The truth is, it's both, depending on what day it is.

But the REAL truth is, 99% of the time, it's neither.

99% of the time I'm neither laying in bed, nor meeting cool people, nor reading at the ocean.
My days are spent working. Coffee cup in hand, journal at my side, computer screen open…working. Right now, as I write this, there's a dog at my feet, and he's super photogenic, but it's hardly glamorous.

This is my idea of “balance” – there's intense fun, intense rest, intense work.

There are moments, even weeks, of awesome travel and companionship and in-person teaching. There are moments of complete Introvert Recovery (usually on weekends), doing absolutely nothing but reading and staring at the wall. (True fact: during Craftcation I went to my room for at least an hour midday and just laid down and stared at the ceiling.)

But most of the time, there's just normal, work-filled workdays. Writing podcasts, newsletters, and classes. Talking to clients and Captains. Leading the Starship chat, answering the forum questions, and replying to emails.

That's my balance. Without any one of these things, I couldn't do the other. If my life was all travel and in-person teaching, I'd get burnt out. If it was all lazing around and staring at the wall or dogs, I'd be broke. And if it was ALL normal workday (with no travel or teaching), I'd be bored.

But at no one moment is everything in balance. Instead, I'm balancing it over time (I hope).

I (and you!) don't have to have it all balanced 100% of the time. Some weeks you're going to spend more time on work, some weeks you'll spend more time with your family. Some seasons of life are for growth, while others are for rest and recovery. It's all cyclical.

Remember this, when you look at anyone's Instagram feed. For every beach photo, there's hours on a plane. For every dog napping photo there's hours of staring at a screen. (Tweet this!)

Remember this, when you worry you're not “in balance” –  when you work hard on a new project, or when you need take an afternoon off to rest.

Where are you in your own balance right now? Do you need more of fun, rest or work?
In my upcoming class, Get More Done, you'll create your own balanced day, week or month, so that you can get more done. Learn more here.