Finding Balance and Flow

Technological advances like the internet, computers, better transportation options, cell phones, etc. have made working life easier. Computer programs do much of our work for us, cell phones allow us to contact anyone at anytime, airplanes allow us to go anywhere in the world in a matter of hours and the internet allows us access to information at the click of a button. Yet, many individuals complain about not having enough time in the day to complete their work tasks and that they don’t have enough time to spend with their families.

If our technological advances have afforded us more time, then why are many of us still complaining about not having enough time to do the things that we are required to do? The simplistic answer is that individuals are not managing their time appropriately and so need assistance in time management. This simply is not true. I am awed at how the American family is able to work between 50 to 80 hours per week, raise children, volunteer their time (which many do) to various causes that they believe in, and still find time for social activities. They obviously know how to manage their time, but they could use assistance in balancing their activities and finding flow while engaging in these activities.

Creating Balance

Before an individual can discover how to create balance, he or she must first decide what they value most. Many people probably think that they know what is important to them, but I would venture to say that they only have a vague idea regarding those things. Whether they are clear or not, it is worth suspending the supposed clarity or lack there of in order to delve into new possibilities. Such an activity can be exciting, fun and very freeing if done in a way that works. Below are some simple steps towards determining what one values most in life.

1. Brainstorm: Get a piece of paper and write down everything that you think you want to do and find valuable. Don’t censure yourself! Let yourself be free and open your mind to all the possibilities. No matter how silly or even insane the things might seem to your rational mind. You are doing this exercise correctly when the things that you write down don’t make sense to you or you don’t think that you could ever do them. The key is that you have an interest in them!

2. Categorize: Take each item that you wrote down and categorize them by “area type.” Examples include but are not limited to: health, wealth, food, family, etc. Try not to use general words like “love” or “relationships.” Instead of “relationships” say “parents,” “lover,” “children,” “boyfriend,” etc. This step helps the mind find clarity and creates a deeper sense of what the goals mean to you. It also causes your internal connection to them to find an avenue for expression. Don’t be surprised if you experience various feeling during this process.

3. Prioritize: Put each goal from your categorized list into an order of importance sequence. This does not mean compromise which ones you should do or shouldn’t do. The idea is that you are going to experience all of them at one point throughout your life. A long-term perspective is helpful because it decreases undo pressure and the need to force them all to happen quickly. When you see that you have 20, 30, 40 years to achieve your life goals, the experience becomes quite fulfilling.

4. Schedule: Once you have completed steps 1 — 3 the fun really starts; you get to begin doing the things you want. All that is required is that you begin scheduling time to do them in your weekly calendar. If you don’t keep a weekly calendar, then I would suggest that you do so. By creating a weekly schedule, you free your mind up from thinking about what it needs to do. Instead of having these things clutter up your mind, you need to just look at what you’ve schedule for the day and do it.

These steps are key to finding balance within your life. If most of your schedule consists of work stuff, begin shedding in some areas and adding other areas of interest. These changes don’t have to be drastic. Deciding to leave work 30 minutes early twice a week so that you can get to the gym or so that you can begin reading that book you’ve been wanting to read is a great way to start. If you think your boss won’t want you to leave, try having an open dialogue with him or her regarding your schedule. I have worked with many clients who claim that their work schedule is unbending. Well, after I gave them some coaching tips they were able to work something out with their bosses.
Finding Flow

What is this thing called “flow?” Any description will be flawed because language can never substitute or accurately describe a physiological or spiritual experience. A person trying to explain the love they have for their romantic partner or the feeling they experienced while parachuting out of an airplane will never live up to the actual experience. All an explanation can do is either help someone relate their own experience or lack-there-of to what is said, which will never be an absolute description. That being said, I will do my best to describe that which cannot be accurately described. For those who have experienced the thrill of athletics, dancing, acting, painting and the like will have some idea of what this “flow” experience is like. The time you made that outstanding athletic play without even thinking about it is what I’m talking about; it was as if the move came out of you.

Let’s use a concrete example. You are watching a basketball game and the offensive player is at the top of the key and knows that his or her goal is to put the basketball into the basket. The player dribbles and lunges to the left and instinctually goes right and finds a new defender in front of him/her. Again, without thinking about it, the player spins 360 degrees around the player without picking up his/her dribble, and drives directly towards the basket for a lay up. While in the air when attempting the lay up, a new defender comes from the opposite direction to block the path to the basket. The offensive player then, in mid-air, pump-fakes and dips the ball under the outstretch arms of the defender to his/her teammate who lays the ball in the hoop for two points. As this example shows, the offensive player could not have thought about doing all of those things before driving to the basket. It would have taken too long and it would have been impossible because he/she could not have foreseen all of the potential obstacles along the way.

This same kind of thing can be experienced in everyday life with a few simple tools. The idea is to create the right habits so that you instinctually know where to go and which actions are the most valuable for the things you want to create in your life.

1. Mind Training: Much of life’s difficulties stem from our inability to turn off the rational part of our thinking; the part of the mind that wonders how, when and if something will happen. The reality is that we never have an absolute answer to any of these questions. The only thing that we can know for certain is “what” we want to create or choose to happen to us. Whether it actually happens, when it will happen and how it will happen is ALWAYS a guess. One way of training the mind is to spend time each day training it to be with one thought repetitively. Sit in a comfortable place and repeat something you’d like to happen repeatedly in the affirmative. For example: “I am enjoying my days.” This is different than “I hope to enjoy my days.” The latter example will still train your mind to focus, but it will result in a “hoping” versus “having.” Remember, the body will experience what we tell it to.

2. “Now” Training: Create healthy habits to establish a strong sense of self and comfortableness with the mundane elements of your daily routine. Don’t put things off for later; do everything you can or need to do as quickly as possible. For example, don’t wait to pay your bills. Once your bills come in the mail, open them, file the receipt away, write the check, put the check in the envelope and put the stamp on the envelope. Practicing the habit of doing things right away will enable you to feel in flow because you won’t feel the pressure of things left undone. If you can’t do everything right away, at the very least write them down in a notebook or piece of paper at your desk and pick a certain time of day to take care of them. For example your mind might say, “I need to call my Mom,” “I need to schedule an appointment with my doctor,” or “I need to reschedule my massage appointment.” Writing them down will prevent these thoughts from resurfacing respectively. The quicker you do things the less you will have to think about them, which prevents this “flow” experience. Remember, too much thinking takes us out of flow.

3. Observance Training: Practice observing your mind’s thoughts without acting on them. Observe them as content, just as you would read the contents of a book. Our minds are continuously yapping about something until we give it reason to be quiet. One way we do this is to observe the thoughts without acting on them. If this is done enough, our minds will realize and learn that the chatter will no longer be accepted. Remember, the mind thinks things in the hopes of action being done to “solve” those things. The goal is that we control our minds versus our minds controlling us. This transformation cannot occur until we first learn how to read the content of our thinking without acting upon that content. Much of what the mind is demanding that we do is not really necessary. It is just our fear manifesting itself in fearful thoughts. A strong observance ability allows the mind to automatically learn what is really valuable and what isn’t; distinguishing between that which is trivial and significant. You don’t have to sit in silent meditation to practice your observance abilities. It is actually more effective during the numerous activities of everyday life. Another observance technique is to focus your attention on the things in front of you. We are often thinking about things instead of being present to the things in front of us. For example, when walking down the street bring your attention to the things in your current environment. See the tree, the color of the cars parked along the street, the birds in the trees or the clothes that people are wearing. Don’t judge these things, just see them. Also, hear the sounds and smell the smells that surround you…

…All of this will help you find peace and flow!

About Shawn Athanasios

A little bit about me. I received my BA from California State University, Northridge in Speech Communication and my MA in Culture and Communication from New York University (NYU). My Master’s degree was within the field of Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management and my thesis topic was Meta-Cognition and Human Defensiveness. I wrote about the importance of individuals learning how to understand their defensiveness and negative thinking habits as a way to improve the overall cohesiveness within their human relationships. Curerently, I am an Adjunct Professor at SAE Institute, and my pasrt teaching experience includes several of the top Universities in the U.S. (NYU, LIM College, Pace University, Manhattan College & Georgia State University). My teaching experience includes the following courses: Interviewing Strategies, Intro to Human Communication and Culture, Interpersonal Communication, Small Group Communication, Principals and Theories of Communication, Public Speaking and Theories of Speech Communication I decided to create my own Coaching Business (JAAS Coaching) under the umbrella of Personal and Career Development for those looking to enhance their current profession, change careers, discover their deepest passions, communicate and manage conflict more effectively, achieve high levels of motivation, and find balance with their total self by offering a holistic approach to career and personal development. My eBook, "The Soul Search Before the Job Search," encompasses all of my work as a Personal and Executive Coach. My website/blog is www.JAAScoaching.comLinks to an external site. I have had many fulfilling experiences that include being raised in Laos, Ghana, India & Egypt by parents of the U.S. Foreign Service and Diplomatic community, teaching ESL in South Korea, serving as a Primary Counselor for kids out of Juvenile Hall, and mentoring grade school children through a Psychologist’s referred program. In addition, I am proud to have received a full scholarship for my Masters Degree at NYU, to have been the sole recipient of the Rosenberg scholarship and for graduating Magna Cum Laude upon completion of my graduate degree. I also presented two papers at the New York Speech Communication Association (NYSCA) conference while at Graduate School where I discussed the importance of taking full ownership of one’s shortcomings as essential to inducing change within oneself and one’s environment and how to be an effective interpersonal communicator. And finally, I was voted Faculty of The Year and Georgia State University after just one semester on the job! The article can be found on my website/blog. My volunteer work is reflected through participating in Buddhist Activities as a member of the Soka Gakkai International, the largest Buddhist lay organization in the world. Previously, I was the Young Men’s Division Leader for Houston District, I transcribed the World Tribune to audiotapes for the blind Buddhist members, I published an article in the Soka Gakkai’s Living Buddhism magazine and was a volunteer staff writer for the organization’s newspaper (The World Tribune). I continues to lead group discussions on Nichiren Buddhist Theory.
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