Anxiety. Guilt. Frustration. These emotions bubble to the surface as we strive for that elusive work/life balance. When we’re at work, we beat ourselves up for what we’re missing at home. When we’re at home, we’re stewing about what needs to get done at the office.
Constantly juggling between two worlds doesn’t do much for our peace of mind, either: Among meQuilibrium users, work/life balance is one of the top five biggest stressors. Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a challenge for nearly half of users, and over a third would change your work/life balance if you could.
It’s high time to ditch the myth of work/life balance, that striving for mastery of your personal life and your professional self and achieving stability while trying to be present in both. Instead, we need to go for a work/life merge, where we’re honoring both worlds without feeling burdened by either.
While the secret is having an understanding that these two worlds can’t operate independently, the solution is having the tools to manage each. Here’s how.
1. Confront your Iceberg Beliefs. Many of us have Iceberg Beliefs that tell us we need to be constantly available in order to be valuable, or that successful people are able to juggle it all. This just isn’t true. “The president needs to be available all the time. We don’t—these beliefs are driven by our insecurities,” says Dr. Andrew Shatté, meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer. Think about the “should” statements you tell yourself when it comes to work or your personal life—I “should” always be accessible; I “should” be able to do it all—and then ask yourself if they’re reasonable. Checking the accuracy of these subconscious beliefs helps us gain some perspective—and creates room for self-compassion.
2. Set a mantra. Next time you run into one of these sweeping “should” statements, set a mantra that counters the belief. For example, if you’re beating yourself up for pushing back on a deadline that falls smack in the middle of your family vacation, remind yourself, “I’m only human, and I can only do what’s humanly possible.” Repeat your mantra to yourself whenever you feel your Icebergs looming.
3. Make a plan. Once you acknowledge that you’re not superhuman (nobody is!), cement a plan. For example, imagine that you’re faced with a project deadline that conflicts with your daughter’s dance recital. Explore your options. Can you ask for an extension? Ask for help from a co-worker? Work from home or return to the office after the recital? Guilt can be a paralyzing emotion. The key is to be proactive instead of self blaming.
4. Work smart. It’s not about working a lot to prove your worth—it’s about working smart to sustain it. Time is a zero-sum game—time spent on one activity can’t be channeled to another. Think about methods to cut down on busy work so you can integrate more of what matters into your life. If your schedule is truly such that you do have to check in at odd hours, make sure to devote time elsewhere to personal pursuits. Shatté practices this in his own life. “If I’m going to work at 8 p.m., I should then be able to have lunch with my wife and kids,” he says.
5. Set tech boundaries. Give yourself a reality check: Do you really need to respond to messages at 11 p.m.? “Very few of us in this world are so indispensable that we can’t go to bed at 11 and not check in until 7, but we consider busyness a badge of importance,” Shatté says. Give yourself a break—and make others aware of your parameters.
6. Find your why. When we can connect our work to our values, it becomes much easier to be the best we can be, both at work and at home—and we’re no longer trying to balance two conflicting opposites. Ask yourself, In what way is my work aligned with my values? You could be driven by a desire to help others, support your family, or make an impact on your industry. Find a connection—even in a small way and hold on to it, remind yourself of it. It’s your why—your deeper connection to the hard work you do everyday.
The more we can merge the two sides of our lives, we’ll have one life, where work and home are no longer compartmentalized but seamlessly knit together—no balancing act required.