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“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

This Sunday night, the #RunAtCan chat I have been hosting on Twitter for the past few months is going to be about the challenge of life balance for runners with multiple other commitments. These other commitments include work, family, volunteer opportunities and (gasp!) other activities we are involved with on a regular basis.

Ahead of the chat, I thought it might be helpful to put my own thoughts together on the topic – at least partially (it is a HUGE topic, after all). Life balance is close to my heart – having been a mental health professional for many years, I know how common a struggle it is as well as how difficult it can be to achieve. Ironically, while I feel as though I had a good professional grasp on what it took for a person to work towards improving their own life balance, it is something that I was unsuccessful at in my own life.

I believe that the majority of us have a tendency to focus outwards and examine how the other important people in our lives are managing their day to day habits. We feel a responsibility to care for those around us to our own detriment. While this seems like the normal (even noble?) thing to do, what we are doing is ultimately very unhealthy for us. It seems counterintuitive, but in order to truly take care and be there for our loved ones we have to take care of ourselves above and beyond anyone else.

Taking care of yourself so that you are in the best physical and mental state possible is NOT selfish. I really, really cannot emphasize that enough. Being selfish is making decisions or taking actions regardless of how they affect others – you are solely focused on how it makes things better for you. Making decisions to keep yourself physically and emotionally fit enable you to care your loved ones long term. It also models healthy habits to your loved one that may then emulate – which also helps them as it is a lifetime change rather than a temporary assist.

What are some things that you can do to evaluate and improve your life balance? Here are a few suggestions – although it is by no means an exhaustive list.

  1. Prioritize!!! Before you do anything else, ask yourself who are the people and what are the things that bring you the most joy in your life. Make a physical list of what is important to you and do it with complete honesty. If you’re going to bullshit yourself, you may as well just stop here. Think of your list as a recipe for happiness. The list can also be referred back to if you find yourself wandering or losing perspective.

2. Track your time. Balance doesn’t mean paying equal attention to each aspect of your life. It means paying adequate attention to each aspect. If you don’t have a good handle on how you are actually spending your time, it is harder to adjust things or make educated changes. Getting solid, representative data about where your daily, weekly and monthly time is spent is really useful. Real life is complicated and unexpected things happen, but a few days or a couple weeks of tracking your time will help you immensely.

3. Compare your priorities list with where you actually spend your time. For most of us, it can actually be quite shocking to see these two things compared. Obviously, we can’t spend all of our time doing our favourite things or being around our favourite people (unless we are extremely fortunate) but we can certainly look for ways to include more positive things in our life.

4. Look for things to eliminate. Another benefit of tracking our use of time is that we get to see how much the little, insignificant things eat into the really important things. How much time do you spend watching tv? Staring at your smartphone? Playing video games? There is nothing wrong with leisure activities – but if they are NOT on your priorities list, why do most of us spend so much time doing them?

5. Ask for help or input from others. This doesn’t mean you need to seek professional help (although it is certainly an option) but it means that you are more likely to be successful in making positive changes when you involve others. Ask a family member or friend to be a workout or accountability partner. Talk to people who you see as more organized or balanced how they do it. Go online and read about life balance. If you feel that things are not going as well as you would like, then it’s worth trying something different. It can be scary and it’s almost never easy but things rarely change on their own – you have to put some effort in yourself.

Those are just some of my thoughts. I hope you’ve found this helpful. I would really love to hear from you. If you have any questions or any resources or tips on life balance you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!!

Happy running – and happy mental health!!