Balance is critical to a healthy, happy life. I’m not just talking about physical balance, which is important and will be the focus of many workouts down the road. I’m talking about the relationship between all aspects of life that affect your mind, body and interpersonal connections–the daily battles between healthy eating habits and occasional indulgences, intense workouts and recovery days, maintaining a regular sleep routine and pulling all-nighters to party with friends. While it may seem counterintuitive, maintaining strict health-conscious habits 24/7 can actually work against you, just as constantly over-indulging because hey, life is short, can negatively impact your wellbeing in the long run.
While there is no perfect solution, balance, at least in my opinion, is the best thing to strive for. Every person’s balance of healthy habits to not-so-healthy ones is different, and that old saying of “everything in moderation” is relative. Finding the right balance for you can be a challenge, so I’ve compiled a list of my favorite life balance tips (plus some bonuses!) that have dramatically improved my overall happiness and wellbeing and that I hope will do the same for you!
For Spending: The Treat-Yo-Self Method
As you’ll come to learn, I am a big fan of Parks and Recreation on NBC. (Can I just be best friends with Amy Poehler already?) In the show, Donna and Tom go on an all-day Treat Yo Self splurge once every year, spoiling themselves silly with clothes, massages, mimosas and other fine products–all entirely guilt free. I’m not much of a shopper nor am I into fancy designer-brand things, but their annual judgment-free day to treat themselves like royalty is actually a great concept. Spend within reason most of the year and set cash aside in savings, but occasionally treat yo self without guilt to a shopping spree, a nice vacation, dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town, whatever you might love to do that you normally wouldn’t because of budget concerns. Just don’t entirely break the bank! Bonus Tip: Look for Groupon and LivingSocial deals for splurging on a budget!
For Eating & Drinking, #1: The Vice-Per-Decade Method
Let me be clear up front with this one: when I say “vice” I’m not referring to drugs, prostitution or other activities typically categorized as vices. “Vice” in this method just refers to less-than-healthy treats, and it came from something a favorite teacher in high school told me: Everyone is allowed to have one vice for every decade they’ve been alive. Much like the Treat Yo Self splurge, the vice per decade rule allows you to regularly enjoy something guilt-free. I’ve only “earned” 2 (and a half) vices, but both of them are definitely Starbucks Iced Caramel Lattes. For Allen, all three of his are craft beer. Throughout the week we stick to a healthy meal plan and drink mostly just water, but a few days a week I’ll enjoy a latte and Allen will enjoy a few beers on the weekend without worrying about the carbs and calories. Again, these aren’t true vices (and we wouldn’t advocate for real vices anyway), they’re just littles splurges that make us happy, much like chocolate, a glass of wine with dinner, and ice cream do for others. Bonus Tip: Check out our Eat Well posts for recipes and meal ideas that may incorporate your favorite foods and drinks.
For Eating & Drinking, #2: The Planned Detour Meal
Throughout years of working with clients, Allen and I have both found that the concept of detour meals works well to encourage regular healthy eating, especially among clients who are starting to eat well for the first time. You’ve probably heard of these more commonly called “cheat” meals, but I’m not a fan of the negative and guilt-inducing connotations that come with that. The idea of a planned detour meal is to stick to a healthy meal plan all week, then one night on the weekend or every other weekend, purposely enjoy one unhealthy meal and a couple drinks. For many, this helps them curb cravings, stay on track, have something to look forward to, and overcome harmful relationships with food, like emotional eating. On top of that, once your body gets used to processing proper nutritious food, small and occasional doses of high-carb or high-fat food can momentarily spike metabolism. Bonus Tip: If you like to go out to eat, make your detour nights the night to try new restaurants or visit your favorite places!
For Exercise: The Mix It Up Method
Don’t get me wrong here, having a constant workout routine is a very good thing. However, many people think that a workout routine = the same exact workout every day. When I worked the front desk at a gym, I can’t tell you how many women did half an hour on the elliptical every single day and how many men only worked out their chests and biceps for years. This approach to working out is not only counterproductive, it can also be dangerous, leading to repetitive-use injuries and serious musculoskeletal imbalances. If you’re not working with a personal trainer, find what exercises you enjoy and look forward to, but make sure your overall exercise plan includes a mix of strength training, cardio, and flexibility work no matter what your ultimate goal is. The variety will help keep your progress from plateauing, keep you interested and motivated, and minimize injury. Bonus tip: Keep an eye on our Get Active posts for a great mix of workouts!
For Time Management: The Listen to Your Gut Method
You’ve probably come across multiple articles on time management formulas or how and why to become a morning person, but for many these don’t work because they don’t take into account an individual’s unique responsibilities, state of health and natural cycle of peak performance. Instead, what I believe works much better is listening to your gut, or letting your mind and body have a say in your schedule. I am a planner, but if I am overwhelmed, too stressed, exhausted and/or physically tense, I take a break or stop work for the day no matter what my calendar says. I’m also a night owl, so I can work 10-12 productive straight hours as long as they don’t start before 10 AM, and I work out at 8 at night significantly better than 8 in the morning. When you realize these things about yourself, it is much more effective and healthy to balance your day (as much as your job and other responsibilities allow) around when you’ll perform best and adjust as needed, which will lead to reduced stress, better results and increased happiness. And don’t forget to set aside plenty of time for fun, exercise and relaxation sans guilt! Bonus Tip: Instead of a one-size-fits-all planner, use a customized and changeable planning system such as a dry erase calendar or the M by Staples Arc Notebook System.