Have you ever said a single word over and over again, repeating it aloud until it lost all of its meaning and started to sound downright ridiculous?
It’s kind of a fun exercise, if you want to try it out. Just take a word—any word, really—and say it over and over again for about 30 seconds. And suddenly that word, which felt totally normal to say just a few moments before, will feel strange and meaningless to you.
There’s actually a psychological term for this experience: semantic satiation. Basically, when we repeat a word or phrase over and over again, it temporarily loses its meaning for us. It becomes no more than a string of random sounds.
I just did this with the word “balance.”
Balance, balance, balance, balance, balance, balance, balance, balance, balance, balance, balance…
There, now it means nothing to me. It’s just a nonsense word.
Truthfully, though, “balance” was already a bit of a nonsense word to me, even before this little repetition exercise. Or maybe not a nonsense word, but definitely an annoying one. One that has been overused, clichéd, worn out and has now lost all of its significance.
How do you BALANCE it all with young kids?
What’s your secret for work-life BALANCE?
Aren’t you trying to BALANCE a little much right now?
I am as guilty of overusing the word “balance” as anyone else (case in point), but now I am just so sick of it.
The reason, I think, is because we tend to misunderstand balance as being something we should strive to achieve each and every day.
Every day I should have a little quality time with my kids, a little productive time at my job, a little time to take care of my house and personal life, a little time with God, a little time with my spouse, and a little time for myself.
And if I do, then BAM: I have achieved the elusive and long-sought-after BALANCE.
Except that no one ever gets all of those things in a single day. Ever.
It’s unrealistic and downright discouraging to pursue such an impossible thing.
So I propose that we redefine and reinvent the word “balance.”
Let’s stop thinking of it as something we should strive to achieve daily or even weekly, and instead evaluate our priorities over the course of a month or a season and see how we can even things out over that longer span of time.
So over the summer, you might intentionally lighten your workload so you can plan special outings with your kids who are off school.
But in the fall, if you’re a writer who has a new book coming out, you accept upfront that you’re going to miss several soccer games (without guilt) because you have extra marketing commitments that need to take priority.
Over the winter, you know that being cooped up in a cluttered house seriously stresses you out, so you commit to cleaning for 30 minutes every day—and then get a lot more takeout for dinner because you don’t have time to clean and cook.
Or in the spring, when you notice your physical body is feeling quite lousy, you intentionally decide to train for a road race, even though it takes you away from your family every Saturday morning for the next few weeks—knowing that summer and extra family time is right around the corner
I wish I could take credit for this idea of reimagining balance over a longer span of time, but it originally came to me from Dr. Deborah Gilboa (aka Dr. G).
She brought it up when I interviewed her about her book Get the Behavior You Want…Without Being the Parent You Hate. She explained that because she had a new book coming out, she was working a lot more evenings than she ordinarily would—but that’s ok because she knew that’s just how it is when you have a big exciting work project going on. Eventually it would die down, and she’d spend the next month neglecting her work duties in order to give her family extra time and attention.
Makes sense, right?
When we think about balancing our lives over the course of a month or a season—intentionally picking, say, two priorities to focus on—it helps us make conscious choices about what we say yes to and what we turn down…and it helps us feel really good about those choices.
Goodbye guilt, hello intentional living!
We don’t have to say no to the things we really want to do in life—write a book, go back to school, paint the bedroom—instead we just say “not yet” or “not at this phase in my life.”
Similarly, we don’t have to say yes to everything all at once and then not even get to enjoy it because we’re more burnt out than a marshmallow left in a campfire.
Don’t be that marshmallow.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this:
Take a good hard look at your life. What should be your focus or priority for this month or this season? What should be at the forefront right now—and what needs to be pushed to the back burner without guilt or shame?
Stop worrying so much about balancing it all today or tomorrow, and instead see how you can even the scales over the next month or quarter.
Because when we think about balance as a long-term reality instead of a short-term impossibility, it stops feeling like such a nonsense word and actually starts feeling helpful and achievable.
Unless, of course, you say it over and over again for the next 30 seconds. Then it will be a nonsense word again, no way around it.