The term work-life balance has been around since 1986 when it was first coined in the United States to describe the swathe of Americans working longer and longer hours to the detriment of their home life. You might be pleased to learn though that things have moved on as they always seem to and in Silicon Valley for example, it is now referred to as work-life integration.

So has this renaming solved the problem, or at least shifted our perception: Or have the goal posts simply been moved yet again?

120 Years Ago

Over 120 years ago Henry Ford wrote that it was part of the human condition to, “rush too much with nervous hands and worried minds”.

Whilst over 200 years ago the poet, painter and social Commentator William Blake wrote of “sixty iron doors” and “sixty golden palaces”; telling us that every minute was chock-full — either of sixty opportunities i.e. ‘Golden Palaces’, or sixty obstacles i.e. ‘Iron Doors’.

According to recent figures from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one-in-five people report feeling unusually tired”, yet wired at the same time. Feeling that they have to be constantly checking emails and always contactable. Some commentators however are already saying that this figure is probably more realistically one-in-four. Whilst the latest figures for those enduring mental health problems in the UK coming from the most recent survey undertaken in 2014 suggest that one-in-three of us are affected to some degree, which is up 25% on figures from a similar scale survey in 2007.

We’re always on, always working

In short, many of us are simply working too much and at too great a cost to our health and our relationships.

Caught up in the maelstrom of modern-day life and trying to balance everything, it’s become increasingly easy to loose sight of what’s really important in every area of our life.

Achieving that elusive work-life or work-integration balance though is a Holy Grail that seems forever just outside our grasp. Intellectually we may get it, but in practical terms the reality of our obligations and expectations, both those we have of ourselves as well as what others may expect of us, weigh too heavily.

I have written a book on Mindfulness that looks at all of this and a central theme is the small things — steps we can take, adjustments we can make — to the way we do the everyday things we are constantly having to juggle.

I firmly believe that by introducing Mindfulness practice into our lives we can reintroduce a sense of balance, restore calm, &, develop a renewed passion and purpose.

But what is the real issue when we talk of work-life balance?

What are we looking for? Can we have it all and indeed is this reasonable, or desirable?

In 1924 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology and increased productivity would mean the working week would shrink to 10–12 hours for most people. Back then the talk was of how many more of us would become part of the leisure class and how we’d use our new found leisure time.

Yet for many of us the reality hasn’t quite turned out like this has it? A recent Oxford University Study has found that the richest and best educated work the most hours each week in today’s world.

A finding also supported by an American survey that found University graduates work on average eight more hours a week more than those who were not University educated.

Meanwhile Daniel Kahneman has discovered through his research that those in society who earn less than £12,000 p.a. spend a third of their time in leisure pursuits which includes watching the telly. Whereas those earning on average +£60,000 p.a. spend only a fifth of their time in “passive leisure”.

This certainly flips the burger, don’t you think?

Notwithstanding how you might actually want to use your newly found leisure time, or indeed how you might wish to re-balance your life, could you afford to earn significantly less?

Would you be prepared to be less career-orientated to achieve a more reasonable balance, or integration in your life? Wouldn’t your ego have something to say about it, or those parts of you that thrive on the intellectual nourishment and feelings of satisfaction, validation, self-worth and sense of achievement you get from your current employment?

In a recent post on LinkedIn Pulse, I asked do the happiest people really have the hardest jobs? Rosabeth Moss Kanter writing in the Harvard Business Review had identified that once a person earned over £60,000 p.a., the cash-to-happiness correlation leveled itself out and beyond this income level people weren’t correspondingly happier the more they earned.

It was in fact the degree of challenge, stimulation and chance to achieve something really important and meaningful that raised their happiness and positivism quotient.

So what does the evidence suggest?

The evidence then would suggest that to achieve this elusive work-life balance, something has to give, but what?

I would take it back a couple of beats and not simply jump straight to the choices and decisions you’ll need to make.

Firstly, you need to ask yourself and your partner, if this is a life change that is going to impact on more than just you, a series of questions.

In broad terms you need to identify and be clear about what you need to fix — what’s working and what’s not. You need to envisage an ideal outcome — what does a balanced and integrated life look like, for you, your partner, your family?

Life can so often seem to be just about compromise and trade-offs, but ask yourself(selves) on every level what do you need more and less of? Then ask what key things need to happen and over what scale of time, to get to where you want and need to be?

Within this there will be some key questions

Questions you need to ask of yourself(selves) and answer honestly.

For example, how do you define success and what does it mean to you? Not only will that be different for everyone, it is also something that is likely to change over time. So how you feel when you start on this journey, might not be how you feel when you arrive.

You will have traveled, changed and be in a different place.

There will also, of course, be many practical and financial considerations, but all of this needs to be undertaken bringing your best self forward and acting with a sense of compassion, both to yourself and to everyone involved.

I would suggest that rather than being separate and compartmentalized, all parts of our lives are interconnected. It is not a separate you that goes to work. We don’t have a pair of scales that we can move between, neatly establishing equilibrium in our lives, &, the term work-life balance by what it implies is possible, rather confuses things, don’t you think?

Can we be our own solution?

So, as much as it all may appear to be stuff happening outside ourselves, I think at least past of the solution can be found within us.

I would suggest that elements of Mindfulness and being Mindful, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, could be a really powerful antidote and help put things in perspective.

Here are 6 more simple things taken from my Book that you could start to incorporate in your live from today and they might just make all the difference:

  • When walking walk, when eating eat: Do just one thing at a time — single task rather than multi-task;
  • Take your time: Move slower than you normally would and be conscious of being deliberate in everything you do;
  • Put spaces between things: Relax and flex your schedule, &, don’t see it as a measure of your importance or worth to have all your time blocked-out;
  • Sit in silence: Just five minutes is all it takes each day; simply sit in silence with,“nowhere to go, nothing to do”;
  • Focus on your breathing: Alight on your breath, accept whatever is and be open to your thoughts; & finally
  • Be aware of the world around you: Cultivate kind acceptance and curiosity, be tolerant, be patient, &, be compassionate (and that includes to yourself as well as others).

Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and; the ‘Coffee & A Cup of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Mindful Hacks For Mindful Living & Mindful Working’ series. He is also a Contributing Author to The Huffington Post and a Contributing Writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organistional and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at [email protected] and you can follow the continuing journey uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and at @Paul_Mudd

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