Studio 5 contributor, Fatima Doman is an Executive Coach with Franklin Covey. She shares her expert advice on creating a balanced life.
Find Your Balance
For long-term, optimum functioning we must take care of all four parts of our being: mind, body, heart and soul. These four areas are like the legs of a chair, without one we’re not as stable. Engaging weekly in these four areas helps achieve better life balance, vitality, and builds reserves.
Mind: Mental Vitality (lifelong learning)
The brain is like a muscle, if we don’t use it, it will atrophy. In a famous study of the brains of deceased Catholic nuns, several showed lesions on the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease yet they had not exhibited symptoms of the disease during their lifetime. The researchers determined that their high levels of engagement with community and continuing to learn new things literally saved them from the dementia associated with the disease. Flex your brain “muscle” to keep those neurons firing and make new connections. The best way to grow more neural connections is to take up a challenging activity that’s new to you, like computers/technology, music, chess, or a foreign language. Challenges should offer novelty and fun. According to one study, taking piano lessons for as little as four months improved performance on math tests by an average of 27%.
Suggestions to renew yourself mentally are: Read voraciously. Each year more than one million new books are published so you’ll have a lot to choose from. Continue your education. Develop a hobby–it allows you to do something you love doing. Find ways to be more engaged/enthusiastic about your work, i.e. take on new assignments. The average person spends about 11,000 days at work. That’s a long time if you’re unfulfilled or disengaged at work. Collect quotations—the sentiments of great people stimulate the mind. Keep a journal—your journey is worth recording!
Body: Physical Vitality
Physical vitality is boosted with nutrition, regular exercise, rest and stress management. Perhaps the most powerful tool you have to improve your health is your fork. Food talks to your genes, influencing your susceptibility to disease. According to Dr. Mark Hyman “Food is the fastest acting and most powerful medicine you can take to change your life.”
Exercise regularly incorporating cardio and strength training—even 20 minutes daily can significantly reduce risk for disease. Engage in active relaxation, such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation. There is no question that the mind influences the body. A study of 193 healthy volunteers by Carnegie Mellon University showed that happiness can strengthen the immune system. After exposure to cold viruses, volunteers with high levels of positive emotions were more resistant to disease. Numerous studies prove that a positive outlook extends lifespan. One study shows that “faking” it doesn’t work either. We have to pay the price to re-frame our thinking, to change our very perception of an event. It is from an authentic new positive vantage point that we can reap the benefits—we must learn to genuinely “feel” the positivity we are reaching for.
Heart: Social/Emotional Vitality (healthy relationships)
Making time to nurture important relationships is critical to social/emotional vitality. Dates with your spouse, time out with friends, participating in family traditions and building healthy relationships are, key.
I was teaching a class on strengthening relationships, and a participant plagued with chronic anxiety pulled me aside and said the biggest insight for her was learning that she didn’t have to go to her spouse with every negative emotion she felt. She found that the key to solving her relationship problems was learning to better manage her negative emotions by adjusting her perspective so that she could present herself with a sense of clarity and optimism to those close to her. She learned to focus on positive solutions. We’re not talking about stuffing negative emotions here, but instead learning to express them RESPONSIBLY. For instance, we can learn to use “I” statements such as “I feel frustrated when I spend hours working alone.” rather than “You” statements such as “You always dump the work on my shoulders!” Using the ” I” statement demonstrates taking responsibility for one’s feelings. The “You” statement places blame, and makes others defensive.
Coaching teaches us to focus on the present, where the solution is. Constant re-hashing of past mistakes is not healthy. Acceptance and optimism is a good goal to shoot for in relationships.
Soul: Spiritual Vitality (meaning and purpose)
Giving service is an excellent way to renew ourselves spiritually and the personal benefits we reap are an added bonus. Research shows that those who give back to their communities experience a boost in their immune systems, their wounds heal faster and they get sick less often. Adults who volunteer live longer than their peers who don’t volunteer.
Virtually all studies show that people who practice some form of spiritual devotion are happier. Spirituality connects you to something greater than self. I interviewed renowned positive psychologist Dr. Ed Deiner in 2009. His latest studies show that being virtuous increases our happiness. He told me, ” The old thinking was you should go out and change the world, whether you enjoyed it or not. We now know that you actually function better if you’re in a positive mood. So find something you enjoy that helps people and go have fun doing it!”
Entrepreneur Clay Mathile, former owner of The Iams Company, reserved Fridays for what he called “blue sky days.” He found that a change of scenery and keeping his calendar open at least one day a week led him to new ideas and rejuvenation. He installed a “blue sky” room to use for contemplation.
We can renew ourselves spiritually by committing to a life of integrity, listening to inspirational and uplifting music, serving in our community, reading inspirational biographies and spending time in nature. One study on positivity found that people who spent 20 minutes or more outside in nice weather experienced a boost in their moods. They also demonstrated improved memory as well as more expansive and open thinking.
Finding balance can require saying “no” to the unimportant:
I coached a woman recovering from cancer who had always found it hard to say “No” to people and requests that drained her. She called herself a “pleaser.” We talked about the concept that it is easier to say No when there is a deeper Yes burning inside you. She decided to start saying Yes to what was important to her instead of only what was important to others. She said Yes to exercise and better nutrition. Yes to me-time. Yes to opening a place in her heart for a healthy relationship. She said Yes to loving herself more. She identified healthy things on all four levels—mind, body, heart and soul–to say yes to. She had felt so overwhelmed before; but things became lighter and it was fun to spend time and energy on the yeses. She reframed the negative by saying yes and evoking what she wanted in her life–rather than focusing on what she didn’t want, which left her with the feeling that she was always running away from something.
Notice which of the four areas (mind, body, heart and soul) you typically avoid renewing. That is likely the area in need of the most attention. For optimum performance, engage in all four areas each week. Be strong in the hard moments: how will you overcome obstacles to renewing mind, body, heart and soul?
Coaching Power Questions:
Mind: What is one thing I will consistently do each week to renew myself mentally?
Assume my knowledge and skills will be obsolete in two years. What new learning would I explore?
Body: What is one thing I will consistently do each week to renew myself physically?
What would be the healthiest food and exercise choices
I could make today that would leave me feeling good about myself and give me the greatest energy?
How will I create more genuine rest and active relaxation in my life?
Heart: What is one thing I will consistently do each week to develop social/emotionally?
How can I better value the differences in others and look for ways to collaborate?
How can I become a better listener in my most important relationships?
Soul: What is one thing I will consistently do each week to renew myself spiritually?
What inspires, uplifts and edifies me?
Fatima Doman is passionate about coaching others to succeed and in addition to her work with FranklinCovey, runs Ascend Coaching, her personal coaching business.
You can contact Fatima at (435)513-5331