5th Article of the Series
In my previous articles, I have talked about the need for balancing the Wheel of Life and introduced the concept of various dimensions of the Balancing one’s Life. I also discussed the myths surrounding the Balancing of Life. Now, I am going to further explore what it means to balancing the two components of the Wheel of Life, Inner and Outer lives.
People are living and working in an increasingly uncertain, unstable economic and social climate. Many feel frustrated and stressed in their work and home lives. They know that stress damages the body, mind and spirit, yet they feel caught in its trap.
In the late 1990’s, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services linked 70 percent of all physical and mental illnesses to some kind of stress. And that number has probably increased over the last decade. Much of this stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home – and trying to “balance” both. The problem seems nearly universal, whether in two-worker, single-parent or childless households.
I think these conflicts are so common because people are used to frame the problem incorrectly to begin with. That is, there’s no way to balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale – what I call the “outer” life. On the other side of the scale is personal, private life – the “inner” life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life, try, instead, to balance your outer life and inner life.
A Different Balancing Act
Let me explain. On the outer side of the scale you have the complex logistics and daily stresses of life at both work and home… the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, phone calls, to-do lists and responsibilities that fill your days. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world. It’s where you use your energies to deal with tangible, often essential things; paying your bills, building a career, dealing with people, raising kids, doing household chores, and so on. Your outer life is on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or Facebook and Twitter.
On the other side of the scale is your internal self. It’s the realm of your private thoughts and values; your emotions, fantasies, spiritual or religious practices, your capacity to love, your secret desires, and your deeper sense of purpose. In short, it embodies who you are, on the inside. A “successful” inner life is defined by how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness, and your sense of clarity about your values and life purpose. It includes your level of mental repose; your capacity for calm, focused action and resiliency that you need in the face of your frenetic, multitasking outer life.
If the realm of the inner life sounds unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, this only emphasizes how much you – like most people – have lost touch with your inner self. You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that there’s little time to tend to your mind, spirit or body. Then, you identify your “self” mostly with who you are in that outer realm. And when there’s little on the inner side of the scale, the outer part weighs you down. You are unbalanced, unhappy and often sick.
When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to stress, and that’s related to a wide range of physical damage – heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, skin disorders, migraine, to name just a few.
More broadly, when your inner and outer lives become unbalanced, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. When operating in the outer world – at home, for example, in dealings with your spouse or partner – you may struggle with unjustified feelings of insecurity and fear. You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you don’t understand. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional “default” positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.
Even when you’re successful in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. Without a developed inner life, you lose the capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with awareness, self-direction and judgment. Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best – maybe a new “win,” a new love affair, drugs or alcohol.
And that pulls you even more off-balance, possibly to the point of no return. The extreme examples are people who destroy their outward success with behavior that reflects a complete disengagement from their inner lives – corporate executives led away in handcuffs for indulging in ill-gotten gains, self-destructive sports stars overcome by the trappings of their outer-life successes, political leaders whose flawed personal lives destroy their credibility, clerics who are staunch moralists at the pulpit but sexual predators or adulterers behind closed doors.
Of course, most people want to function well in the outer, material world. Doing so is part of a successful adult life. But what you choose to go after in work and life often reflects values and behavior that you’ve been socially conditioned into through your family and society. Much of that can be hard to see because you’re immersed in it. What gets lost along the way is what your inner life might tell you about the consequences and value of what you pursue in your outer life.
But there’s good news – reframing your challenge from trying to balance work and home to balancing your inner and outer lives will help you build overall health, internal well-being and resilience in your pursuit of outer life success.
That is, servicing your inner life builds healthy, positive control over your life – mastery and self-directed action, not suppression or rationalization. A stronger inner life creates a solid moral core and harmonizes your inner and outer selves. It informs your choices and actions by providing the calm and centeredness essential for knowing what demands or allures of the outer world you want to go after, or let pass; and how to deal with the consequences of either.
For example – clarifying which of the personal commitments, career goals and relationships you want or don’t want. Whether this job or career is what you really desire, despite the money it pays or what people tell you that you should want. And, whether you believe that your relationship gives you and your partner the kind of positive, energized connection you want and need.
In short, a strengthened inner life brings your “private self” and your “public self” into greater harmony. That’s the foundation you need for dealing with the stress-potential of outer world choices and conflicts; for knowing how and why you’re living and using your energies out there in the ways that you do. With a robust inner life you feel grounded and anchored. You know who you are and what you’re truly living for. Your inner life builds a state of heightened self-awareness and wholeness; a “heart that listens,” as King Solomon asked for.
It is important that you must be able to see the gap between your inner life values – your ‘true’ self – and the choices you make based on your outer life conditioning – your ‘false’ self.
A good initial step toward awakening your inner life is to identify the gaps between what you believe in, on the inside, and what you do on the outside. Everyone has those gaps.
Here’s an exercise that can help you awaken to them:
- First, make a list of what you believe to be your core, internal values or ideals (5- 10 entries). Perhaps it includes raising a strong, creative child; close friendships; expressing a creative talent that’s important to you. It might include your spiritual life; an intimate marriage or partnership; or contributing your talents, energies or success to the society in some way.
- Next, make a parallel list for each item on your list, describing your daily actions relative to those values: How much time and energy do you spend on them in real time? What are your specific behaviors regarding each? Be detailed in your answers – note the last time you took an action aimed at nurturing that creative child, building your marriage or giving some meaningful help to the less fortunate. Don’t be surprised or ashamed if you find that very few of your daily activities reflect those key values.
- Assign a number from 1 to 5 measuring the gap between each value and your behavior – 1 representing a minimal gap; 5, the maximum.
- Identify the largest gaps. Now think about how your inner values could redirect your outer-life choices in those areas. What would you have to do to bring the ‘inner you’ in synch with the ‘outer you’? What can you commit yourself to doing?
- Write it all down and set a reasonable time frame for reducing your gaps.
Developing your inner life is a practice. Think of it like building a muscle or developing skill in a sport or musical instrument.
Next week, I’ll discuss the four dimensions of the Home Life, part of the eight dimensions of Outer Life.
In the meantime, I welcome you to share your Self-Awareness story in the comments section below and I promise to read your story.
Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit www.eMBCinc.com or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.