Tuesday 21 November 2017

Well-being... Balancing act

All-or-nothing personality types need to find balance

Striking the work-life balance is a challenge
Striking the work-life balance is a challenge
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

A holistic practitioner recently described my personality as "all-or-nothing". This was nothing new to me - I hear it all the time.

The eye-opener, however, was just how detrimental this lifestyle can be to one's health. "When your life is out of balance, your body is out of balance too," she explained.

Isn't it funny how we often evade what's staring us straight in the face? While I've always prioritised balancing practices like yoga and meditation, I never once stopped to consider that my very modus operandi was undoing all my good work. In truth, I had never even thought of the all-or-nothing personality as an imbalance, more a quirk or an eccentricity. In fact, there's an air of bravado to being all-or-nothing. It suggests passion and conviction. And we get all the best mottos: "You're either in or you're out", "Go big or go home"…

Yes, I was a proud all-or-nothing, happily zig-zagging along and operating on two distinct speeds: 'feck it' and 'FECK!' That was until I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I needed to restore balance in my life in order to heal my body.

In my own case, the all-or-nothing lifestyle was contributing to a persistent skin condition. However, a lack of balance can manifest in many different ways - headaches, fatigue, foggy thinking and whatever you're having yourself.

Granted, we're probably all a bit out of balance these days. We shun carbohydrates and binge on Netflix. We work through our lunch hours and then sleep for the better part of Sunday.

The all-or-nothing personality takes it even further. They can stay in for three months and then party for three days on the trot. They can have zero appetite until 4pm and then devour four Snickers bars in quick succession.

Their approach to housekeeping is either forensic tile scrubbing and closet clear-outs, or a decision to leave their bed unmade for the better part of the week. And don't give them an appointment that isn't today or tomorrow. When they decide they want to do something, they have to do it right now. This minute. Next week is a different epoch.

All-or-nothing thinking goes hand-in-glove with perfectionism. And we all know perfectionists, whose goals are elusive and whose standards are impossible, are never really happy.

Researcher Brené Brown, writing in The Gifts of Imperfection, says all-or-nothing personalities must learn to differentiate between healthy striving and perfectionism by shifting their focus: "Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?

"Research shows that perfectionism hampers success," she continues. "In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis."

All-or-nothing personalities tend to have difficulty defining and dividing the key areas of their life. One month they're all about work; the next, they're all about their new hobby (there's always a new hobby). The challenge is to make sure they allocate time to each area every week. The eight-hour rule is also helpful - eight hours each for work, rest and play in a 24-hour day. This may sound simplistic, but believe me, it's a revelation for all-or-nothing types.

Striking the work-life balance is another challenge. If work becomes overwhelming, try to donate 10 minutes every evening to structuring your task list for the following day. Once you have your list prepared, strike two items off - all-or-nothing types overextend themselves by nature.

A Friday evening debrief helps too. Try to gain a rough idea of how you intend to structure your Monday instead of doing nothing after 4.30pm on Friday and promising yourself that you'll do it all on Monday morning. You can also add more structure to your work life by completing daily tasks at the same time - even if it's just your lunch. Or, to help create a sense of calm, try removing clutter from your desktop and applying the principles of feng shui (you'll find layout examples online).

As always, learning to say 'no' to everyone from your boss to your boyfriend is imperative. The same applies to your friends. All-or-nothing personalities have two settings when it comes to socialising: "Can't wait!" and "can I raincheck?" There is a middle ground here. I'll let you know when I find it...

We also have a tendency to exist pay cheque to pay cheque, living like a king for the first week and a pauper for the next three. Try reversing the process. Pay the bills that you tend to leave until the last minute at the beginning of the month, and enjoy the spending that you tend to do the moment the money hits your account later in the month. At the very least, you'll have something to look forward to. Likewise, try staggering the household projects that you would otherwise do in one fell swoop. Even packing a suitcase over three nights, instead of stuffing everything in as the taxi beeps outside, will teach you how to do things at a gentler pace.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in overcoming all-or-nothing thinking is accepting that you won't find balance today, tomorrow or even next week. Getting back to the middle takes time.

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