Balance the key to thrive?

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create ” Jana Kingsford

Time to reflect

When do you feel good? Happy, content, energized, just, you know, life is good 😊  

With schools starting again in Europe after the summer break, and many of us returning back to work after a break, this question pops up in many minds and social media posts. Not surprising, as we’ve had time to reflect and think about what we like about our lives and perhaps what we want to do differently now that everyday routines return.

Very few of us will say we’ll work harder and put in longer hours. The ambition starting up after a break tends to be more in line with making more time to exercise, being outside in nature or simply to have more me time – time to relax and do nothing for other purposes than yourself.

There’s one word that keeps popping up in my head when I listen to these ambitions and reflections: balance.

The beauty of balance

Ever since I was a student, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of balance. Back then (and still), I observed how doing everything, being everywhere and taking part in everything I could, did not necessarily make me happy. (I am generation “you can do anything you want”. I quickly found out it didn’t mean “everything”). Doing enough but not too much worked much better!

Looking to us humans and our lives, most will agree that a good balance of everything is the best recipe for wellbeing: work, rest, friendships, nature, exercise, food, creativity, brain challenges, and so on. The exact portions of each will vary per person, but the general idea is there: a bit of everything is better than too much of one of the ingredients of a happy life.

The beauty of balance is that you can apply the same principle to basically anything around you! Give it a try:

  • Seasoning your food: find a good balance between all flavours
  • Looking for adventure: not too scary but a bit of adrenaline is welcome!
  • Having a drink with friends: always fun but every day would be too much to even feel like fun
  • Sports: feels good until you do too much and need a break from it – or too little and you need to pick it up again
  • …and so on…

I think this is something many will recognize. Which is why I’d now like to take this thinking one step further: from us humans into systems. And actually, it’s not really “”: our bodies are systems and we live in systems. But my point is: what happens if we apply the principle of balance to systems?

Thriving stocks

In systems thinking, stocks and flows refers to quantities of something, say fish in the ocean, and changes to it, say fishing (=taking out) and reproduction (=adding to the stock). For a balance, we need to take out no more than what is added.

So far so good: it makes sense that we shouldn’t catch more fish than fish can reproduce.

This is the same thinking as work-life balance: to feel happy you need more than work but you also do need work.

But systems are more complex than just two things to bear in mind. As such, “work-life balance” is not really a good indicator for happiness and wellbeing, or at least it’s oversimplified. Work is part of life, and in order to create balance in your life, you will need to pay attention to a bit more than “work and the rest”, where “the rest” will need to contribute with much more than just sleep and perhaps family time. It will also need to consist of creativity, exercise, intellectual challenges, friends and everything else that makes life fun!

Back to our fish stocks.  They too will be influenced by more than how much we catch of a particular species. While the basic thinking of fishing and reproduction applies, the rate at which these can take place will depend on several other factors – just like our “work and the rest” balance in life. Think of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and diseases- these are all factors (systems!) that also play a role when it comes to healthy fish stocks. And if these factors are causing imbalances, it will affect systems around them.

Balance the new goal to set?

In economics, the focus has been on growth for decades. National economies are expected to grow and companies traditionally should aim for growth.

Within sustainable development and new economic thinking such as Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics or a wellbeing economy, you often hear the word “thrive” instead of growth. The aim for a thriving world where people flourish in harmony with nature.  By definition, balance will be key in achieving this, as too much of one thing (growth) will be at the cost of something else (decline) which will cause imbalances that prevents the whole system from thriving.

If our ultimate goal is to thrive, perhaps aiming for balance can be a way to get there? Think about it, on a personal level, creating balance sounds a bit more concrete than aiming to thrive, doesn’t it? And in systems thinking, identifying all parts of a system in order to create balances to me sounds like a more workable definition than creating systems that thrive.

I will bring in this idea in projects I currently work on and see if it works. I’ll keep you posted and in the meantime you are always welcome to reach out with your thoughts and observations!