One day, I’ll have my mornings back. One day, the kids will be old enough to stay home alone while I go to the gym. One day, I’ll get to go to the bathroom by myself. In the meantime, I’ve got to find ways to meet my needs in the best way I can.
Over the course of my Happiness Project, I’ve found several guidelines for meeting my needs that, if I bother to follow them, seem to work fairly well to keep balance in my life between my needs and those of my kids. I might be wrong, but I think at least some of these would be applicable even to people without kids.
These were all identified in retrospect after discovering that—surprise!—I was sometimes actually meeting my needs. I offer them here in the hopes that some of them might work for you, too.
1) Identify what meets my needs. This sounds easier than it is. I live a lot of my life on autopilot and don’t stop to reflect on what is actually meeting my needs and what isn’t. What do I like to do? What brings me happiness? What just fills time until the next activity? Sometimes this can be deceptive because the things that bring me long-term happiness aren’t always those things that are pleasant in the short-term. In my day-to-day life, some of the things that I find necessary to my happiness are exercise, quiet (including meditation), writing, and reading. Identifying needs also includes exploring other ways of meeting my needs, like this Mindfulness class I’m doing right now. I don’t know if 40 minutes of mindfulness meditation each day is going to be something I work into my schedule long-term, but I won’t know unless I try.
2) Schedule my needs first. Back when I used to watch daytime TV, it seemed like everyone talking about personal finance would tell you to “pay yourself first.” I look at scheduling my needs first kind of like that. The way my life works, my kids get all of my time by default. If I don’t stake my claim on it, it’s theirs. Even if I do stake my claim, it’s sometimes theirs. I try to look a week ahead (or sometimes just a day ahead) and schedule in when I’m going to exercise. I set up childcare for a trip to the gym or a jog around the park, or I schedule in a hike with the family. Scheduling them isn’t a guarantee I’ll do them, but at least it decreases the energy barriers and tips the odds in my favor.
3) Develop routines. I go to yoga every Thursday night. I have our sitter every Tuesday and Friday morning. I blog every day. I do these things whether I feel like I need to (or even want to). Having a schedule keeps the inner argument out of it.
4) Have concrete goals with a way to track progress. During National Novel Writing Month, I wrote 1667 words per day. I plugged in my word count and it showed me on a graph how close I was to reaching my goal. This was remarkably effective in keeping me motivated. For years, I followed Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and did my Morning Pages, three pages of longhand written first thing every single morning. The routine helped, but so did having my concrete goal (three pages) and the visible sign of progress (filling the notebooks). Reading has the concrete goal part built in, and I track my progress on Goodreads.
5) Prioritize activities. I have friends who knit. And knit, and knit. They are passionate about knitting and that meets their needs (at least some of their needs). I like knitting. But it’s not my passion, and it doesn’t meet my basic needs in the way that other activities do. I would love to make more time for it, but knowing I have limited time in my day, I choose to prioritize writing or reading or exercising over knitting. Of course, logic doesn’t always factor into these decisions. If it did, I’d put Facebook much lower on my priorities list.
6) Be flexible. Sometimes, despite my best plans, I don’t get to work out at the gym. Maybe a kid’s sick or the babysitter’s late or my husband’s been called away on an interview. I maybe put in an exercise video to do with the kids, or I allow enough time to walk to run errands rather than drive, or I mow the lawn, or take the kids to the zoo or the gardens or some other place that involves me wearing my son on my back and walking all over creation.
What are some of the ways you’ve found to balance your needs with those of your children or other loved ones, or with other responsibilities?