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As athletes, we are frequently juggling busy training schedules, work, and family commitments, along with other basic life tasks and interests. It can be daunting to find the right balance that leaves us feeling fulfilled and productive, yet rested and happy. Trying to find that balance is a skill to develop and master so that we can get the most out of our sports and life goals. Dedicating time to figure out a balanced approach to life will reap many benefits in the long-term.
Balance is key
Balanced individuals have better mental and physical health and are able to enjoy and embrace their work, training, relationships and life. Athletes who are balanced are typically living according to their values, enjoying life and their sports, and are able to deal with challenges more efficiently. On the other hand, imbalance typically leads to stress, moodiness, anxiety, depression, poor sleep, eating issues, and more susceptibility to physical illnesses. All of these conditions can impact our training and racing and affect our ability to reach our sports and life goals.
Many athletes go wrong with finding balance because we are trying to do too much in very short periods of time. We live in a culture that celebrates busyness, productivity, achievement, and pushing yourself to the limit. Slowness and taking time to prioritize, plan, rest, and strategize can get lost in this hasty lifestyle. What this means is that we may not easily recognize when we are out of balance.
How to know when you’re out of balance—and fix it
It takes reflection to identify the common signs that we may be out of balance. When we are out of balance, it can be difficult to fully enjoy what we are doing in our lives. If you find yourself cutting out sleep, skipping meals, limiting time with significant people in your life and only focusing on work and training, these could be red flags. You may feel pressure to meet goals and feel a lack of satisfaction even if you meet them. If you are out of balance you may be having more conflict with others or be unable to concentrate on tasks. You may also be using more alcohol or substances than you’d like to, or avoiding your thoughts and feelings by distracting yourself with too much media.
Athletes are typically some of the most dedicated, hardworking, disciplined people I know. We are practiced at developing routines and habits that many people find challenging. This can work to our benefit if we are able to see the importance of rest, relaxation, and balance, especially as it relates to performing better at our sports and having happier relationships and a more fulfilled life. You can best achieve balance by being clear on what your priorities and values are. One way to do this is to simply create a list of the things you are doing and rank them in order of priority. If there are too many items on the list, try and see which ones can be put off to a later date – six months away or a year away, and really hone in on what you want to do for the next six months.
Next, lay out how much time you need to spend every week on each item. Assess realistically, if that’s possible. Have some non-negotiables on the list, such as setting aside seven to nine hours of sleep a night, time for three meals per day, working out, self-care time, and relationship time. See how the non-negotiable items fit into a 24-hour day. Be creative about combining essential items, such as quality mealtime with your family with no distractions, or self-reflection time during part of your workout.
If you have a hard time assessing, planning, or paring down all that you do, listen and get feedback from those who know you well and also have your best interests in mind. Sometimes if we are out of balance or overwhelmed, it may be difficult to see things clearly or even hear feedback. If you don’t trust those you know for feedback, reach out to a professional who helps people find work/life/training balance. Or talk to other athletes who seem to be managing well and get some tips.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it may feel impossible to find time to rest or think or plan, but it is completely essential because it will allow you to see what’s important. I encourage having at least an hour a day where you are able to be with your own thoughts and feelings. You can spend this time journaling, meditating, walking or exercising without the external distraction of music, podcasts, or TV. Simply allowing your mind to run and being able to pay attention to what you think and feel will give you clues as to what to prioritize or what you feel is important. Without this space and self-knowledge it will be really difficult to know what balance truly is for you. If you’re having difficulty working through these feelings, a mental health professional may be a valuable resource.
Moving towards balance
As you work toward your triathlon goals, please remember that you are the best judge of what balance means. Create a daily practice of reflection, build an awareness of your thoughts and feelings, and make room to plan and prioritize. These practices will bring you one step closer to creating and enjoying a balanced life.
Dr. Cory Nyamora is a licensed psychologist and endurance sports coach. He is the founder and director of Endurance – A Sports & Psychology Center, Inc., a company that provides endurance coaching and psychological services to athletes of all ages. He provides trainings for organizations and athletes on topics related to the intersections of sports, mental health, and overall wellness.