was drowning—literally—not in a sea of emails, paperwork, or meetings,
but in the Green River in Utah. I had been hired as a coach and
fitness expert to accompany a group of fifteen people on a five-day
trip down the Green River in early May two years ago. I probably
wasn’t the best choice for this particular trip. I hated cold water
and one bug bite was enough to send me running indoors. But, with
an adventurous spirit and an open mind, I accepted.
The Maytag Experience
on day-three, as we entered a rapid called the Thundering Hole,
I found myself, propelled out of the kayak, over my partner’s shoulder
into the icy water. I didn’t feel the 30-degree water as my life
jacket pulled me to the surface. It was dark and I couldn’t breathe.
I reached up and felt a hard object on top of me... it was the kayak
and I was underneath with hundreds of tons of water hitting the
top of the kayak. In a moment of clarity, I dove down, cleared the
kayak, and surfaced. The roar of the water was immediate. I was
propelled down the river and couldn’t see over the crashing water.
I couldn’t think clearly, no thoughts entered my head except “I
lost my new sunglasses,” but not how I could get out of the situation—I
simply panicked. Even when I slammed into a rock and tumbled around
it, the same thought remained in my head; “I lost my new sunglasses.”
that moment, my sunglasses appeared by my right hand. I reached
out and grabbed them. It was only then that I realized that my fear
was keeping me stuck in the situation. It dawned on me that if I
was going to get out of the water, I had to change the way I perceived
the problem. I decided that if I was going to go down the river,
I was going to have fun doing it. I thrust my arm into the air and
yelled, “I got my sunglasses,” and immediately laughed. Granted,
it wasn’t the most intelligent thing I’ve ever done because my mouth
filled with water and I started choking. No problem, I spit it out.
My mind was clear. I thrust my feet out in front of me to keep from
kissing any more rocks and scanned down river for the other boats.
Suddenly, I could hear people franticly yelling at me and I saw
the other boats. Within minutes, I was out of the water and sitting
on the bottom of a larger boat called a J-rig, totally relaxed and
grinning. I had just learned one of the most valuable lessons of
my life—change the way you perceive a situation and the possibilities
will reveal themselves. It’s all about your frame of mind. Once
the boundaries of thinking are extended, you can truly achieve balance
in your life.
use the word “balance” with some trepidation. The word brings to
mind a tightrope walker or a scale where, if one more thing is added
to one side or another, something is dropped or neglected and you
end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s not about achieving
balance; it’s really about understanding what brings you pleasure
in life and recognizing its value both in the workplace and at home.
Once you feel more balance in your life, your performance at work
and your personal life will reach heights you never thought possible.
These few simple suggestions may help you get started on the journey
to altering your perceptions about what is possible in your life
and how to create a life of balance...without taking a nose-dive
into a river.
Create a Strong
strong personal foundation means making time in your life to take
care of yourself physically. One of the major components of self-care
is exercise. Everyone has heard about the benefits of regular exercise
such as reduced risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and
prevention of some forms of cancer and a number of other life threatening
diseases. However, on a day-to-day basis, exercise can help combat
feeling tired, stressed, and overwhelmed by the demands of your
daily schedule. What may be even more important are the psychological
benefits of exercise. Research now suggests that regular exercise
can increase mental alertness, memory, energy, and heighten problem-solving
skills, not to mention drastically reducing real or perceived stress.
Henriette van Pragg, a scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies
in La Jolla, California says, “Exercise may help improve learning
and memory.” According to a study performed at the Salk Institute
by van Pragg, exercise increases the number of brain cells in the
hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and
memory. The research compared two groups of mice. One group was
put in a cage with only food and water. The other group was placed
in a cage with food, water, and a running wheel. [I deleted this
because it was so obvious. Ann] Both groups were placed in a water
maze. Their memory was subsequently tested by the speed in which
the mice located a hidden platform that they used to rest on. Mice
that exercised found the platform far more quickly than the non-exercising
mice did. They also had stronger synapses (cellular connections),
which are crucial for information flow and storage.
even more interesting, van Pragg says, they also found evidence
of neurogenesis—the creation of new cells—and it seems to be the
result of exercise. The research indicates that exercise can help
us remain sharper as we age. This is welcome news for someone who
is facing an ever-changing business environment, while juggling
Pragg says, “If you want to increase your sense of well-being, gain
better health, and increase your brain power, then exercise is your
answer.” Not surprisingly, van Pragg also practices what she preaches.
“I believe in my own results. I exercise for an hour on most days."
does not have to be done in a gym. Start by identifying a form of
physical activity you might enjoy and start slowly. Something as
little as a ten-to-twenty minute walk, can help you reap physical
and mental benefits. Check with your physician before starting any
Make Time for Play
your first instinct, when you walk in your front door, is to have
a cocktail and turn on the evening news, then you may be missing
out on a moment of bonding and play with your family. I recognized
this important component from personal experience. One day I walked
in the front door and two of my three children raced by me. The
third one, who is four, slapped me on the arm and yelled, “You’re
it!” My frame of mind was not exactly playful after a long and busy
day, but I dropped what I had in my hands and chased the running
and giggling short people as they darted just outside my reach.
We ended up in a tickle fight, rolling around on the floor. I can’t
say who benefited more... the children or me. What seemed so frustrating
during my day dissolved and later that night I was able to think
about the day with more perspective.
is a major component of creativity. Play creates relaxation and
hence, more fluid thought can occur. It focuses you back to the
person you used to be and still are, once you shed your accumulated
stress and on-going responsibilities, even if it’s just for a moment.
One of the first issues that surface when I coach executives on
river trips is that something is missing in their lives. Many of
these executives conclude that they lack a sense of fun or play
in their lives. Before this realization, they believed that their
dissatisfaction stemmed from their work. When a person’s whole focus
in life is work, then other needs are buried, and we end up feeling
burned out, overwhelmed, and restless.
need play no matter how old we are. Ask yourself when is the last
time you simply... played. Play can mean different things to different
people. For some it can be playing with their children, for others
it might mean taking time to draw or hike. Whatever it means to
you, find an hour every week to do something that brings you into
the present moment. Something that makes you feel good and fills
you with joy. You’ll end up feeling more fulfilled, creative, and
productive—a sure sign that you’re expanding your boundaries and
living a more balanced life.
an Adventure of Your Vacation
you truly want to see what you’re capable of or unearth both your
physical and mental strengths? Then an adventure vacation can jump-start
this learning process. You don’t have to be in top physical condition
or even be proficient at what you choose to do. Many adventure vacations
can cater to your individual needs. On the river trips that I am
a part of, we ask that you turn in your watches and guess what...
your cell phone won’t work once you’re floating down the river in
the canyons. Time has no relevance and schedules mean nothing. When
we are hungry, we eat. When we are tired, we rest. When the sun
starts to go down, we set up camp. It’s just you and nature. When
you let go of all the external trappings of work—email, cell phones,
schedules, and demands, you are free to explore your real world
and how you function in it. It’s not easy and many participants
struggle with not knowing the time and not being able to control
events around them.
particular participant comes to mind as I explain what it’s like
to be with yourself instead of yourself “doing” things. This person,
a successful stock analyst on Wall Street, wrestled with the demands
of his job while trying to make time for his family. “What time
is it?” was his motto for the first two days and he was developing
a permanent twitch reaching for the cell telephone that he did not
have. On the third day, I spied him floating by himself in a small
inflatable kayak, staring at the sky, and breathing deeply. After
he came aboard the larger boat, I asked him how he felt. He said
that he hadn’t felt this good in years and we talked about how he
could achieve the same results in his everyday life. I didn’t have
to tell him how to do this; he had all the answers himself. He just
had to dispose of all the reasons why he couldn’t lead a life of
balance and focus his attention on the possibilities.
months later, I received a phone call from him. He had made more
time for his family and received a promotion. He credited this to
his time on the river and said that he has a fuller, more meaningful
life because he put the human back in the human being.
the way we think about our lives and our ability to live a balanced
life starts with a single commitment to explore the possibilities
present all around us. Not only will living a life of balance benefit
your personal life, but you will also be able to transfer the learning
and skills you have acquired to become more creative and productive
in your work environment.
Cantwell is a Corporate/ Personal Wellness Coach and fitness guru
who has been known to have clients belt out a few lines of their
favorite songs to help them center and focus on possibilities. She
is the Author of Mind
Over Matter: Personal Choices for a Lifetime of Fitness.
To balance out work and play, she loves to run the river and the
challenge of a good tickle fight with her three children. Send her
an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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