Something that I have learned from practicing yoga is that in order to find balance in all those impressive balancing poses, you must be willing to let yourself to surrender, sway, and wobble with the forces all around you. The pursuit of balance requires a courageous dance with uncertainty, a nuance that is too often forgotten in our idealistic portrayals of balance. Nobody lands into a perfectly stable handstand the first time they try it, because balance requires practice, building strength, and vulnerability (a lot of falling). The same rules can be applied to the pursuit of mental and emotional balance in our daily lives.
We are constantly met with the chaos of daily demands: juggling relationships/social obligations, work commitments, and personal needs... all topped with the pressure to meet and surpass the expectations of our cultures, our social groups, and ourselves. It's natural for us to crave balance. Sometimes we get caught up in the chaos, and it feels like we are drowning. In these times, it is crucial to find a little bit of flexibility in the way we approach our lives.
I have created this contemplative exercise to help you find balance in times of chaos, which I affectionately refer to as: P.R.A.Y.
Pause. Most of our daily behaviors are habitual and automatic, according to social "scripts" learned over the years . For example, every morning, you wake up, eat breakfast, and probably go to work, without ever having to consciously think about what you are doing. Automatic habits can be a good thing when we are able to navigate various situations with ease and efficiency. But, of course, not all automatic behaviors are adaptive. When life becomes hectic, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle of bad habits, doing what's easiest instead of what we feel is right. We must begin with a pause. Especially in times of chaos, it is important to reserve time every day to sit in stillness and bring intentional awareness to your experience. What are you feeling and doing (physically and psychologically) in this moment? Do you like what you are feeling and doing in this moment? What habits would you like to release/maintain/create for yourself?
Rethink. In times of uncertainty, our tendency is to exaggerate the troubles ahead and brace for the worst, in an attempt to protect ourselves from being blind-sighted by negative life events . It can be hard to recognize our own biases and misjudgments, as our experiences of anxiety and fear can feel so convincingly real. However, getting grounded in the reality of the present moment, we are better able to shift perspectives and recalibrate our thoughts and actions, according to new situations and contexts in our lives. Ask yourself: How can I reframe my experience? How can I shift my thoughts and actions to better respond to the current situation?
Adapt. Life paths are often rerouted, sometimes unexpectedly and drastically. This is what it means to live in an ever-changing, dynamic world: Relationships fail, dreams change, and careers end. Some days, we may feel like we've been following a faulty navigation device; we may ask ourselves: "How did I get here?" When we are faced with the reality that the current situation does not match ideals and expectations, we must call upon our ability to creatively problem solve. Good news: we are generally much better at adapting to changes and life events than we think . In most situations, the outcome of events are rarely as scary or horrible as we imagine them to be. In some ways, this realization is the ultimate key to finding balance: trusting the path you are on and allowing yourself to welcome and accept when the course changes for you. Embracing change is hard, but finding cognitive and emotional flexibility is often described as the key to cognitive and emotional development and growth [4,5]. Try new ways to solve old problems, don't be discouraged by changes, and above all, trust the process. We often learn more from our "failures" than our successes, so don't be afraid to try and fail. You can always try again.
Yield. We must learn to be gentle to ourselves in times of chaos and uncertainty. We often unintentionally sustain the negative impact of a life event with our own thoughts and judgements, fighting against the current of our life. In these moments, a little bit of self-compassion goes a long way. Cultivate thoughts and actions that restore you and bring you peace. Speak kind words to yourself, acknowledging your efforts, strengths, and gratitudes. Take time to honor the moments transitioning from one task/event to the next. Avoid excessive multi-tasking or mindless consumption of too much information, as this can be cognitively draining. Instead, try to use transitional moments meaningfully. One of my favorite new practices is to listen to Tibetan singing bowls (available on Spotify) while driving home from a chaotic day at work. This cues me to mentally let go of my focus on stressful thoughts and it also sends a signal to the autonomic nervous system to begin to soften tension and arousal in my body. Research supports the claims that peaceful sounds and music can be emotionally healing in a number of contexts, particularly in reducing tension, pain, and stress .
I hope you can refer back to this practice in times of chaos. When life feels particularly hectic and overwhelming, I hope you take the time to P.R.A.Y.
- Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-479.
- Carroll, P., Sweeny, K., & Shepperd, J. A. (2006). Forsaking optimism. Review of General Psychology, 10, 56-73.
- Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2013). The impact bias is alive and well. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 740-748.
- Thelen, E., Ulrich, B. D., & Wolff, P. H. (1991). Hidden skills: A dynamic systems analysis of treadmill stepping during the first year. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, i-103.
- Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A., Kunnen, S. E., & van Geert, P. L. (2009). Here we go again: A dynamic systems perspective on emotional rigidity across parent–adolescent conflicts. Developmental psychology, 45(5), 1364-1375.
- Kemper, K. J., & Danhauer, S. C. (2005). Music as therapy. Southern Medical Journal, 98, 282-288.