Ep. 12 The Power of Imbalance

Our goal isn't to achieve balance.

The Power of Imbalance

I used to believe that achieving balance was my life’s goal. I pictured a balanced life as a kind of Utopia, a paradise of bliss and perfection. I believed that once I attained this Promised Land of Balance, I could kick off my shoes, find a reclining chair, and bask in the light of Balance’s Sunny Beaches.

In my mind, I had an image of what a Balanced Life would look and feel like. My balanced life would look organized, clean, planned out. Everything would be in order. In my balanced life I would feel unstressed, calm, settled, grounded, and in control. In my mind, I had a picture of waking up early before my kids, spending time in prayer, meditation, journal writing, exercising, cooking a nutritious breakfast and being on time for every appointment. Aaaah, perfect balance.

My life looked nothing like that. Raising four children, my days were filled with unplanned, unexpected, and often unsavory glitches. Inevitably someone would wake up in the night with the stomach flu and dreams of my “perfect” day would dissolve into mountains of laundry and frantic trips to the store for Pedialyte. 

Thankfully I met a personal trainer who taught me the truth about the Power of Imbalance.

Imbalance Develops Strength

I am not a work-with-a-personal-trainer kind of girl, but my gym membership included six months of free personal training and I never let a coupon go to waste. This is how I met Shaun. He taught me a routine using free-weights, and just as I started to feel confident with the routine, he made me move from the flat floor to standing on a balance saucer. After teetering and falling into the mirror, I complained, “Nothing about this feels right. I feel completely out of control, completely off-balance. I was doing better on the floor.”

Shaun said, “It’s not supposed to feel comfortable. You are not supposed to feel balanced.”

Then Shaun taught me this importance lesson about balance.

Stop focussing on how awkward and embarrassed you feel. Stop worrying that people are judging you. Instead, pay attention to what your leg muscles feel like.  Feel how the muscles are correcting you, when you tilt too far to the right, your leg muscles fire up and grab your body and correct you back to center. It’s the imbalance that is making your leg muscles smarter and stronger. Being off-balance is what’s building your strength.”

Yes, this is another reminder that life is not about the destination. The growth is in the journey. And if the process feels like a struggle, then you are probably doing it right.

Balance Signals End of Growth

We talk so much about achieving balance because balance feels good. Being in balance feels comfortable, and don’t we all just want to feel comfortable? YES! But remember:

There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone. 

Once I mastered my free-weight routine on the floor, I felt confident and in control, so naturally I wanted to stay there. But my growth had peaked out. I was no longer challenging my core muscles. Shaun taught me that life is not about achieving balance, life is about struggling to achieve balance.

Think about this: stand perfectly still with your feet aligned side by side. You feel balanced, but you also aren’t going anywhere? There is no moving forward while balanced. In order to take a step forward, you have to tip off balance, shift all weight onto one foot while the other foot moves forward, then shift all the weight back onto the other foot while the other moves. Progress in life comes only through transitory periods of imbalance.

If I am balanced, I am not moving forward. If I am balanced, I am not growing.

Balance is a Goal, but Not a Destination

So why are there a gazillion self-help books about achieving balance? Are they all wrong?

The answer is NO. They are right because we do want to work towards balance. Balance is our goal. However, balance is not our destination.

We often tend to think of balance as a destination and that once you get there, you stay forever, like arriving in Hawaii. I had friends who moved to Hawaii, and they loved it for a few months, then guess what happened? The beaches, the ocean, the scenery became the normal backdrop of ordinary daily routines. When they brought their kids to visit Utah, their youngest exploded with joy at the sight of pinecones and squirrels. 

If Hawaii can become hum-drum, then balance can certainly become boring. 

Here is the sad news about encountering balance: the moment we meet balance, it’s already time to move on. Why? Because it is not finding balance, but the struggle to find balance that moves us forward. 

Myths of Balance

Do you hold on to any of these myths about achieving a balanced life?

Myth #1  Balance is a destination. Once I arrive, I can stay forever.

Myth #2  In order to be successful, I have to achieve a balanced life.

Myth #3  Balance means symmetry, an equal focus on all areas of my life.

If so, try on these truths.

Truth #1: Balance is a goal to work towards, but I don’t want to stay balanced. As a human, I seek growth, which require me to continually step forward out of balance. 

Truth #2: To be successful, I must often struggle through transitory periods of imbalance.

Truth #3: Progress requires extra focus on in one or two areas that sometimes leave other areas a bit neglected. But that’s okay because at another time, those areas will get the attention.

Conclusion

Understanding the Power of Imbalance has helped me to embrace the discomfort of the struggle. While remodeling the kitchen, we may eat too much fast food and cold cereal, but that’s okay. Once the remodel work is done, I can refocus on cooking nutritious family meals. When my garden is thriving, my kitchen is usually a disaster because my counters are covered with squash, cucumbers and tomatoes and a lot of flies. During the winter my countertops stay clean, but I eat canned vegetables. There are times and seasons for everything. When life feels out-of-balance, take some advice from my trainer, Shaun. Stop worrying about how uncomfortable you feel and pay attention to where the growth is happening. 

Ep. 10 Empower Kids Through PLAY

Empower Kids Through Play

Empower Kids Through PLAY

“The opportunity for kids to freely engage in play with one another has diminished considerably over the last 50 years.” Michael Yogman, AAP

Research shows one of the best ways to empower kids is through play. Play helps kids develop problem-solving, decision-making, and risk-taking skills that prepare them to be successful adults. However, play has decreased steadily. The ramifications are becoming so serious that doctors are prescribing play as a remedy for many ills. The American Academy of Pediatricians is encouraging doctors to implement a Reach Out and Play campaign to correspond with the Reach out and Read initiative. Doctors are asking parents to protect and even to enforce playtime.  Episode 7 discussed four specific ways to give yourself permission to add more play to your life. 

What is PLAY?

According to research by Dr. Rachel White: 

PLAY IS PLEASURABLE: Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.

PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED: Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings. It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal.

PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED: When children play, the means are more important than the ends.

PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN: It is spontaneous and voluntary. If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play.

PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED: Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.

PLAY IS NON-LITERAL: It involves make-believe.

Play empowers kids because it is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. The benefits of play are internal (for the individual) rather than external (associated with outside approval or award). Play is self-chosen and the players are free-agents, meaning they can stop at any time. Because play contains non-literal elements, it buffers the individual from real-life consequences and provides opportunities to practice and grow skills essential to living in our complex world.

There is a difference between accumulating knowledge and developing skills. Emphasizing math, reading, and writing at younger ages has forced teachers to remove playful elements from early childhood education. But learning new skills is best facilitated by social, playful interactions where risks can be taken with little consequence. The emphasis on performance measured by test scores is diminishing opportunities to learn from mistakes, even when failure is often the best teacher.  

Benefits of PLAY

According to a report of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (ie, the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions. Play is fundamentally important for learning 21st century skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity, which require the executive functioning skills that are critical for adult success.”

Benefits of play are numerous and well documented. Play with parents and peers is fundamental for the development of safe, trusting relationships. Play regulates stress levels. Studies have shown that the lack of play increases ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Play develops the learning process, incites creativity, problem solving, and risk-taking. Specifically, play develops language and math skills and improves concentration. 

How to Empower Kids through PLAY

1. Lower the Stakes 

As parents, we can empower kids through play by making sure that for every performance-based activity kids are signed-up to do, they have equal opportunity for unstructured, experimental play. An AAP report states:  “Parental guilt has led to competition over who can schedule more enrichment opportunities.” As parents, organized activities like lessons and competitive sports feels good because they have measurable results which validate our investment of time and money. As adults, we like the structure of consistent time, date, location for activities. The unmeasurability of unstructured play can be a barrier. Which lead us to principle #2: 
 

2. Build Trust Through Play

Dr. Hank Smith, Ph.D conducted his doctoral research in developing trust in educational systems. He discovered that play is a powerful way to build trusting relationships. He found that one of the best ways to repair a struggling relationship (particularly a parent/child relationship) is through play. Get on the same level as your child and do something they love. Don’t talk about grades or problems or instrument practice. Playing together helps kids to know that they matter. You love spending time with them for who they are. They are valuable to you outside of their performance on a report card or in a soccer game. 

Play becomes even more essential in times of family crisis. In the midst of divorce, death, serious accident or illness, job loss, or jail sentence, it seems counterintuitive to play. However, play is exactly what will ease stress and remind family members that it’s possible to experience pockets of happiness in the middle of tragedy. Play helps all family members to grow through the struggle and to develop resilience and personal strength. 

3. Embrace the Mess

Play is messy. The toys buckets will be emptied. The legos and blocks and train set will be strewn across the floor. When our children were young, my girlfriend said the best thing to me. She said, “I love when my house is messy because it means my kids are playing.” Those blankets and beach towels that were folded so neatly in the closet are going to be stretched across the furniture to make forts, which means that every heavy book from the shelf is stacked to hold down the blankets.

Play doesn’t necessarily help with housework. On days that I’ve just mopped and vacuumed, I almost prefer my kids to watch TV instead of play in the sand box. In order to promote unstructured play, as parents we need to lower our standards of tidiness and embrace the mess. 

4. Trick Your Kids Into PLAYING

You know as well as I do that if command our kids to play, they protest. This is because play must be self-chosen. As parents, we can apply a bit of reverse psychology. When my kids have been staring at screens too long or are complaining about boredom, I give them a chore to do. This is a “nonessential” chore. Something like cleaning out the junk drawer in their bedroom, weeding the garden, washing the car, or organizing the game closet.

These are chores that I know will quickly devolve into play, and that’s okay because that’s what I wanted all along. Five minutes into sorting his junk drawer, little Johnnie will be exploring his imagination. One or two weeds might get pulled, but more likely the garden hose will get turned on and there will be a dirt castle surrounded by a muddy moat will appear next to the squash plant. Inevitably the bedroom, closet, and yard will end up more disorganized that they were to start. And that’s okay. That’s when I will smile and say, “I’m happy because my kids are playing.” We have plenty of opportunities to teach chore completion and organization at other times. For today, play is the priority.

Channel Your Inner-Child

Children learn best from example. As parents, we can model playful behavior by engaging in hobbies, being spontaneous, and taking time for activities we enjoy that don’t have any external benefits such as earning money or receiving an award. If you have children in your life, you are lucky. Being around children helps to re-prioritize our lives and help us tune in to our inner-child. There are myriad opportunities to volunteer for kids through Big Brother Big Sister programs, the YMCA, school PTA programs, or foster parenting.

The bottom line is to change our mindset that play is a waste of time. In truth, play can often be more productive than work. So give yourself permission to bring back the Power of PLAY.

Ep 9 The Power of a PLAYFUL Marriage

Give yourself permission to have a playful marriage

The Power of a PLAYFUL Marriage

A playful marriage is a powerful way to fuel and energize your life. Have you given yourself permission to have a playful marriage

Don't Let Brain LIES Sabotage Your Marriage

Marriage is a mindset. The most influential impact on a successful or failed relationship is what happens inside your own head. I’m not saying you can “power think” your way out of an abusive relationship. There are times when you need to leave a situation, but most often it is not our circumstances but how we think about our circumstances that influences our happiness in marriage.

Challenge your thoughts. Just because a thought flashes through your mind does not mean it is your thought or that it’s a true thought. Question those thoughts: “Who says so?”  “Do I believe that?” “Do I want to believe that?” “Who does that thought benefit?”  If a thought doesn’t serve you, then get rid of it and choose higher-quality thoughts. Replace sabotaging thoughts with empowering thoughts. Think to the possibilities

The EGO tries to sabotage relationships because it likes to be miserable. The EGO loves being a victim, so the EGO is going to feed your brain full of relationship-sabotaging thoughts. On this episode I share stories of how brain lies nearly sabotaged my date night and a Seattle getaway with my husband. 

Be a Fun-Living Spouse

Have you given yourself permission to be a fun partner? Who says life has to be serious all the time? Who says we can only talk about problems with our companions? Remember the power principle from Episode 4 about making life easier by solving problems without a fuss? Marriage is the perfect place to practice solving problems simply without making a huge ordeal. 

In marriage, keep your problems small and your pleasure BIG. 

Author Merrilee Boyack says that a fun-loving spouse enjoys watching other people have fun. Instead, be a fun-living spouse, the person who jumps right in to the middle of fun. Merrilee says that if you buy garbage bags as gifts or if your last date together without your kids was to attend a funeral, you might need to add some spice to flavor your dull marriage. 

Give Yourself Permission to be PLAYFUL in Marriage

Marriage needs energy. Date nights and fun can fuel a marriage. As a rule, don’t spend more than 20% of your date night conversation talking about your kids, your bills, or life issues. It’s okay to having “planning dates” where you have dedicated time and space to discuss the budget, the remodel, jobs, kids, and even in-laws. But separate those conversations from your playful date nights. Gives yourselves permission to take a break from life and do something just for fun. 

If you’ve gotten out of the habit of dating your spouse or have run out of ideas of things you enjoy doing together, you’re not alone. It happens to all of us. Have fun brainstorming together. Write down three things you would enjoy doing together. If you haven’t had common interests in the past, it’s okay to start now. Dream together often. Talk about wild, crazy things you would enjoy (and don’t allow your brain to sabotage the dream by throwing up all the reasons you couldn’t or shouldn’t dream that dream). Imagine your life together after children leave home, after retirement. 

Be physically playful, and I’m not just talking about s-e-x. Hiking, biking, playing tennis, working out at the gym together, boating, getting a pair of matching mini trampolines . . . physical play is powerfully energizing for relationships.  

See Your Marriage as a PERK rather than Work

Ask yourself,  “Does my marriage feel like a perk or like work?”  Give yourself  permission to be married and to enjoy the perks of marriage, not just  to endure the work of marriage. A few years ago my husband and I went to a life-changing marriage conference and I realized I could give myself permission for my marriage to be a source of energy and strength in my life. Rather than seeing my marriage as one more thing on my To Do List, I began to discover my marriage as a source of enjoyment and fun. 

I started to give myself permission to be playful with my spouse, to be more lighthearted, to lower the stakes, and to not take everything so seriously. As a result, my marriage is becoming a safe place, a source of strength, support, courage, and energy.  

 

Give Yourself Permission to RECEIVE Love

The number one BRAIN LIE that we all share in common is that we are not enough. We aren’t worthy of love. We don’t deserve love. Subsequently, we deflect love when it’s offered, then cry and mope because we aren’t loved. My brain lies tell me that I haven’t worked hard enough to deserve a night out with my man, or that I don’t deserve a trip to Seattle with my husband. My brain lies and tries to convince me that I can’t be playful and intimate if my house, bedroom, or hair is messy.

BRAIN LIE = I can’t relax and enjoy time with my husband if I have work to do.

TRUTH = there will always be work to do. It’s okay to take time to play with my spouse.

BRAIN LIE = You haven’t done enough today to deserve your husband’s love.

TRUTH = I can receive my husband’s love any time, in any condition because he wants to give his love to me. 

Marriage is a Seesaw

Merillee Boyack says that marriage is a Seesaw, the intensity is going to fluctuate up and down, but if you find your butt sitting on the ground, it’s time to kick off. You have the power to kick off the ground. You have the power to jumpstart the energy of playfulness in your marriage. Experience the Power of a PLAYFUL Marriage by challenging your brain lies, being a fun spouse, viewing marriage as a life perk, and giving yourself permission to receive love. And have a blast in your playful marriage!

 

Ep. 7 Permission to PLAY

Permission to Play

Permission to PLAY

Anyone who knew me back when is probably laughing at the idea of me doing a podcast episode about play. That is okay! I hope you have a really good laugh on my account. Over the years I have learned the hard way that all work and no play make Maleah a real bore. I’ve also discovered play as a powerful way to energize and elevate my life. 

Why is PLAY a Power Principle?

Evolutionary biologists believe that play is an important key to survival. Species that don’t play don’t survive. Play is essential to survive, AND to thrive. Question: How I play? A documentary called The Power of Play (airing Jan 20, 2019) explores the science of play research. Research by California psychologist Stuart Brown, has shown that playing freely as a child is key to being mentally healthy as an adult.

Play is powerful because it allows for low-pressure exploration, discovery, and risk-taking. 

When was the last time you played? What did you do? 

Distraction is Not PLAY

Play is not the same as distraction.

Distractions are the things we do to avoid doing the things we have to do. Distractions are easy defaults like browsing social media, playing that game on the phone, mindlessly surfing the television channels. These things use time, but they don’t necessarily recharge or energize us the way that true play can. 

Play is not a waste of time. Play is more than merely goofing around. Play is the way we explore new skills without the pressure of performing or being judged . Through play we tap into creativity and build social connections. 

1. Permission to PLAY First

I used to believe that I had to have all my work done before I could play. I carried that belief into my work as a full-time mother. But for moms, work is never done! As a result, I never allowed myself to play and my life became cumbersome and dark. Part of my healing through Postpartum Depression and chronic illness was learning to prioritize play.

I learned to trick my brain and tell myself that I needed to get my play done before I could work. Doing this, I found that I had more energy and had time to be playful and get a lot of work done. 

2. Permission to Get Work Done Quickly so I can PLAY

Another way I trick my brain is to find ways to get work done quickly so that I have time to play. It’s when I’m doing the less exciting chores of paying bills, calling the insurance company, or cleaning the kitchen that I get distracted and end up wasting time surfing the web or browsing FaceBook on things things that don’t really matter to me. Instead, if I set a time to get necessary tasks done quickly and reward myself with play, then I am actually more productive and feel more relaxed at the end of the day.

3. Permission to Find Your FUN

 I’m guessing you could easily tell me ten things on your To-Do List today. And I’ll also guess these are “work” items. It’s hard to be motivated to get work done if you don’t know what you like to do for fun. What are 10 things you can give yourself permission to do that feel playful

When we default to browsing social media or playing that online game, it’s usually because we haven’t decided what we’d rather do instead. Somehow along our journey to adulthood, we lost our sense of play until we no longer know how to play. Give yourself permission to discover your play. Plan to PLAY

4. Permission to Turn Work into PLAY

What is the difference between work and play? For an NBA player, are basketball workouts and games work or play? Or when I write for ten hours straight, is that work or play? The bottom line is that it depends on mindset. And any task can be made easier by making it more playful. This is the old Mary Poppins’ principle: “In any job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and snap, the job’s a game.” The point is that we can all benefit from incorporating a more playful attitude into anything we do. Remember KISMIF from Episode 4 Permission to Make Life Easier? Keep it Simple, Make it Fun. 

Conclusion

This episode has reminded me of so many ways that I can give myself permission to be more playful, to lower the stakes, to remove pressure and remember not to take life so seriously. Unless it’s about play, because these days I take my play very seriously.