Friday, August 14, 2009

Creating Balance Between Fitness and Family

By Chalene Johnson
Look in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Super Fitness Parent! As the kids return from school, this dynamic super hero straps on the red cape and attacks multitasking. With the strength of Clark Kent and the grace of Wonder Woman, Super Fitness Parent is willing to leap tall homework assignments in a single bound and create choreography and cupcakes with the greatest of ease. Our Super Hero is an administrative assistant by day and fitness fanatic by night. This parent’s energy is spellbinding! A child under each arm, an Ipod in hand, Super Fitness Parent speeds off to the club to escape the grips of inactivity. Our Hero pours heart and soul into a room of 25 fellow fitness devotees; who faithfully frequent this club 5 nights a week. After 2 hours of perfecting her finely chiseled physique, make-up still intact, she calmly returns home; eager to prepare dinner for four, return e-mails, voicemails, facebooks, tweets and overdue library books. Between courses she wields a paper mache solar system, and then bathes, dresses, reads to, and tucks the children in bed. She folds three loads of laundry, scrubs the kitchen floor, whitens her teeth, prepares backpacks, lunches, and music for tomorrow’s fitness adventures and joins her husband in the bedroom, where he has just sprinkled rose petals in the frothy bubbles of her bath. She is Super Fitness Parent and contrary to urban legend, she does NOT exist.

As a mere mortal, does your attempt to maintain a peaceful balance between family and fitness look a little less harmonious? Are you wracked with guilt when your fitness obligations interfere with family time? Do you regularly feel stressed, pulled in countless directions, or overwhelmed trying to maintain balance between obligations of work, fitness and family?

Balance. What does it mean to have balance in your life? Is it possible to do it all and keep everything in balance? Imagine a gymnast on a balance beam. You can picture her with eyes fixed on one spot, they’re focused, yet in constant motion; while shifting weight from side to side, teetering, moving and making tiny adjustments to counteract the pull of gravity. That visual alone reminds us that the act of maintaining balance requires we make constant adjustments, be focused, yet remain flexible.

All of us want and hope for balance. But doing “it all” means something, and sometimes everything, will suffer a little. Balance is to understand and rate what things are important and what things you should let slide. Happily married for 14 plus years, I’m a mother of two young children, a friend, a daughter, a chauffer, choreographer, business woman, author, clothing designer, program director and fitness professional. Regularly someone asks me, “How do you do it all?” I always reply, “I don’t”. I do those things that I deem best support my family and weigh all decisions against that mark first. I used to feel “inadequate” if someone dropped by home unexpectedly and it was not in perfect order. Then my father-in law, in his tell-it-like-it-is wisdom assured me, “You raise a family, not a house.” I love it! For me, that one comment took the pressure off. It gave me the permission to relax and put my priorities into perspective. If it comes to it, I will miss a deadline at work before I miss a football game. I will disappoint a “fan” who really doesn’t know me, before I would dream of disappointing my child. As much as each and every opportunity dangled in front of me might feed my ego, my first obligation is to make sure my family knows they are more important than all the money, fame or approval in the world. For me, what my family thinks of me is more important than the admiration of people who probably won’t remember me 10 years from now. Perfection in all areas of life doesn’t exist. Balance is the most we can hope for. Without truly identifying what is important to you, it is difficult to achieve balance.

I’ve applied this “healthy balance” concept to my own life and work. It’s a vision that as a business owner I work to instill in my employees. I know what works best for me, but I was curious to see what tips other multitasking fitness professionals might have, including those without children. So I went to a few individuals who I most admire for their commitment to balance and asked for their tips. Granted, you may not recognize their names, but at the moment they’re willing to trade international name recognition for harmony. Aside from their tips, I found two really reassuring bits of news I want to pass along to you: 1. Symmetry is within your reach and 2. Anything you want to do, you can and should when the time is right. Here are some practical tips to aid you in evaluating, creating and maintaining balance.

1. Prioritize, in writing, the most important areas of your life based on your current situation. So many skip this all-important first step or fail to re-visit this question on a regular basis. Though you may believe you have prioritized your values, goals or agendas in your mind; to list them on paper helps to clarify their order and re-evaluate your activities. Our top priority is often easy to identify, it’s numbers 2, 3 and 4 priorities that sometimes over-lap in our minds and fluctuate depending on changing circumstances. Writing down your priorities makes it easier to navigate tough decisions. Julie Voris, an Instructor in Carmel, Indiana said, “I feel blessed to work in fitness. I give my all each time I teach, but my family has to come first. My girls will only be young for a short time. Because I recognize that I no longer teach afternoon classes. I prefer to teach mornings while all my girls are in school, and be there when they return. I keep afternoons free to volunteer in their classrooms. It’s tempting to want to teach those primetime classes and consider other opportunities. I remind myself that when my girls are older new opportunities will be there.”
As circumstances change, so too will your priorities and therefore should your schedule. Any shift in circumstances, work-load, family, finances, health, etc. should require you revisit your written list of priorities. For many, the recent loss of a job or a portion of income has necessitated a return to the work force. Be flexible when tough times require it.
2. Create a calendar or list of your regularly scheduled activities. List everything, including leisure time and sleep. Closely estimate the amount of total time each activity requires. For example, when listing a class or client, be sure to include set-up, cleanup and drive time.
3. Star those activities that support one or all of your top 2 or 3 priorities. These are the items we should fight to keep on our list and maybe add more!
4. Underline neutral activities. Neutral activities are those which neither take from nor support your priorities. Some examples of neutral activities might include Saturday morning coffee with your girlfriends, art class, watching television, surfing the internet, training for a marathon or a fitness competition etc. These are activities that you could give up if needed, but should be evaluated for their “peace of mind” value. Never underestimate the refueling power of mindless down time or time pursuing your joy, something few A-type personalities allow for.
5. Next, boldly circle the activities or obligations that contradict your present order of priorities. This is going to take some courage. In some instances, it takes a non-objective 3rd party. Here's a personal example; One of my weekly activities was a late evening class at a club 35 minutes away, at a rate of pay far less than I normally earned. I had the class for years and felt that the students, who had become my friends, would “perish” if I gave up the class. Even though my obligations as Mom were tugging at me, I felt I'd be letting everyone down if I gave up the class. I kept thinking of the few friends who had recently joined the club just for that one class. I was keeping this self imposed obligation out of guilt, a sense of pride


and to be honest, ego gratification! It took a friend to point out that by keeping the class I was actually hurting my young family in terms of loss of time with them, loss of income and the increased stress that it caused by knowingly staying in the circumstance. Giving up that class was far less painful than I imagined. Much to my surprise, not even one student "died". In fact, it’s rumored that life went on and they eventually fell in love with a new instructor.

Now, when I personally struggle with the decision to get a sub or give up a class I remind myself that at the end of my life, it will be my family at my bedside, not my Saturday morning Turbo class.
6. Make an "Immediate Action" To- Do List: Each item which you bravely circled now needs to be removed. These aren’t areas that you’re going to “try to do better”. It’s time to take specific action. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The change doesn't have to be permanent, but it should be immediate. If the act of relinquishing responsibility, inconveniencing others, or change has you frozen in your tracks, look at your top three priorities and find the courage to endure a few uncomfortable moments for lasting piece of mind. Jenelle Summers, Team Beachbody Coach, Fitness instructor and Music Coordinator for Powder Blue Productions from Toledo, Ohio realized immediate action was needed if she was going to continue teaching after her son started school. “Rushing to pick up my son from school, only to go straight to the club for a class made me feel stressed and my son began acting out, which made matters even worse. I’m not a morning person, but I was convinced that it would be in the best interest of my son to teach early morning classes. I called my coordinator the next day and began replacing my evening classes with 6:00 a.m. workouts. Even though I thought I would never see my fitness friends, many of them made the shift with me. I feel so much better about doing what I love and that my family doesn’t have to pay the price.”
7. Make a "Transitional" To-Do list: Sometimes changes should be gradual. If, for example, your number one priority is to quit your current job and work a full-time fitness career; quitting your "day job" tomorrow might make it tough to fork over the car payment at the end of the month. Consider a gradual transition. Speak to your employer about the possibility of working just 5-10 less hours per week. If that's not an option, propose a flexible work schedule that allows you to do personal training or pursue fitness opportunities during prime time hours. When I first moved to California I was working 40 to 50 hours a week at my "day" job. I felt unmotivated, uninterested and overworked. It was causing me major stress and the inability to grow my personal training business. Though I knew it was a stretch, I convinced my employers to allow me to try a flex schedule and work 10 less hours per week. They agreed. The part time hours allowed me to pursue a career in health and fitness, without losing all of my income, while I built my fitness business. Because of that transition, my personal, professional, spiritual and financial life has flourished.
8. Openly communicate your priorities with others. This serves as both a constant reminder to yourself and a means of personal accountability. In communicating your priorities, you also establish your boundaries. "I openly express my priorities so those who I work with always know and respect where I am coming from." Barbara Brodowsky, group exercise instructor for YMCA, Lancaster, CA. Not only does this keep you accountable, put people are clear about your direction and will refrain from pressuring you to do things outside of your priorities.



9. Take cues from the people closest to you: Sometimes we are too close to a situation to be able to make clear decisions. Listen to the questions and comments of those you most trust and admire. Has your significant other suggested that you look tired, seem distant, stressed or stretched too thin? Has more than one friend suggested you lighten your load or spend less time working out? Have you seen a change in the behavior or mood of one or more family members? Projects consultant for AFAA and Powder Blue Productions, Amy Nestor agrees, "When every day begins to feel hectic, rushed, and stressful and my mind feels like it's racing, I know it's time to take a look at what I'm doing. I also take cues from my family. When my normally happy son seems cranky, needy and unruly, I now recognize that he is responding to feelings he's picking up from me."
9.
10. Practice saying, “Can I get back to you on that?” If you know you should say “No” more often, yet find yourself saying, “Yes” just to be accommodating, try using “Thanks for thinking of me! Can I get back to you on that?" Just a few days will give you the time you need to evaluate the opportunity to see how it fits with your priorities and if need be, politely decline.
11. Identify, and then remove your balance blockers. All of us have self-imposed balance blockers. These are deep rooted feelings that keep us in unhealthy or stressful situations based on fear or insecurities, like the need to please, misplaced guilt, fear of rejection, false appearances, believing that you’re supposed to be able to "do it all", perfectionism and more. These items will inhibit your ability to make sound decisions; decisions based on “your” life’s priorities.


Here’s a sample list of priorities:
1. Time with the kids and especially hubby
2. Reduce debt and decrease monthly spending
3. Transition to a full time personal trainer or fitness coach
4. Help my family become more centered around healthy living
5. Spend more time writing
Warning: Out of Balance
Signs that may signify your life is out of balance:
• Insomnia
• Racing thoughts
• Over or under eating
• Stress and Irritability
• Moodiness
• Forgetfulness
• Headaches
• Nighttime teeth grinding
• Compulsive behaviors
• Loneliness

Most commonly sited ways to
Immediately reduce stress:
• Keep a carefully crafted diligently maintained to-do list
• Restructure unnecessary activities
• Give up obligations or activities you dread
• Get additional sleep
• Let your guard down
• Approach others with forgiveness and love
• Refocus priorities
• Shift classes/clients/personal workouts to least impact the family
• Shift to part-time hours
• Let go of the pursuit of perfection

Thanks for reading!

Chalene

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4 comments:

screwdestiny said...

Great post, Chalene! I, like many others, struggle to find a balance between all the stuff I need to do (and I don't even have a family!), so this article was really helpful to me. I'll be trying out some of the tips you shared. :)

Michelle Myers said...

I so needed to read this today...Thanks, Chalene!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this inspirational note. I'm working out since june 2006 and actually I'm working out with Chalean Extrem - Push circuit phase. Exercising give me the strenght to accomplish the everyday life expectations and responsabilities with so much ease!

lorettaking said...

Love the advice Chalene! I see so many people in this situation and it is great to see some practical wisdom for finding that elusive balance. A great book that I have been reading that has been helpful with this and so much more is "The Power of Your Subconscious mind" by Dr. Joseph Murphy. Fabulous book, much like the secret but with practical advice as to how to get what you want out of life.