One of the elements that is almost universal in the conversations that I have with my students is their desire to achieve balance – between activities and school, between homework and fun AND between enjoying summer vacation AND maximizing extracurricular activities for college.
So how do we achieve “balance”? And what does that even mean? And is that even possible these days with the current “admissions frenzy” that sees no sign of decreasing? (short answer: YES! And even MORE important because of that!)
To begin, I looked at the literal dictionary definition of balance: "An even distribution, a condition in which different elements are equal".
The first image that came to mind was a scale - two sides perfectly balanced. But is that even realistic? How long can it stay that way? Once we add something to one side, it automatically becomes “unbalanced”, right?. The only way to try to maintain equal balance is to keep adding things to each side. Sound familiar?
In fact, chasing the idea of balance as “equal or even distribution” is what leads to over-scheduling and stress - the very thing we are trying to alleviate.
What if, instead of the image of a scale, balance was more like a lava lamp – gradually ebbing and flowing in a less definite and structured way.
Hmmmm, interesting.. go on! Okay, I will and I did, and that led me to find a different definition of balance called “psychological balance” – where balance is defined based on one’s values and beliefs over time.
OMG!!! YES!!! NOW we’re talking!! Adding in values makes it less absolute and “equal” and more fluid and flowing, like a lava lamp. The concept of “balance” as it relates to values and beliefs helps us much more easily understand not just what we do but WHY we prioritize the way we do and even provides a way to make the "should do's" into "want to do's".
For example, one of my students was having trouble getting motivated studying for the SAT. He knew it was something he “had to do”, but it wasn’t enough to get him to actually DO it. He set aside time, scheduled it in, balanced it with other activities, and still it wasn’t getting done. Enter “psychological balance” – and the introduction of values. I asked him which of his values he could apply to make it more fun, more of a game. He told me that he had been thinking about studying with one of his friends and said he would be much more excited to study with a buddy, which brought in his value of collaboration. He also decided to set up weekly goals and mini-contests which fulfilled his value of competition AND made it a lot more FUN!
Using the lava lamp idea (once I explained to them what a lava lamp was!) and incorporating the use of values helped many of my students realize that they had a choice in how they could achieve a balance between work and fun that wasn't as rigid and allowed for varying circumstances throughout the year. Their original plan had been to set aside a set amount of time for homework and then do something fun. But there would be times during the semester that were extremely challenging and the homework time increasingly ran over, limiting the “fun” time. That’s when we looked at how they could incorporate their values INTO the homework, making the entire process more fun. Rather than “equal distribution”, it was more of an “ebb and flow” idea.
The art of achieving balance is no different than most things related to college planning. The more we release the pressure, and incorporate our values and beliefs, the greater the opportunity to achieve balance.