A friend recently shared with me a James Patterson quote that has had me thinking about life. He said, “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” (from Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas)
Another friend added to this “I always think of the analogy of ‘the more things you juggle, the more likely it is that you will drop one’… so how to we keep psychologically healthy?”
Something that I tell my clients often is that life is a really tricky thing. Sometimes I even venture to say to them, “life is bloody hard”; because it really can be. Not always, mind you, but often.
The more people with whom I speak – and I consider that I’m in a privileged position to “see the insides” of people, particularly the places that are often hidden from a person’s family and friends – the more I discover that many, if not most of us, are deeply afraid that life “should” be easy, or straightforward, or fair. But it’s really, really not.
Life is a right rollercoaster. Things frequently don’t work out the way our imaginations want them to. Bad stuff can happen indiscriminately (to the good and the wicked, as the good book puts it). I like to refer to it as “the quagmire of life”. What comforts me is knowing that we’re all in it together.
So how do we remain psychologically healthy?
I’ll be frank with you here: rather a lot of hard work.
Psychological health comes from many things. Things like being mindful of our thoughts and emotions, and how we utilise these functions and transfer them to action; it comes of figuring out who we are, being accepting of ourselves, and embracing our foibles and all; it involves working out what is important to us, and pursuing those things even when it feels risky and takes us outside of our comfort zone; it requires that we pay attention to our bodies and take care of them, knowing that while our bodies are not our ‘be all and end all’, that a leaky boat isn’t going to get us to our desired destination; that we get rest for our body and mind, because we need it; and then balance this with sufficient stimulation to keep us interested and engaged with, and curious about, the world; and to remember, as often as we can, that everything we are doing/thinking/feeling is related to the choices we are making, and that choices have prices and benefits… so make sure you’re getting a good deal!
And, to be honest, that’s just scratching the surface.
If I were to simplify it all into one idea, I would say that it boils down to this…
It’s easy to get caught in ineffective habits, thoughts, emotions and behaviours. It’s easy to listen to our “Poisoned Parrot”, and to get caught in a negative cycle of self-flagellation and abuse. It’s easy to push our bodies hard, to “get the most out of life”, forgetting that our bodies can only go so far before they fall in a heap. It’s easy to have expectations about how we think life “should be”, without really looking at how we can create what it is we want. It’s easy to be right, and not examine ourselves and look for more effective ways to live in a way that works for us. It’s especially easy to forget the “rocks” in our life amid all the sand.
So, if you’re looking for life to be easy… well, I can’t promise you that the outcome of an “easy life” is going to be particularly healthy!
Years ago, Brian Klemmer (a leader in personal development) said to me “if your plate’s too full, get a bigger plate”. While it would be easy to see that as a put-down, a “take a teaspoon of concrete and harden it up” kind of comment, I saw the wisdom in what he had to say. He was saying that a bigger plate can only be created by widening our mind.
I will always remember my friend, Annette, telling me “you can have everything you want in your life… everything! Just not necessarily everything at the same time”.
Check your expectations. Pay attention to the balls you’re juggling. Notice if you’re out of synch and address issues as they arise. I can’t tell you how many clients ask “how did this breakdown happen to me?!”, and then, when we ‘play detective’, we find 2+ years of evidence that they were going downhill!
Even the most gifted juggler in the world will drop a ball or two from time to time. Learn from your mistakes. Pick yourself (and your ball) up, dust yourself off and get back to it.
As Barbara Walters once said: “Most of us have trouble juggling. The woman who says she doesn’t is someone whom I admire but have never met.”
[Image from here]