If you want to live a life of purpose, it’s no secret that this requires work and commitment. You need to find your calling and go down a path less travelled. That’s not easy.
It also comes with challenges that you wouldn’t have to deal with if you settled for a life that doesn’t mean much to you.
Let’s say you want to build a business that supports a social cause that’s important to you. You may invest weeks and months upfront in the project, without seeing any immediate results. You’ll be tempted to work overtime because you want to make it happen so badly. You may stop seeing friends and family in the name of making that important change in the world.
You have a noble motivation, and that’s powerful. However, it also makes you prone to forgetting your own needs. Dreamers and visionaries are known to sacrifice such basic things as sleep or regular meals to make their ideas a reality. On top of that, our culture feeds us the ideals of toxic entrepreneurship and hustle porn which glorify personal sacrifice in the name of something “bigger than you.”
While giving it all to your dreams may seem romantic, it’s also unsustainable. Disrespecting your needs and limits will much more likely lead to burnout than to making your dreams come true.
The good news is that it’s possible to continue doing meaningful work without neglecting your well-being. How? By establishing healthy habits and routines. It’s the regularity of self-care, and not just an occasional bubble bath, that keeps you on track.
In other words: If you’re committed to playing your biggest game, then this requires an equal commitment to taking care of your needs.
But how does that look in practice? To find out, I spoke to fourteen fulfilled people who are making a positive impact through their work. The question I asked them was simple:
What one habit or practice helps you to stay engaged in your work and purpose without burning out — and why does it work so well for you?
Their answers were inspiring, insightful, and sometimes, also surprising. I learned a lot and I’m now certain of one thing:
Creating a dream life, career or business and taking care of yourself aren’t mutually exclusive. On the contrary, one supports the other. You can have both and the way to do it is through developing those habits that support both your work and well-being.
Let this article be an inspiration to finding your way of playing big without burning out.
1. Nir Eyal: “How would a person I want to become choose to spend their time?”
Nir Eyal has worked in quite a few fields in his life. From lecturing at The Stanford Graduate School of Business to working in video gaming and advertising, to being a successful founder of a few tech companies, he experienced what it means to do focused work in a busy environment.
Today, he’s widely recognized as productivity and behavioral design expert, as well as the author of two best-selling books: Hooked and Indistractable. He blogs about the intersection of psychology, technology and business at NirAndFar.com. Currently, he’s focused on helping individuals and companies take control over their time, attention and, ultimately, their life.
When I asked how he manages to consistently work on the most important things without neglecting his well-being, this was the technique he shared:
“A big problem we have today is that people don’t intentionally plan their time. Then, they still complain that they got distracted and didn’t do what they wanted to. But we can’t call something a distraction unless we know what it’s distracting us from. That’s why we have to decide in advance how we’re going to spend our time.
The technique I use for that — and recommend to others — is called timeboxing. It’s one of the most studied productivity techniques, otherwise known as “implementation intentions.” This is very different from running your life by a to-do list, which is what far too many people do. But that’s a huge mistake.
To-do lists are a horrible tool for time-management. They may be good for task management, but not time management. Instead, I recommend planning your time by turning your values into time spent enacting them. What does that mean?
Simply put, values are attributes of the person you want to become. So, you have to ask yourself: “How would a person I want to become choose to spend their time?” Then, you timebox your calendar to spend time in those ways. However, you don’t focus on what you “should” achieve in those timeboxed periods.
It’s a well-known fact that humans are terrible at estimating how much time tasks will take them. That’s why we must stop measuring ourselves based on tasks. Rather, the goal is to spend the intended amount of time on a chosen thing, without distraction.
This isn’t just about work-life balance. On a deeper level, it’s about living in alignment with your values.”
To try the timeboxing technique for yourself, you can try the free tool Nir has built. His Schedule Builder allows you to timebox effectively and intentionally. Plus, it comes with a detailed guide on how to use it.
2. Niklas Göke: “When in doubt, the mindset I default to is faith.”
Ever wondered if it’s possible to become a well-read writer online without a famous name or connections? Well, here’s the living proof that it’s doable: Niklas Göke.
Nik is a writer who covers a variety of topics, from self-help to marketing and business to love and relationships. He’s one of the most popular writers on Medium.com, reaching over 400k readers every month. He also founded Four Minute Books, a website with close to a thousand book summaries, and built Write Like a Pro — an in-depth course where he teaches others how to succeed as a writer in the digital age.
All of these before he even turned 30… Pretty cool, huh?
It was hard for me to wrap my head around how he does it. When I asked Nik about a habit or routine he uses to keep his writing up to the highest standard while still finding time for other things, here’s what he told me:
“I’m not sure if I can call it a habit, but: Faith! That’s the mindset I default to whenever I’m in doubt about what I’m writing, not feeling productive, etc.
A large part of our brain activity is unconscious. The conscious part we control is quite small — but that’s the part we wrestle with all day long. Just because we can’t control it, however, does not mean the subconscious isn’t useful. Whatever falls out of the conscious makes its way there.
When we feel tired, procrastinate, take a break, or go on vacation, we tend to think we’re not productive because we’re not actively working with the part of the brain we control. But all the while, the subconscious is still processing what we sent down, and we never know when it might reward us with a great idea. I have faith that, whatever I do, it will eventually find its place in the bigger picture, and that makes it much easier to be forgiving towards myself whenever I feel like I need a break, no matter how big or small it might be.”
It seems that the cliché advice to “trust the process” works. The trick here is to remember to zoom out from time to time — and take a look at the big picture of what you’re doing.
You may notice that things are somehow falling into place, even if you can’t always see it from where you’re standing.
3. Shannon Battle: “No matter how much I struggle, I remember that God takes care of everything he creates.”
Shannon Battle is another inspiring example of how you can start making a difference even at a very young age. She was only 22 when she founded Family Services of America — a company providing mental health and foster services for children and youth. Shannon was inspired by her own childhood experiences and committed to helping kids exposed to mental health threats in their environment.
Although at some point, the company was at the verge of bankruptcy, Shannon persisted. Family Services of America survived the challenges and continued providing care and support for those who needed it. On the way, Shannon also started mentoring and coaching people one-on-one, sharing her wisdom and experience.
With so many people relying on you, how do you make sure your own mental health isn’t too affected? How do you keep your balance while remaining fully committed to your cause?
I contacted Shannon to ask about that. Her answer was simple and beautiful:
“I walk each morning and listen to meditation music. I wait to hear the birds sing as my alarm clock and I walk my dog. I breathe the air and center my focus on nature. This is important because it reminds me that God takes care of everything he creates. So no matter how intensely my struggles grip me, I’m reminded each day that I’m okay and I have more than enough.”
Sometimes, all we need to find calm is to spend some time on simple pleasures. Appreciating the beauty of nature and going on a walk is one way to do it. If you make it into a routine, you’ll be sure that you experience peace of mind for at least a few moments each day.
As Shannon put it, this is often “more than enough.”
4. Tony Stubblebine: “It’s possible to be busy without accomplishing anything.”
When someone refers to themselves as a “self-improvement nerd,” I’m all ears. That sounds like this person dug deeper than just repeating self-help mantras. Maybe they’ve actually found something that works — and don’t mind sharing it with others?
When I contacted Tony Stubblebine, I wasn’t disappointed. Tony is a coach, ex-programmer, and founder of Coach.me, a digital “matchmaker” platform for great coaches and their ambitious clients. He’s also the publisher of Better Humans, arguably the most reputable Medium publication.
From the first look at his social media profiles, I got the impression that Tony is someone who practices what he preaches. So, I went ahead and asked him: “What daily habit helps you stay on top of your commitments, without being swallowed by overwhelm?”
Tony spoke about journaling — but not just any kind. His particular practice sounds perfect for those who always feel like they have too many items on their to-do list:
“I start every day by setting priorities in my journal. The journal part is the most important because it lets me work through my feelings. Almost every journal entry starts the same way, with me spitting out all the things that feel like they need to get done, then me writing about how I feel (generally overwhelmed), followed by asking myself a simple question. What one thing could I do today that would move my business forward?
At about that time in the journaling, I’ve gotten past a lot of my feeling of overwhelm and can start to give myself permission to focus on this one task. I know from experience that if I allow myself to stay overwhelmed, I’ll accomplish nothing. I also know from experience that it’s possible to be busy without accomplishing anything. So focusing on one important task that actually has a long-lasting impact on my work always feels like a powerful goal. But without the journaling, I’d still be stuck in the feeling that I need to accomplish everything.”
My take-away? Maintaining balance doesn’t have to be about eliminating overwhelm altogether. Tony’s practice shows that it’s possible to simply acknowledge, move through, and overcome the feeling of being stuck. Having a specific tool to do just that seems like a great idea.
5. Sinem Günel: “I need to enjoy my work to keep going for long enough.”
Have you ever met a person who made you wonder: How on earth are they finding all that time and energy to help everyone around?
To me, Sinem Günel is one of these people. She started her entrepreneurial journey at a very young age and, right away, committed to helping people around the globe. Together with her partner, she launched Personal Growth Base, an online platform that provides courses and coaching to help people reach their full potential.
Sinem is also one of the most popular writers on Medium and the founder of Medium Writing Academy. There, she shares everything she learned as an online writer to help others succeed on Medium.
I was curious how Sinem juggles all of that without being fed up with work. Here’s what she shared:
“For me, the key to a balanced life (and business) is reminding myself of the bigger picture. I easily fall into the trap of thinking that I need to work more and do more. In those moments, I remind myself that life and business are not sprints but long marathons and that I need to use my energy wisely.
I journal almost every day and do different exercises defining my purpose almost every week. One of my core values in life is freedom and whenever I feel overworked, I remind myself that I can only achieve and maintain freedom if I take care of my mental and physical health.
Other than that, reflecting on the bigger picture helps me to remind myself of my life purpose. One day, I want to make personal development insights accessible to those who can’t afford the expensive courses or seminars. I want to share all these simple yet life-changing strategies with young people who never hear of personal development in formal education. And I know that I need to have fun in my work in order to keep going for long enough.”
Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of why you do what you do. When that happens, Sinem’s advice can help you put things into perspective.
Seeing your current task in the grand scheme of things can help you reconnect to your purpose. Try it next time you feel like your work is pointless. There’s a good chance you’ll see clearly that it isn’t.
6. Michał Korzonek & Sílvia Bastos: “The least we can do is to make sure we have a good laugh every day!”
Fun drawings, fruits everywhere and, of course — journaling! This is what you see immediately when you visit Michał and Silvia’s blog, JournalSmarter. Their business is all about making personal development simple and fun so that people can stick with it more easily.
But of course, there’s much more to it than just fun and games. As a couple, business partners and digital nomads (although they seem to be settling now in the Azores), Michał and Silvia also experience their share of challenges.
How do you balance being in an intimate relationship with running a business together? And all the while travelling, maintaining a daily meditation practice, exercise routine, and keeping in touch with people all over the world? Isn’t that too much to handle?
When I asked how they manage to juggle all of those things without burning out, here’s what they shared:
“For the past three years, we’ve been working on and launching our business together. Because of all the challenges that came with that, we established one essential habit that allows us to stay present and engaged in our work, and that habit is playfulness. It can mean quite a variety of things, from making silly faces and weird jokes to tickling each other, to creating absurd songs and poems, to some things we wouldn’t mention in public. ;)
We found that when one of us gets triggered or we’re just going through a challenging situation, a big dose of laughter really helps to release tension. We always feel much more connected to each other after that. This is something we embedded so deeply in our relationship that it became an automated habit. It helps us not to take ourselves and our work too seriously, while sticking to our commitments.
This way, we can stay happy and positive regardless of the ups and downs in our lives and business. We can’t control everything, but we can at least make sure we have a good laugh every day!”
Being playful is something that a lot of people forget once they “get serious” about their purpose or mission. It’s easy to just put your head down and bury yourself in work.
But in the end, didn’t you decide to do it to feel good about your life?
In David Graeber's words — what’s the point if we can’t have fun? Finding a hint of playfulness in the most hectic day might be just what you need to keep going without becoming miserable.
7. Tara Well: “Sitting with myself in front of the mirror creates a shift in my self-awareness.”
Here’s one thing the world needs more of: compassion. Although Tara Well, PhD, calls herself a “mirror-gazing expert,” what this really means is that she helps people find a way back into themselves. She does that by teaching self-compassion through Mirror Meditation.
After many years of disregarding her feelings, Tara found that something as simple as looking into the mirror can help with self-awareness and emotional regulation. Now, she shares her method with others — and it seems to be working miracles.
But those miracles are well-backed by science. Tara is an associate psychology professor at Barnard College of Columbia University, where she teaches the theoretical base for her mirror work. On top of that, she writes a column at Psychology Today called The Clarity.
When her life becomes overwhelming, Tara’s mirror practice is a way to come back to herself. Below, she describes how big of a difference this makes in her life:
“I’ve been using a mirror for self-awareness and meditation for many years. The mirror is not to admire myself or say positive affirmations, but to check in with how I’m feeling. Often when I get very busy, I just go into doing mode and it’s easy for me to forget my feelings. Some of my worst decisions have been made when I was feeling disconnected from myself. But many times, I didn’t realize it and just pushed forward with a decision or action that turned out to be regrettable.
Just sitting with myself in front of the mirror with no goal other than to be present with myself, for 10 minutes or so, always creates a shift into deeper self-awareness. Sometimes, I’ll realize that I’m feeling a hint of sadness or irritation that I hadn’t noticed as I’d been rushing from one thing to another. Or I’ll discover a glint of playfulness in my eyes, when the tasks of the day call for seriousness.
Simply taking the time to acknowledge how I’m feeling without judging or putting demands on myself reduces tension and invites self-compassion. Then, I can relate to others more mindfully and authentically — and this keeps me from burning out.”
Could it be that simple — sitting in front of the mirror for a few minutes a day? There’s a lot of research confirming the effectiveness of this practice. Tara’s forthcoming book covers that research and explains why mirror meditation is so powerful.
Once you have self-compassion, nothing stops you. You love yourself unconditionally and therefore don't need external validation to prove your worth. That’s one way to finding fulfilment and meaning, without overloading yourself with endless tasks.
8. Michael Thompson: “Before planning what I have to do, I plan my free time.”
In his online bio, Michael Thompson leads with: “Co-creator of 2 boys with my dream girl.” Right off the bat, you know he’s a family person and cares about relationships. And indeed — even if you read just a couple of his articles, you’ll see how important other people are for him.
The interesting thing is how, with caring so much for others, Michael managed to build a writing and coaching career in just a few short years. His Medium articles are consistently read by hundreds of thousands of readers every month. His work has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, Crunchbase, and other leading online publications.
On top of that, he finds the time for coaching and managing a lively mastermind group for writers. And, when I spoke to him, he also seemed quite happy and relaxed!
Michael attributes his ability to balance all his commitments to regularly scheduling some “white space” in his calendar:
“A few years ago I came across an idea from executive coach Dan Sullivan of leaving 30 percent of your day unscheduled. As the father of two young kids, I thought this sounded impossible. But I gave it a shot and before planning what I had to do each day I first planned my free time.
The reason this is so effective is two-fold. First, since you just cut your 8-hour workday down to 5 or 6 hours, it forces you to think about what tasks actually move your needle forward. Secondly, it gives you time each day to chase your curiosity.
Some days, I proactively set up calls. Other days I go for long walks or even watch TV. This may sound basic, but by stepping away from time to time allow me to connect the dots in whatever I’ve been working on a lot faster.”
Michael’s practice is simple but powerful. Counterintuitively, to do his best work he prioritizes time away from it.
What if you set aside time for fun first — and then scheduled your work around it? It may not be a good idea for those who don't care about their work. But if you do, blocking a chunk of our day for downtime and play may be just what you need to nurture yourself.
9. Shannon Ashley: “My focus is on perspective, rather than specific habits.”
In the blogging world, it seems to be harder and harder to find deeply honest writers. “Authenticity” itself became a commodified buzz-word, abused in hashtags and headlines.
Maybe that’s why reading Shannon Ashley’s work is so refreshing. As a single mom diagnosed with Asperger’s, her life certainly isn’t all life and roses. But that didn’t stop her from building a successful writing career. In the past 2.5 years, Shannon established a thriving presence on Medium by sharing her rough life experiences in a way that makes her readers feel less alone.
Shannon’s tagline — “It’s not about being flawless, it’s about being honest” — says it all. The level of honesty in her writing is striking. At the same time, it immediately raises the question: How does one deal with the emotional toll of exposing themselves online to the extent Shannon does?
When I asked her how she balances work and life as a full-time writer online, Shannon didn’t pretend she had any magic fixes:
“Writing full-time on a specific blogging platform means nothing is certain. There’s a part of me that isn’t really sure if this gets to be my life, or if it will become unsustainable. However, it is my life for now, so I try to operate accordingly. I’m still working on building the life I want, and like a lot of other people, 2020’s been a helluva year. A lot of my life right now means simply coping and trying to figure out what’s essential and what can be put on hold.
I’m not neurotypical and I live in my head a lot. My focus tends to be more on my perspective than specific habits. I try to keep in mind that it’s my job to “curate my life.” If I don’t feel satisfied or fulfilled, I try to ask myself why and what I might do to make improvements.
In most cases, I find out that I need to be more intentional. Give myself sit-down mealtimes at home where I don’t bring my phone to the table. Or spend 15 minutes a day relaxing with a heated eye mask. As a writer, I live so much of my life at home and online, but if I’m not intentional about each day, I find it easy to only go through the motions and give myself zero time or space to decompress like any other human being.”
There’s a great lesson in what Shannon shared here. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to admit that life is hard. It’s 2020, after all. If you feel like you’re barely coping, maybe it’s fine to accept that.
This may not be the time to set new goals and raise the bar of your ambition. And that’s okay. A part of living a life of purpose is to recognize that, sometimes, you need to take care of the essential needs — and nothing more.
10. Arthur Worsley: “Planning ABC days is one of the most powerful habits I use.”
Here’s a question you may have asked yourself before: Are the productivity experts you see online as productive as they claim they can teach you to be?
Well, I found at least one who seems to be. Arthur Worsley, a coach and entrepreneur, came a long way before he worked out a system to manage his time, priorities and goals effectively. But when you look at his website, The Art of Living, you can see he’s providing simple productivity tools that work.
Apart from that, Arthur is a passionate self-learner and a bit of a book geek. His 3-year travels through seven continents resulted in learning four languages, getting to know the local history and — the cherry on top — meeting his fiancée in Columbia and kicking off his business.
So how does a productivity entrepreneur manage himself to keep playing big without burnout? Arthur replied to my question in a bullet-point form. His technique is something you can easily digest and implement in your life:
“One of the most powerful habits I use (and teach to my students) is to start tracking and planning ABC days.
What are ABC days?
- An A-day is a normal full-on workday;
- A B-day is a day for planning and getting clear; and
- A C-day is a recovery day that leaves you more energised than when you started it.
To start using the system, track your days in your calendar for four weeks.. Then sit down and check how you feel about your balance of ABC days.
Here’s what I usually see:
1. Burned out folks: Usually have less than 4 proper C-days to report;
2. Overwhelmed folks: Usually have less than 4 proper B-days to report; and
3. Burned out and overwhelmed folks are guilty of both!
Then, plan out your next 4 weeks of ABC days in your calendar. My rule of thumb is AT LEAST 1 B-day and 1 C-day per week with a mini-break of at least 2 consecutive C-days every 4 weeks or so).”
If you’re a fan of planning, Arthur’s system may work well for you. The beauty of it is that it allows you to see the bigger picture of how you spend your time over weeks and months.
You don’t just micromanage individual days — but also see how those days add up. Then you can decide whether your current rhythm helps you stay in balance — or slowly drives you towards exhaustion.
11. Jessica Wildfire: “The cornerstone of stability is knowing how to decompress.”
Jessica Wildfire (and who knows what her real name is!) is a college professor, writer and mom all at the same time. While she’s a wildly (ha…) popular writer on Medium with one of the most distinctive voices on the platform, her online presence elsewhere is almost non-existent.
No email list, no website, no social media profiles apart from Twitter. If you want to know who Jessica Wildfire is, you pretty much have just one way to find out: read her work.
The reason I was interested in Jessica’s self-care habits was that she has quite a strong stance on self-help. In her writing, you’ll find a lot of criticism of the industry, pointing out the shallowness and lack of nuance in much of the popular self-improvement advice.
So what are Jessica’s practices that help her remain balanced as she juggles two careers and family life during a pandemic? Well, they’re quite simple:
“Every day, I carve out time for listening to music alone and reading for a couple of hours. My spouse and I are the same way. We take a couple hours for ourselves that have nothing to do with work in the immediate sense. We go for 30 minute walks, too, either together or on our own, to think and decompress. It’s the cornerstone of stability.”
Doing something that has nothing to do with work is the challenge of many. Even when you rest, you may be tempted to check emails. Or, you simply can’t get your mind off of a work problem you’re currently solving.
But as Jessica points out — and science agrees — psychological detachment from work is key. Not just to feel rested but also, to work better.
12. Michael Leonard: “Context switching crushes my productivity.”
Is extremely hard work the only way to success? A lot of “hustle porn” you see online may have you believe so. But if you ask Michael Leonard, he’ll probably chuckle. For him, deciding to quit hustling was the moment he started seeing success.
After a year of the uphill battle of trying to monetize his blog, Michael turned to freelancing. He built a solid base of clients working only part-time. From there, he started helping other writers make a decent income online.
His passion paid off and today, he runs a website and podcast Inspire Your Success. There, he puts a lot of emphasis on the right mindset. You’ll often hear him talk about reprogramming your mind to establish more helpful beliefs — for example, through hypnotherapy.
When it comes to his habits, he’s very practical. To my question about the single most important thing that keeps him on track with his work, he answered:
“My one habit is putting my phone out of sight so that it’s out of mind. This helps me stay present, focused, and 100% engaged. It’s so easy for me to get distracted on Instagram or email and get off task when my phone is close by. Context switching crushes my productivity and ultimately I get way less done.”
Sometimes, you don’t need complicated productivity systems or self-help routines. Sometimes all you need is to do the one important thing in front of you.
Knowing how to keep your attention in one place may be simpler than you think. As I’m writing this article, I left my phone in the kitchen. It worked.
13. Melody Wilding: “Managing my energy is as important as managing my time.”
There’s a misconception that to succeed as a leader, you need certain personality traits. For example, if you’re not competitive or a good negotiator, you’ll never be noticed and get “to the top.”
Luckily, here’s someone who advocates for those who don’t want to elbow their way to success. Melody Wilding, an author, Medium writer, executive coach and speaker, helps Sensitive Strivers® grow in their professional life without having to pretend they’re someone else.
Melody was named the “most innovative coach” by Business Insider and has just finished her book, Trust Yourself (available for pre-orders). The tools and methods she teaches are based on decades of research on sensitivity and achievement, as well as her experience working with sensitive strivers in Google, Facebook and Nike.
When talking to Melody, I learned that she also identifies as a sensitive person. Because of that, she needs to think about her schedule not just in terms of time-management — but also, energy management:
“As a sensitive person, managing my energy is just as, if not more important than, managing my time. That’s why one habit that works well for me is theming my days. As much as possible, I try to keep calls and meetings that require me to be “on” to two days a week. The other days I reserve for deeper thinking — writing, planning, etc. This habit successfully helps me manage my energy, stay productive, and mix up what I’m working on without overloading myself or burning out.”
Melody’s practice of bulking similar activities together can work well for those who are easily overwhelmed. If what happens in your environment gets to you more than to others and you have tendencies to overthink, it may be a sign of higher-than-average sensitivity.
In that case, theming your days and bulking up highly stressful tasks may help. This way, you ensure longer periods when you can recover and meet your need for peace and quiet.
14. Shelley Prevost: “The way I consistently refuel and restore is through solitude.”
To most people, failure and success as polar opposites. But not to Shelley Prevost, the co-founder of Big Self School. The way she describes it, it was her darkest times that helped her find fulfilment. As Shelley put it, it’s unlikely you’ll tap into your Big Self until you fall flat on your face.
Before she started Big Self School, Shelley led quite a diverse professional life. She had her own therapy practice, founded a company and became an angel investor for female-led startups. Her passion for business and leadership led her to speak at a TEDx event in Barcelona. She wrote for Inc., HuffPost, and other reputable publications.
But at some point, the pursuit of success left Shelley feeling burnt out and empty inside. She understood that in always being busy, she was losing her soul. She needed — and wanted — to slow down and build a business that would reflect her deepest values.
These were the seeds of Big Self School — and one of the reasons you’re reading this article today. But Shelley wouldn’t have been able to learn from her burnout if it wasn’t for the one self-care practice she relies on:
“The practice that keeps me grounded and sane is solitude. As an Enneagram type 2 — a Giver — I am constantly referencing other people and forecasting for their wellbeing. This makes me a tuned in mom, psychologist, and teacher, but it also leaves my ‘selfhood’ tank empty. The only way I consistently refuel and restore is through solitude.
Usually, this happens on my back porch, often with a drink in hand, sometimes a pen and journal. This way, I can break from the noise and chaos and other people’s needs to tend to my own heart. I have to force this option sometimes because my worth is so wrapped up in making sure other people are OK. Solitude time is the practice that gently presses down on me to quit giving so much, to fill my own cup, to tend to my own needs.
One of my favorite stories is The Handless Maiden. In this story, the young maiden’s father allows the Devil to cut off her hands. In her quest to become whole, she marries a King who gives her silver hands. These are fake appendages and only serve to stifle her. She finally removes the silver hands because she would rather live without any hands at all.
By the end of the story, the maiden is so broken and deep in anguish. She goes to the forest to weep. And it’s her very own tears that grow her hands back. It is in turning toward herself and recognizing her own emotional needs — found in solitude — that heals her.”
Many people are afraid of solitude simply because they confuse it for loneliness. But the two aren’t the same.
Intentionally spending time alone is a chance to recharge batteries and listen to your inner voice. This actually prevents you from feeling lonely. When you learn how to feed your own emotional needs — just like the maiden in the story — you stop expecting other people to fill the void inside you.
Instead, you can see them as equals and create things together. And what better way to live out your purpose than to do it with others?
Is There Any One Secret To Work-Life Balance?
When you read about the various habits of fulfilled people, you may feel overwhelmed with their diversity. It seems like there are so many ideas you could use. Endless practices, optimizations, tips and tricks to live a good, meaningful life.
Of course, you can’t implement them all. So how on earth do you pick those that suit you best?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. After speaking to all the amazing people in this article, I realized that their different practices actually have a lot in common.
Sure, the particular habits differ from person to person. But I found at least three elements that build the mindset behind almost all of them. Rather than try and copy these people's habits, try and use these three themes to build your own:
- Big-picture planning instead of micro-management of tasks. Whether it’s Nir Eyal talking about timeboxing, Melody Wilding advocating for theming your days, or Arthur Worsley advising penning ABC days in your calendar — it’s all about zooming out and seeing the big picture. Long-term thinking planning may be more important than perfecting your daily to-do list. Try it and see if it helps you find your balance.
- Taking time out to disconnect from work. Most people need more time away from work than they think. That’s why, when you procrastinate and mind-wander, it isn’t necessarily because you’re lazy or unorganized. It may just be that you have too much on your plate. Fulfilled people like Michael Thompson, Shannon Battle or Jessica Wildfire account for that by making sure they schedule their down-time in advance.
- Prioritizing relationships — both with yourself and others. There’s a reason why the slogan about humans being social creatures is so popular. It’s because… it’s true. It’s hard to stay engaged with your purpose if you consistently neglect your need for connection — with others, but also, with yourself. People like Tara Well, Silvia Bastos, Michał Korzonek and Shelley Prevost know it well — and so, they make time to nurture those connections regardless of what’s currently going on in their lives.
Let these three themes become signposts for building your supportive habits. The most important thing is to make them work for you, not anyone else. That’s why the habits of fulfilled people in this article are meant to be an inspiration — not a recipe.
And if you want additional help, we have something for you. At Big Self School, we created a free checklist, 7 Soul Needs You Must Meet To Avoid Burnout. This checklist helps you to:
- Check-in with yourself
- Find out which of your soul needs are currently unmet
- Establish practices and habits that nurture you.
Download 7 Soul Needs You Must Meet To Avoid Burnout now — and start playing big without running the risk of burnout.