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Ahh the holidays. The time when we not only wrap up year-end projects and make grand resolutions for the future, but many of us also spend every free minute shopping for the “perfect gift.“ Or cooking things we normally don’t, planning big, expensive, sparkly parties, and squeezing in a few moments of reflection on the “true meaning” of it all.

The holidays are the one time many of us recognize how unrealistic our expectations of ourselves can be. Some people can’t wait until it’s over so they can take down the decorations and get back to burning the midnight oil without feeling guilty.

But what if, instead of piling your plate with responsibilities and then trying, like a duty-bound holiday feaster, to shove it all in, you planned exactly how much to put on your plate?  What if you came out of denial and admit that you’ve actually bitten off far more than you can chew, and actually started saying no?

Enough with the revelry metaphor.

Most of us would say that having balance in our lives is a goal and even a priority. But we have habits that prevent us from ever coming close to balance. If, for example, we don’t want to work nights and weekends, eat dinner at the computer and feel stressed all the time, we need to figure out how much we can accomplish in the time we do want to allot to work.

We need to say no to things that might be great—at a different time. But right now they would just turn into a nightmare, like remodeling the house, chairing the committee or taking on the really needy client. We need to choose peace of mind over whatever rewards would come from the activity that also brings the extra stress.

On the other hand, balance is different for everyone. For some people—say artists or inventors—working could be the way they achieve not only a sense of purpose and income but also self expression, relaxation, centeredness.  For some people, stopping work actually leaves them discontented and dissatisfied.

So the key to balance isn’t necessarily some specific split between work and play. It’s about coming out of denial about whether the schedule you’ve chosen for yourself is working. Does it work because you never stop working? Do you feel balanced or do you feel stressed out?

Let the holidays remind you for the new year: If you want to be merry, be realistic about what balance means in your life and what choices you need to make to achieve it.

Thanks for reading!

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