By: Jasmine Pickett
When you hear the word balance, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Maybe you think about an acrobat or someone walking along a tight rope. Perhaps you think of a scale that’s perfectly even or maybe a fall prevention program. All of these things fall under the category of balance, especially balance in a physical sense.
To me, balance incorporates many things. As an athlete I have constantly worked on mastering the art of balance through various skills and coordination exercises. I walked on a “balance beam” for most of my childhood and teenage years as a gymnast. I leaned to balance on my hands and to stand on one foot, sometimes in very precarious areas…which of course made my mom a little crazy.
I have always enjoyed challenging my body in the area of balance and that passion has only grown into my adult years. In fact, for the past five years I have enjoyed mastering the art of riding a unicycle; balance at its finest! Figuring out how to stay upright on a unicycle is quite a task. What muscles do I use to keep my core engaged and find my center of gravity? How do I counter a movement that appears to be taking me in the wrong direction? What do I do when something unexpected gets in my way or an obstacle presents itself?
As I think about these questions that have shaped me into the unicycle rider that I am today, it makes me think about balance not only in a physical sense, but also as a state of being. Just like I had to figure out how to balance my body on top of one wheel without gears or a breaking system, I’ve had to figure out how to create balance in everything life has presented to me.
If we think about it, and if we are really honest with ourselves, we are always in a constant state of attempting to find balance in life or to maintain the balance that we have at one time attained. Our world constantly bombards us with things that try to knock us off our “center”, try to make us feel overwhelmed and incapable of achieving our goals or just make it hard to successfully live life on a daily basis.
As an adolescent, I had to learn the art of “balance” early on. I had to juggle school, sports, friends, family life, church, and my personal time. Every one of those areas required something different from me and if I were poorly managing one of them, there seemed to be an effect on everything as a whole. I grew up in a very stable home, even though we were sometimes hit extremely hard with the obstacles life can present you with. I watched my mom model how to handle the stresses of life while she mothered me and my two older brothers, as a single parent after the passing of my dad.
My mom took us to team practices all over town. She always had meals prepared, loved us past the point of no return, handled our meltdowns, and still managed to keep herself healthy. She learned the art of a balanced mindset and I know I’ve learned that same art from her.
As I have gotten older, two words have stood out to me that have allowed me to maintain a balanced mindset. The first word is acceptance. This can be a very difficult word to wrap your mind around, but once you do, you will see an increase in your ability to attain and maintain balance. Let’s take a look at the definition of acceptance; from a psychology point of view, acceptance is a “person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest”. In Latin it means, “to find rest in”.
As a lifelong athlete, acceptance has made a huge impact on my mental health and performance success rate. When I learned to accept certain situations, some of which may have formed from mistakes on my part while others were formed by events out of my control, I had a better success rate of actually progressing out of the unfavorable situation. For example, if I made a mistake during a track meet that caused me to perform under my potential, I had to learn to accept the fact that I made a mistake while also understanding that I didn’t have to let the mistake define or own me. According to Gerald Corey, author of Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, acceptance can be an alternative to our internal experiences. In my case, accepting that I made a mistake and coming up with strategies to be better the next time I performed, replaced my internal feelings of judgment, criticism, and avoidance, which resulted in increased adaptive functioning.
Let’s now take a look at accepting a situation that is out of your control. Imagine you’re a gym member who is going to their daily workout and has the unexpected surprise that the gym is closed due to a power outage. Are you inclined to get angry and upset about the inconvenience? Maybe. In fact, that is probably a very common response. A less common but more productive response would be to accept that which you can’t change, control your response and “roll with the punches” as they say. Find an alternative activity that would still allow you to get some movement in so your workout of the day isn’t lost. This way of thinking takes a little practice because sometimes it does seem easier just to be mad. However, the sooner we get on board with accepting situations that are completely out of our control, we allow for ability to change our mindset and the way we react; we also, at that moment find ourselves in a more productive and adaptive state of being.
The second word to impact my balanced mindset is consistency. This is a word that most are familiar with and hear regularly. We hear it at work, at home, at school, and especially in the gym. From a fitness standpoint, the more consistent you are, the more likely you are to reach the goals you have set for yourself. You may be saying to yourself, “Yeah, that sounds nice, but how do I stay consistent when things are constantly changing around me?” I find part of the answer to this question back in the first word of acceptance. When I can accept things around me are always going to be changing, I’m not so shaken when change actually occurs. We all have the ability and the power to stay stable and consistent even when chaos surrounds us. We can stay consistent in the way we respond to situations and in our decisions not to let our emotions run rampant when an unfavorable situation arises.
If we don’t practice consistent behaviors, we can fall into a psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance; this means we sit in a mental state defined by poor and negative feelings, according to Social Psychology and Human Nature. I’ve found, personally, the more consistent I am in my mindset, the less my day to day experiences shake me. I have become the stable component.
Both acceptance and consistency take time and commitment to master. Uh oh…“commitment”…there’s a tough word. Sports psychologist and author Adam R. Nicholls talks about the importance of commitment when it comes to having mental toughness and a balanced mindset. To summarize, he states, athletes who are more committed to a task or goal are more involved mentally and physically in that task and it thereby decreases their chances of avoiding a situation.
We can use this same notion when committing to acceptance and consistency and creating balance within our daily lives. If we are committed to learning the art of acceptance and to staying consistent, we can hit head on unexpected experiences or unfavorable shifts in our circumstances. Growth in these areas occurs throughout a lifetime and with time we get to a place where we see the benefits of our efforts.
When I committed myself to learning how to ride my unicycle backwards, I had to be committed to accepting there would be days I would make mistakes; or that unforeseen events would present themselves and try to discourage my progress. I also had to commit myself to being consistent in my response to these changes or shifts and not allow my emotions to take me so far down a rabbit hole that I was unproductive.
I am certainly still perfecting my ability to accept and be consistent in my response to changes in my day to day life, but I have experienced numerous benefits from these efforts and I hope you will too. Individually, if we continue this learning process balance and stability are the inevitable and wonderful results.
Psychology in Sports Coaching: Theory and Practice 2nd Edition
Adam R. Nicholls (2017) Routledge Publishing
Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy 10th Edition
Gerald Corey (2017) Cengage Learning Publishing
Social psychology and Human Nature 4th Edition
Roy F. Baumeister and Brad J. Bushman (2017) Cengage Learning