What does it mean to lead a balanced life?

Lifestyle balance is critical in preventing relapses. Individuals whose lives are full of balanceunenjoyable activities are likely to relapse back to addiction (which may provide intense, although temporary, satisfaction). We may not enjoy our daily activities if we are too focused on what we “should” do and not enough on what we “want” to do. For example, a person who places too much money into retirement funds ends up having their daily budget tighten, and risks a “binge” of spending that could threaten their savings.  If they balanced their budget, rather than putting all their funds in retirement, they would find a better balance.

Lifestyle balance can be considered from a number of perspectives. Below is a list (taken from the book, Sex, Drugs, Gambling & Chocolate, page 191) that you might use to consider how balanced you are:

  • Work and relaxation
  • Activity and contemplation (self-assessment)
  • Duties and fun
  • Long-term projects and momentary pleasure
  • Alone time and social time
  • Routine household chores and new projects
  • “Shoulds” and “wants”
  • Making money and spending money
  • Spiritual time and secular time
  • Giving and receiving
  • Being physically distant and being physically close
  • Exercise and rest
  • Personal maintenance and productivity
  • Going fast and going slow
  • Learning from others and learning independently

For each item on the list above, we need to consider to what extent we have achieved a balance between the two poles on the list. Having achieved some basic balance in life, the next step can be looking more deeply at what our enduring satisfactions truly are. It is this looking that connects the fourth point of the 4-Point Program back to the first point (to “enhance and maintain motivation to abstain”). Motivation to abstain is ultimately based on a sense that there is a better life to live than an addicted one. If you believe that there can be more to life than what addiction provides, the challenge is to achieve that.

What is most important in life has been a focus for everyone at times, but perhaps not enough of the time. Freud suggested that a combination of love (relationships) and work (productive activity) is most important. If only this simple suggestion (“to love and work”), or other suggestions, were enough to provide clear guidance for all of us! Here are a few basic questions to consider:

  • What are my most important relationships?
  • How could I pay more attention to these relationships?
  • What activities am I good at?
  • Given what I am good at, or could learn, what do I most like doing?
  • What satisfactions did I have before addiction?
  • At what moments in life did I feel a clear sense of direction (and what was that direction)?
  • How much time do I speak with others, and think about, my direction in life?

For most of us, being out of balance is about focusing too much on short-term (momentary) concerns, and not enough on long-term (enduring) concerns. Although there are some individuals who put too much money into retirement, the typical problem is not putting in enough.  Striking a balance is key to maintaining motivation to abstain and to leading a good life.

Dr. Tom Horvath has been president of SMART Recovery for 18 of its 20 years, and is an internationally recognized expert on addiction treatment. He is a past president (1990-91) of the Society of Addiction Psychology, the world’s largest organization of addiction psychologists, and is also the author of Sex, Drugs, Gambling & Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions.

This post is a reprint from the June 21, 2001 edition of the SMART blog.

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