Balance & Beyond Podcast
#3: Why your existing toolkit is failing you: the missing ingredient for women
Why nothing seems to work anymore...
Have you ever found yourself questioning the effectiveness of the widely promoted tools for achieving work-life balance? Perhaps you've dabbled in meditation, diligently attempted time blocking, or dedicated moments to self-care, only to be left feeling frustrated, defeated, and burdened by a perpetual sense of guilt. The truth is, you are not alone in this struggle.
But fear not, for in this episode, Jo unveils the secret ingredient, the elusive missing link that has eluded most women's toolkits. Brace yourself as she unravels the profound wisdom that will revolutionise the way you approach these tools, and many others, forever.
Here's a glimpse of what awaits you in this episode:
- Understand why meditation can be incredibly frustrating and the shift that allows you to ignore the thought that you need to buy more bananas.
- We reveal why the time you attempt to block during work hours is always taken over by something more important.
- Discover why you feel guilty anytime you try to take care of yourself and learn how self-care can go beyond a massage.
- Uncover why you struggle to hold boundaries and say no, even when you really want to.
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INTRO: Welcome to Balance and Beyond, the podcast for ambitious women who refuse to accept burnout as the price of success. Here, we’re committed to empowering you with the tools and strategies you need to achieve true balance, where your career, relationships and health all thrive, and where you have the power to define success on your own terms. I honour the space you’ve created for yourself today, so take a breath, and let's dive right in…
Jo: Do you feel like you're doing all the things that you're told are meant to work to help bring you balance: whether it's meditation, getting up early, taking care of yourself? You've got all the fridge magnets, you've seen all the quotes and yet, no matter how hard you try, they are not giving you the results that they are meant to? Well, you are not alone. I thought I had a pretty good toolkit. I was doing all the things that successful people were meant to do, and yet I was feeling worse and nothing converted.
So today, I want to share with you what actually is going on when you're trying to use these tools: What is going wrong for you? And, most importantly, what is the missing ingredient? What is the piece that I have found ambitious women are missing that is stopping these shifts from working? The good news is, it's going to be much simpler than you think to actually make all of these strategies and tools finally land.
Let me share with you some of the tools that I was leaning into the most. And there's a pretty good chance you've tried some or all of these at some point on your journey. So one of the things that I lent into pretty early on, because whenever I did any research on what successful people do, and how they live their lives, and their morning routines was meditation. It kept coming up again and again and again. “Right,” I thought, “I'm going to be still with myself. I'm going to calm my mind.”
All that happened during those 10 minutes was I was constantly running through the list: “This is what I need to do.” And I'd get frustrated at myself because I forgot to buy bananas. And then I’d go, “Oh my God, I forgot to do this and I forgot to do that.” And I thought, “Why am I lying here remembering all the things that I haven't done in a day?” Now I know that the whole point of meditation is to become self-aware, and I was very aware that my brain was very busy. And yet, no matter how hard I lent into it, nothing shifted.
Another strategy that I thought of was, “Right, I'm a pretty efficient person. I can get more done than most, I'm going to block out my time, this is the strategic work that I need to do.” I don't know about you, but I spent a lot of my life dealing with things that were urgent, and not important. I was constantly putting out fires, and yes, that was a part of my job as an executive was to deal with what was in front of me. But I could never get to the stuff that really mattered, to the strategic work, or the work that I really loved, that I knew I had to get to because that was going to stop the fires.
But my days were this constant stream of interruptions and pings and notifications. An urgent text message, and many other urgent things. So, even though I would say, “Right, I'm going to block out time for myself. This is the piece that I have to work on. I'm uncontactable this afternoon. Non-negotiable.” Things always interrupted my calendar, things always popped in. There was always something, you know, something would come from the CEO and I'd be like, “Oh, I can't really say no to that.” And in the end, the only real time I ended up blocking out ended up being 10pm to midnight on the couch, and that was the time where nobody else was awake and I could actually do some proper deep thinking.
The challenge was, I was exhausted at that point in time, because I'd been up and had a very busy day. And so, while I thought I was doing strategic work, it was never to the quality that I had hoped, and I was then up late, and then I'd finish about, I don't know, midnight or 12.30 sometimes, and then I’d go “Oh, I just need some time to me, and I would end up scrolling social media for 20 minutes or half an hour and then suddenly go, “Oh my God, it's 1am, I’ve got to get to bed, I've got to get up.” And that was the cycle.
Another thing that I tried to do, which is very difficult when you're up till midnight or 1am, was, “Right, I'm going to wake up early. I'm going to get up at 5am, I'm going to have some time to myself, before everybody wakes up, this is what I'm going to do for myself, everybody swears by the 5am club.”
And yet, as I started looking into all these routines of let's call them the rich and famous, or the successful, you hear about these mornings where they wake up, and they meditate, and then they journal, and then they do some exercise. And then, you know, they have a check-in with their team, and then some people bounce on trampolines, or they have a cold shower, and they have green smoothie. You look at all of these routines and pretty rarely does making lunch boxes, getting kids out of bed, finding socks for CrazySockDay, finding a gold coin for some donation, and digging out a rat-eared note that you have to sign that day. That doesn't ever really feature in their plans.
And many of these morning routines that we see of the rich and famous and the successful are men. Very often, if they have children, they seem to have either a stay at home life who's doing all of that, or they have nannies and caregivers, or their kids are much older. And here I am trying to model what I think is something that's going to be good for me, based on somebody who has a completely different life.
And when you get woken up by a child, thinking right, “I'll get up early. This is amazing!” And then you happen to make a bang, and a child wakes up, and you end up getting incredibly grumpy at that child, “It's like how dare you wake up before 6.30, this was my time.” And so I would find that, even though I was trying to wake up early, if somebody dared interrupt that time, I'd be resentful. And that wasn't the way I wanted to start my day.
And very often, because I'd been up late the night before, and thinking I’d been falling behind with things, rather than actually doing things that I needed for me, I'd be like, “Right, I'm going to jump on the treadmill. Let me just stick on that washing first, because then when I'm done with the treadmill, I can then put it in the dryer.” And all I ended up doing was doing an extra load of washing, which didn't have to be done. “Okay, this whole waking up early, especially when I'm in bed at 1am?” Not working for me.
And then, one Mother's Day, like we all, do you get a fridge magnet: Take care of yourself. Self care is the best gift ever, right? I know I need to do more of this, I know I need to make time for myself. And my version of what I thought I needed to make time for myself was what I often call the “pink care”, where it's about: have the massage, go and get your nails done, go and spend the day at the day spa. It’s these big gestures, that are often, you know: have to go away with the girls. And that's all wonderful, and don't get me wrong: I love a massage, I am all for weekends away with the girls, do whatever you need to do!
However, in those moments, I actually found that I was feeling more guilty for taking the time. Or the effort it took to actually get out the door made the massage not worth it. Whether it was all the logistics and the stuff I had to do just to get away for an hour, or then, somehow in my head there was a random point system that I counted between my husband and I. And I hear this from him all the time. It becomes this, “Oh okay, I've had this massage. But now I've had some time away, now I'm going to have to give him some time away, and I don't know if I want to do that.” And so we beat ourselves up and never actually enjoy the thing that we're meant to be doing for ourselves.
Does it sound familiar, that you're trying to take care of yourself, but sometimes the effort or the guilt that goes along with that, because then you feel selfish, eliminates any joy or filling up of your cup that you get from that activity? And you start to wonder, “Well, it's not worth it, it's just not worth it. I'm not going to bother. I know, let me just stick on another load of laundry, that's one less thing off my list.” And that suddenly becomes how we're going to take care of ourselves.
And then one of the last tools that I tried to implement you could call this a tool, you could call this a way of living, was I knew that I needed to hold better boundaries And whether that was better boundaries for self care, boundaries for my time, and yet I always tiptoed around this line between wanting to, say no. “I want time for me. But what if they think I'm rude? Or what if I'm a B-I-T-C-H? What if I miss an opportunity?” And for me, very often, when it came to saying no, or saying yes, to an opportunity or a social event, I have always suffered from a very big case of FOMO. And I love opportunity, I love new things, I love excitement. And for me, often the saying no wasn't the hard part. I said yes because I was excited about it. I was like, “Yes to that project, because that project sounds amazing!”
What I was never very good at is saying, “Okay, I’m gonna say yes to that opportunity, but that also means now I have to say no to something else I've already picked up”, and I could never do that. Because I worried about letting people down, or I worried about not being asked again, to come and join that project, or come out for dinner, or whatever it was. And so I was constantly torn between this line of, “Well, I wanna be involved, and I wanna participate, but oh, I've got so much on.” And then we'd go around, and around, and around these circles.
So, I hope there might be something familiar there for you, in what was actually going on with my toolkit. And if you suffered from any of these, if any of these examples ring a bell, well what I had to learn the hard way, and I'm hoping I can spare you all the pain, is the missing ingredient, especially for women, that was stopping all of this working. The good news is there's nothing wrong with your strategies. Meditation works, time blocking works, waking up early works, you can take care of yourself!
However, if you do not have the mindset that supports your strategy, no amount of strategies are gonna work. And this is the piece no one is teaching us. No one is teaching us, as a woman who's working, who's juggling, kids and family and four-legged friends and the rest of it: What is the mindset that you need to ensure that any strategy for you is actually going to work?
Let me talk you through each of these five elements that I've tapped into, and what is missing from a mindset perspective, that's going to allow you to now implement that strategy. And the good news is, when you start to really understand yourself, you build this self-awareness and you can learn to shift your mindset, any strategy that you pick up, whether it's from a podcast or a leadership program or a friend or something you've read: it's actually going to land.
And this is the most frustrating part, is women come to me saying, “Jo, I've tried everything. I've listened to every podcast, and I'm trying and I'm trying a new strategy, and I'm trying to do it, and it's not working.” And it's not the strategy, my friend, it is your mindset. You need to learn how to shift your mindset around all of these pieces, or it's never going to change.
So let's talk about meditation, and how meditation is actually going to work for you. Now, again, it's not the strategy of sitting down and trying to get quiet for 5 or 10 minutes. What actually needs to shift here is your mindset that meditation isn't about trying to stop your thoughts, because I don't know about you, but I found that impossible. My brain is very, very busy. But meditation works when you see it as an opportunity to let go and process your day. When it becomes an opportunity to tap into your body, and see what is there and get beyond the thought. They just become like annoying clouds that are floating across the sky, and you can detach yourself from that.
Some people will say you just need time, you need to continue to sit on the cushion or lie down and just persist and persist, and persist. But I gave meditation a darn hot go. I did it for months, I think, because I'm competitive, got myself up to like a hundred day streak and it still wasn't doing what it was meant to for me, and usually that's because I was trying too hard. So again, it comes down to: What is the purpose of this? What is the mindset I'm taking to go into meditation?
Time blocking only works when you have detangled yourself from the feeling that being busy equals being important. And when you stop prioritising everybody else's stuff, whether it's their laundry, or whatever it is, over your own. Because when you do not have agency over your own time, when you don't think that your time matters, you will continue to give it away. And this is all about saying “No.” Usually, it's not about saying “no” to others, it's about saying “yes” to you. It's about “yes” to what you need, whether that's wine with a friend, or a walk, or a nap, or to sit and read your book, or for somebody else to pick up the laundry for that day.
But until you're able to really disentangle, to detach and shift your mindset, that being busy does not make you important, you will only ever want to put out fires. And even though I have people all the time saying to me, “Jo, I don't like doing this, I know this doesn't serve me.” And yet, from a mindset perspective, on a subconscious level, you have not yet cleared those blocks. So, while logically, intellectually, you know this doesn't serve you, you haven't yet done the mindset work deep enough to better stop these patterns happening.
Likewise, we talk about waking up early. Well, what's the mindset that you need in order to get up early, and actually block out that time for you? Well, first and foremost, you've got to get to bed early. Getting to bed at 1am, and then trying to get up at 5, is clearly not enough sleep. That's the first piece.
The other piece is you need to really understand, “Why is it that I want to get up early?” I really, really hope it's not to just get in an extra load of laundry. If you're getting up early, how do you ensure that this time is for you and you are very, very clear on what you're doing and why? Because, I don't know about you, but my brain isn't the most, let's say, firing, or it's not at its full capacity, at 5am. So, if I'm ever deciding to get up early, and pretty regularly I do this, the night before I've decided I'm getting up early, this is why, and this is what I'm going to do, so that I get up and there is no intellectual thought required. Because that thought is going to go oh, snooze, or we're going to go straight into: “Right. I've got to do this, and this, and this, and this, and this.” Say no. “This time is for me. This is my time.”
When we talk about taking care of yourself, as we mentioned before, what stops us not doing this is the guilt, and the hassle. But the mindset that you need in order to actually take care of yourself, and enjoy it, is separating your self-worth from your to-do list, because you are more than just things that you can get done. You have nothing to prove, you have nothing to do, and you certainly don't need to earn the time to take care of yourself.
So many women tell me that, “You know, I've only taken care of myself when things have started to break. I will only take the time to take myself to the doctor when I literally can't get out of bed. Or, you know, a friend will buy me a voucher, because I can't bear to spend the money on myself because of the guilt.” And this is another piece: you have to learn to let go of guilt. It is an emotion that does not serve you, and it will rob you of any joy.
The other mindset shift you need to make around taking care of yourself, is to move beyond the grand gestures of the spa days, and the massage, and like to be clear, go for it my friend, as much as you can. However, how can you reframe taking care of yourself, and have it become about a nice cup of tea, standing in the sunshine? How can taking care of yourself mean feeding yourself lunch? How can taking care of yourself mean space to breathe, or to move your body? Even if it's not a 45 minute sweaty workout, but you've only got 10, well taking care of myself is moving my body in a way that serves me in those 10 minutes.
And taking care of yourself is also ensuring that you ask yourself what you need. Which is a very different mindset to, “Right, gotta do this, and this, and this, and this.” Because some mornings, I wake up and think, “Okay, I really need to go for a run.” And I wake up and tap into my body and it says, “Oh, you're actually quite sore from the weekend. Why don't you do yoga instead? Do something a little more gentle.” And I'm able to listen to that, because I've shifted my mindset and go “Ah!” Because it's not about, “I have to sweat and I have to do 45 minutes.” It's about, “What do I actually need?” And sometimes, after 10 minutes of yoga, I feel fabulous! Because that is what I needed. So, I've separated that self-worth from the to-do list.
And then, lastly, the mindset shift here around boundaries is: you can't boundary something, if you don't know where it begins, and where it ends. I hear this all the time, “Jo, I don't know who I am anymore. I've become so defined by my labels: mother, wife, ex-executive, ex-profession, and I don't know what I enjoy, I've completely lost myself in taking care of others.” So when you don't know what matters to you, when you don't know who you are, is it any wonder you continue to look outside yourself for these reference points?
We compare ourselves, “Ah, they're doing that! Do I want to do that, or not?” Instead of learning to tap into that innate wisdom that lies within, that only happens when you make the space to actually get quiet, and when you know who you are, and what matters to you, it becomes really easy to hold up a boundary about, “Do I really want to do that? Yes, okay, great! Well, I'm going to do it and make that choice and move on.” And then you can implement strategies around saying no. But, if you don't know what you're saying no or yes to? Well then, nothing's ever going to stick. The boundary is going to collapse at the first sign of pressure.
So, can you see how mindset really is everything? I often say that everything in life is mindset and strategy. But when it comes to a lot of these strategies, if you don't have the right mindset that sits around them, I hope you can now see why none of them are working for you, or they're not working to the extent that you would like them to. And the challenge is we have, for years, been spouted these strategies, and to be fair, very often these strategies have been spouted by men. But no one is teaching women how to build the strong mindset foundation, so they're actually going to convert.
What's missing here in this toolkit is the mindset shift, and the mindset shift that you have to make as a woman, that means meditation, time, blocking, waking up early, whatever it is that you want to be doing for you, is actually going to work. I'm someone who greatly values efficiency, and getting stuff done, and I know that time is not something you have loads of floating around. I want to make sure that if you are doing anything for yourself, if you are implementing any of these tools, I want them to work for you. I want you to get results, because that's how we make the world a better place. You'll learn how to be calmer, or you find more confidence, or you find your voice. And everything has to come from a mindset first perspective.
And this is why I love what I do, I get to help women build these really strong foundations. I teach people how to build boundaries, how to say no, how to detach yourself from the to-do list, how to eliminate guilt. And what's magical is when you start making these mindset shifts, all the strategies start working. Okay, it might take some time to build up the muscle and make them work to the extent that you wish, but we can make these shifts really, really rapidly, and it all starts with mindset.
So, my wish for you today is that you can think about a strategy that you are trying to employ in the bid to get balance, or avoid burnout, or whatever it is that you're working on, and have a think about why isn't this working? And maybe, “What is my mindset around this? Am I finding that there's guilt? Am I actually not really sure why I'm doing this? Am I prioritising others over me? Do I think that being busy is important? Am I spending all my time doing things that are urgent and not important?” Well, what could be one mindset shift that you can make, that's going to allow this strategy to work? And I promise, make that shift, and everything starts to change very, very quickly.
OUTRO: Thank you for joining us today on the Balance and Beyond Podcast. We're so glad you carved out this time for yourself. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend who might need to hear this today. And if you're feeling extra generous, leaving us a review on your podcast platform of choice would mean the world. If you’re keen to dive deeper into our world, visit us at www.balanceinstitute.com to discover more about the toolkit that has helped thousands of women avoid burnout and create a life of balance, and beyond. Thanks again for tuning in, and we'll see you next time on the Balance & Beyond Podcast.
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