In a society where the divide between the haves and the have-nots grows wider, and becomes more apparent each day, the sad truth is that most people will find it impossible to escape the rat race. And given that increased competition is a natural consequence is a natural consequence of globalization, most people are also working longer hours for less money. Government norms not witnessing, for most people, work is rarely confined to five or six days a week, or to a maximum of seven hours day. It doesn’t help that technology makes professionals accessible around-the-clock, blurring the line between work life and personal time. The load is even heavier for Indian women, who, thanks to a culturally-embedded need to please, tend to overburden themselves at work. And, although gender roles are changing slowly but surely, most women still also have household responsibilities. This compounding work load can take a toll not just on your health, but also on your personal relationships, and on overall happiness.

It goes without saying that one must chalk out a plan to achieve a positive ‘work-life balance’. Don’t let the term throw you. It doesn’t mean allocating the same number of hours for your personal life as you do for work, or indeed that one’s schedule must be planned according to a predicated equation, – that would not only be unrealistic, trying to stick to a rigid ratio would also be frustrating and unrewarding. What constitutes the right work-life balance for an individual, may, in fact, change on a day-to-day basis.

Achieving an optimal balance will, of course, require change, but it’s important to remember that change of any nature must start within oneself. Start by making these small changes in your thinking patterns.

Let go of perfectionism: You need to stop thinking that if you don’t get the best appraisal, or if your children don’t get the best report cards, that it makes you unsuccessful or a bad parent. Trying to be a perfectionist as your responsibilities mount on both the work and home front, can lead to a burnout. So, on both fronts, try to delegate, and learn to let go,

Stop catastrophizing: The consequence of things will rarely be as bad as you imagine they will be. Your children will be fine if they have to dine on takeaways every now and again when you haven’t had the time to organize their meals. Believe it or not, one thing that will make a big difference to your perspective and help you stay calm is, simply, a good night’s sleep. There is evidence to show that lack of sleep can make one irritable, and more likely to make mountains of molehills.

Don’t minimize your achievements: Refrain from comparing yourself with peers, friends or neighbors at least all the time. If you can’t resist the urge to define yourself by your level of success, work on changing your definition of success altogether. Remind yourself that success isn’t simply about having a certain designation, but also a happy family, and a portfolio of happy memories. Train your mind to adopt such positive thinking patterns. To lead a balanced life, here are some strategies that would help ease the load:

Convert ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ to preferences: Instead of thinking, ‘I must always be the first to complete a project,’ teach yourself to think, ‘I would like to be the first to complete projects, but if I can’t, it’s not the end of the world.’ This simple shift in mindset will allow you to make time for other things that matter. Similarly, if you’re caring for a sick person at home, instead of telling yourself, ‘I have to be the one to make sure he or she does the daily exercises,’ tell yourself, ‘I will try to make sure that he or she does the daily exercises, but at the end of the day, there’s just this much I can do.’

Give yourself due credit: Maintain a diary and note down your positive qualities/actions/good deeds on a daily basis. Review this frequently. When you’re stressed and tempted to focus on your misses, the diary will ensure you have a reminder of your hits handy.

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’: This is paramount, as the inability to turn things down or to set clear boundaries will inevitably mean taking on more than you can handle, both on the work front and at home. Remember, achieving a work-life balance does not only mean making sufficient time for both your loved ones and your professional’s life, it also means making time for you. Make time for introspection, and to enrich yourself by immersing yourself in physical activities and educational, spiritual and social pursuits.

You should never feel quality for taking some time off to do something you enjoy. This can be tricky, especially in a society like ours, where one feels obligated to perform certain duties to please others and ignore one’s own needs. But you must work on your mindset, and bring yourself to understand that, for instance, if your child has a fever, any guilt you feel because you have to travel for work at this time, is not going to bring that fever down. Remind yourself that there are others present to care for the child, and that your absence may even help the child bond better with these caregivers.

Synergize: This can take a little planning. But try and see where you can combine roles. For example, perhaps you could take your child to the park to play – that way, you could get your daily exercise at the park while spending quality time with your child.

This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror on December 6, 2018