Now that the weather has turned colder and darker I am begrudgingly returning to the treadmill at the gym in place of the trails. This morning I was reminded of my constant work toward achieving balance. I try to always choose the treadmill in the middle with a window view of a nursing home on the right and a busy street on the left. This view revamps my perspective as I’m willing my legs to move, that I am happy to neither be on the left (racing to work) or on the right (stuck in a home), but rather in the middle.

I am neither a stay at home mom or a career woman but somewhere in the middle. I am neither rich nor poor, isolated nor social elite, mega fit nor couch potato, satisfied nor stagnant, you get the idea! Somewhere among these middles is my balance.

What does balance mean to you? I think it is different for everyone. Answering that question involves consideration of investing in both your future happiness and the life you have today. Often we get so caught up in working toward future happiness that we forget about investing in the life we actually have, rather than the life we don’t have. “Once I get this promotion I will start eating healthy again… As soon as I get a bigger house I will be able to declutter… Once I finish this project I will make time for friends”… And on and on, the projects never end, the promotion takes another year to get, you need a better job to afford the bigger house. So much time is spent toward future happiness that important things may have fallen at the bottom of the priority list.

Here is what I have discovered along my path to achieve balance:

1) Balance is always a work in progress: life throws curve balls at you every day, requiring you to adjust your swing. Ask yourself what are the signs that things are off balance for you? A clue may be when you stop doing things that are important to you.

2) Prioritizing your needs is essential: putting your needs above the needs of others is not selfish, it’s self-preservation. If you place yourself at the bottom of your priority list, you will never find the time for self-care.

3) Self-esteem impacts your ability to prioritize your needs: If you do not treat yourself with kindness it sends the message to others that your needs do not matter. If you heard your self-talk from others would you find it offensive? Kind attention releases dopamine which makes you happy, on the other hand, shame floods your brain with norepinephrine and cortisol sending you into survival mode which inhibits growth. So does putting yourself down motivate you? The science is clear that it only keeps you stuck.

4) Get rid of what takes away your balance: Let the ball drop on that activity you don’t really enjoy and neither does your kid. Say no if you don’t want to do something. Do whatever it takes to stop doing the things that take away from investing in both your current and future happiness. Let go of guilt about not doing things that don’t really matter to you (see #2).