Why you’re not winning at balance (and what you can do about it).

Work life balance  – the holy grail

We’re all searching for the holy grail; that sweet spot where we feel fulfilled and invigorated in our careers and in control, yet relaxed and content with our home and family lives. That holy grail is, of course, more commonly known as ‘work life balance’ and although most people are striving for it, many find it difficult to achieve. Even if you are aware of the various strategies and tools out there for finding balance, you might be struggling to make them work for you. In which case, you’re not alone. 


The problem of ‘thought barriers’

The biggest problem I encounter in my work as a balance coach isn’t a lack of motivation, knowledge or talent on the part of my clients – quite the opposite in fact – it’s an issue of what I like to call ‘thought barriers’. Take one recent example. I held a live webinar on tips and tricks to improve work life balance. As you would expect, I actively encouraged discussion around the strategies I shared, and offered live coaching for a few participants on the call around how to apply these strategies to their particular circumstances.  (If this type of group coaching is of interest to you by the way, register here and I’ll give you a heads up for the next one). What was really interesting however, was how often I found myself hearing the same obstacles and objections, or ‘thought barriers’ – coming up.

“I’m not that type of person”

“I’ve tried that, but it doesn’t work”

“Yes I should do that but I just don’t have the time”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? If I recommend getting up early, would you tell yourself “I’m not a morning person” and move swiftly on in search of an easier strategy? When I advise saying no more often, would you think to yourself “I’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work”, and then look for a quicker fix? And when I talk about knowing your values and living them every day, would you tell yourself “Sounds great but I don’t have time to do that” and then park it to one side with the vague intention of getting round to it when you have a few hours to spare?

If so, don’t worry! Most people are the same. It’s why work life balance remains out of reach for many. Our brains are wired to prefer the easier, familiar path and so will put ‘thought barriers’ in our way which might stop us from trying a potentially scary new strategy. It’s these thought barriers however that hinder our efforts to achieve work life balance and in this blog I’d like to offer some solutions for overcoming the most common ones.


The solution

Here’s how it will work. I’ll pick a common thought barrier – a response that you may instinctively be having – and give some examples of the type of balance tool or strategy you might apply this to. Then I’ll give my interpretation from a coaching perspective of what your response really means, the mistakes you are making by accepting this response, and then suggest something you could do differently to overcome it.




1. “I’m not that kind of person”

Balance tool example: getting up early.

What you say: “I’m not a morning person”, “I really need my sleep”.

What you mean: “Getting up early is too hard”, “ It would involve doing something that doesn’t come easily to me”, “If I do that I’ll be depriving myself of something.”

The mistakes you are making:

  • thinking you can change things (e.g. achieve better balance) by continuing to do what you’ve always done (i.e. pressing snooze)
  • thinking that getting results and achieving your goals should not involve any discomfort
  • assuming you are a “fixed” person, and that it’s not within your power to change the kind of person you believe yourself to be.

What you can do differently:

  • bite the bullet! Make the decision to try it for a period of time, say 2 weeks. Start small and persevere through the initial discomfort until it becomes a habitual behaviour. Think about the action you need to take to make it work (e.g. go to bed a little earlier, turn off the TV sooner, set your alarm for earlier) and take it step by step. (For more help on how to get up early, take a look at my blog on the subject here).


2.  “I’ve tried it but it doesn’t work”

Balance tool example: saying no more often.

What you say: “I’ve tried prioritising but it doesn’t work”

What you mean: “It didn’t work the first time so it’ll never work”, “I don’t want to say no because I don’t want to let other people down or make other people think less of me, so I’ll keep saying yes to everything and start with the most urgent”, “Everything I am asked to do is important”

Mistakes you are making:

  • assuming that if a strategy hasn’t worked for you yet, it‘ll never work,
  • giving up too soon
  • not using the tool correctly (i.e. instead of saying no to tasks, you are prioritising – this is not the same thing at all!).

What you can do differently:

  • get out of the “quick fix” mindset. If a tool doesn’t work for you immediately, take this “failure” as feedback – either you’re not using it correctly and need to change the way you apply it, or it requires consistent effort over time to be effective.
  • set yourself a longer period of time to try it, for example, 3 months
  • learn from an expert and take advice about how to do it rather than assuming you already know. If you are prioritising rather than saying no then you still have too many tasks to complete. Do you have a proper strategy in place for declining less important requests, tasks and invitations? Have a look at my blog on saying no for tips.


3. “That’s just who I am”

Balance tool example: renouncing perfection.

What you say: “I’m a perfectionist, that’s just who I am”, “I’m a control freak”

What you mean: “I’m not interested in changing the way I am”,  “You can’t change a person’s nature”, “Changing would be too difficult or uncomfortable”.

Mistakes you are making: 

  • writing yourself off and taking away your own agency. As Alice Walker insightfully said “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”.
  • refusing to take responsibility for the person you are. 
  • expecting that balance is going to come ‘easily’, i.e. without you having to change things about yourself and the way you do things.

What to do differently:

  • change your mindset from seeing yourself as fixed and fully formed, to someone who can change how they behave. Carol Dweck’s brilliant book Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential shows how it is learning and resilience, in other words the ‘growth’ mindset, that leads to self-esteem and success.
  • observe your own thoughts and feelings, be more aware, and start to question whether that is who you want to continue to be. Is that trait or attitude serving you properly?
  • start to undo who you think you are by taking action: identify the behaviours of someone who is doing things differently – for example an effective imperfectionist – and analyse what they do. Start to do it.


4. “It’s easier to do it myself’

Balance tool example: delegating or outsourcing

What you say: “It’s easier and quicker to do it myself”

What you mean: “It requires too much thought and planning to organise, I’d rather avoid that effort and do it myself.”

Mistakes you are making: 

  • pursuing a different outcome (better balance) without being prepared to take a different action 
  • deliberately avoiding the effort of having to stop and think. You’d rather just get on and do what you know rather than think of a long-term plan. Doing is easy, especially if it’s something we do repeatedly. Our brains like habitual behaviours, they don’t have to work so hard. To change our behaviour requires cognitive effort.

What you can do differently:

  • accept that if you want a different outcome, you need to take a different action 
  • see the bigger picture. Realise that the upfront investment of time and effort will make the task more efficient in the long run 
  • start small 
  • keep practising until you’re good at it. Have a look at my blog on asking for help here.


5. “ I hate this sort of thing”

Balance tool example: Knowing your ‘why’

What you say: “This emotional stuff isn’t for me”

What you mean: “This emotional stuff doesn’t come naturally to me so I’m not prepared to try it”

Mistakes you are making:

What you can do differently: 

  • get comfortable with discomfort, accept the need for change in your actions. If you want different results, take action! 
  • ask yourself how important balance is to you. Do you need to adjust what you are prepared to consider to achieve it? Start by reading my blog post on finding your core values here.


6. “You can’t have it all”

Balance tool example: Creating a ‘vision’ of your ideal work life balance

What you say: “I’ll believe it when I see it”, “We’re not meant to get what we want, it’s the law of the universe”

What you mean: “There’s no point trying, I’m doomed to fail”.

Mistakes you are making: 

  • giving away your power to external forces
  • refusing ownership of your own actions
  • avoiding the discomfort of trying and ‘failing’
  • having an excuse to give up
  • buying into the drama surrounding “having it all” rather than focusing practically on what you can do to achieve your goals.

What you can do differently:

  • challenge your own beliefs. Try to prove yourself wrong. If you have trouble believing it is possible, do research. Find individuals who have made it work and evidence that contradicts your negative beliefs – overcome your validation bias. 
  • Make “believe it before you see it’ your new mantra. Read my blog post on creating your vision here.


7. “I’m too busy”

Balance tool example: planning your free time

What you say: “I’m working full-time – I don’t have time for this!”

What you mean: “It’s out of my hands”, “It’s not important enough”

Mistakes you are making: 

  • not taking responsibility for how you use your time and the decisions you make
  • trying to do everything for fear of missing out
  • taking the cognitively easy route – you’re not prepared to do the mental work to select and plan so you do everything.

What you can do differently:

  • Be courageous! Take responsibility for your own time and actions, put in the effort to do something challenging. Have a look at my blog post on courage here.


If any of these ‘thought barriers’ sound familiar and you are struggling with finding balance, hopefully this blog will have helped you reflect on what is required to make a really positive difference in your life. We all want to avoid discomfort, and it’s not easy to take on the challenge of changing who we think we are – it’s always so much more straightforward to do what comes naturally! Getting results requires effort and perseverance. But the results are definitely worth it. Time to get to work!


Why not make today the day you start winning at balance? What will you do differently as a result of this blog? Write to me here caroline@babyproofyourlife.com


fear of failureCaroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at caroline@babyproofyourlife.com