An inquiry into balance

It’s assessment season once again, and simultaneously teachers are wrapping up the school year. It’s a busy time where people may be more concerned about doing than being.

In the season of evaluation and exams, the tilt toward doing is more prominent in school behaviours. Suddenly, in May, life is all about “doing your best.”

The life trajectory, in itself implying a one-directional line, moves in a path upward. The perspective is clear in the words used to express how life should be: “rise to the challenge,” “getting ahead,” “increasing yield” are some of the phrases abundant in the way life is subjected to performance reviews.

Might there be a cognitive environment that trains minds to groove a track of evaluation in our society? is a question that surfaces when we consider the language that is used in describing what life is moving toward and how it moves. The language suggests that doing and chasing the path upward seems to take precedence and implies a neglect of being, and being well.

An inquiry into wellbeing finds research that focus on being and doing as sources of what a scientist-philosopher, MacIntyre calls “the state of being well and doing well in being well.” 

Two kinds of wellbeing

The ideas that are available in studies about wellbeing talk about two kinds. One is hedonic wellbeing, defined as satisfaction and happiness which people describe as the amount of pleasure they feel they have gained, and eudaimonic wellbeing, the state of having and living a good life and a life of good. Eudaimonia (Greek: goodness of life) is often described as the amount of feeling engaged, immersed and interested.

What is interesting about these two types of wellbeing is that they both balance each other in people who report an attitude of wellness.

Hedonic wellbeing seems to be something people feel when they have accomplished a relaxed state because something has been accomplished.

Eudaimonic wellbeing seems to be something people feel when they are learning and enjoying the process of it.

Balance as a capacity

Interestingly, when we look at the balance of life in living things, there is a constant effort to balance stability and change.

When there is imbalance, and action must be done to correct the imbalance, the living thing will learn in an effort to bring back stability. The process of balancing stability and change is an inquiry for the thinking organism, the problem-solver and critical thinker who looks for viable pathways into “the state of being well and doing well in being well” (MacIntyre, 2014). Here are some ways to hack  human capacity and create balance.


Rory Vaden shares four questions that allow us to stretch time for all the tasks we want to accomplish in a day.

  • Can I eliminate this task?

This question is about saying No to some tasks and making time for the things you want to say Yes to.

A team recently shared their goal of creating a set of priorities for the last month of the school year, mostly providing smooth transition between programs for several grade groups. At the same time, they brainstormed some action plans, which seem urgent but are more suitable to a paced implementation in the wider, five-year action plan. They said no to the long list of tasks. Their team leader shared, “It was important for us to realize that there are at least two assumptions at play in this scenario.”

The first assumption was that they might want to get ahead of the work, and the second assumption might be that the team can pack in more tasks for the time they have before the school year ends.

“There’s also the assumption that what we are doing is not considered significant enough,” she adds, “but that is not a priority for the team to address.” The team said No.

“The time created by saying No to this offer is now available for the meaningful pursuits we are engaged, immersed and interested in, the wellbeing of our transitioning students.”

The other three questions Varden asks are about prioritizing tasks.

  • If I can’t eliminate it, can I automate it?
  • Can it be delegated, or can I teach someone else to do this?
  • Should I do this task now, or can I do it later?

Prioritizing is a critical function, and is part of human problem-solving. Widening our life resources so that we can automate, delegate, and rank our to-do list serves to chunk out our time in meaningful and purposeful ways.

(Mind) Space

The space we are talking about is head space. Having thousands of instructional decisions we have to make in a day, teachers have to hold a lot of things in our headspace. This is normal for many people. Juggling the headspace for work, family, play and self-care can sometimes create a cluttered mind.

Ryder Carroll, in the TED blog has some effective ways to de-clutter.

Life Hack step 1: Create a mental inventory.

“There’s an old tool called the Gantt chart that I’m used to using to keep track of ideas that are part of processes,” the team leader we spoke to says. He uses his chart to find the key items that he’s broken down into big goals, subgoals and daily goals. The daily goals become his to-do inventory of the day.

Life Hack step 2: Consider why you’re doing each of these things.

“When you break down your goals into smaller actions, it helps you focus,” he explains. When he has a list of daily goals, he goes through them in the morning and decides the purpose of each one. That allows him to go to the next step in Carroll’s strategy.

Life Hack step 3: For every item on your list, ask two questions. “Is it vital?” and “Does it matter to me or someone I love?”

“Asking these questions brings me back to my two loves in life: my family and my work.” He adds, “I don’t waste time debating the to-do tasks because I know why each might be important in my work and my relationships. And that’s all there is to the day. Building relationship, and building my skills – these are the balance between being and doing that I pursue for wellness each and every day.”

Life Hack step 4: Take what’s left, and divvy it up.

The strategy that Carroll suggests serves to streamline the team leader’s 16-hour days and gives him time to include a run into his day, and significant self-care and relationship care into his day. “It’s not negotiable that I leave things like relationship and wellness out of a busy day,” he says, “because that’s what I believe it takes to flourish as a human.”


The third strategy we can use is being more mindful. The awareness that lives inside this strategy by Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff is from their book of summiting a mountain. [Below is an Amazon affiliate link. This product is sold through Amazon through this link at no extra cost to you.]

In a way, we are all climbing our own mountains. Striving for balance for being and doing in a world that glorifies doing most of the time and dismisses what we value – communication, relationships, self knowledge, authorship of our lives—as ‘too soft’ is a steep and monumental task. In this mega-task of finding a balanced life and flourishing as a multidimensional being, we often have to be our own cheerleaders and coaches as we tread up the slopes of criticism and misunderstanding.

The strategy by Bryant and Veroff is very much what we believe as inquirers — finding awe and wonder in our world.

Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

The strategy is this: savor moments. Notice and observe what’s going on, in detail. This creates awareness of a lot of things that help us be more grateful:

Finding awe and wonder

People have things they do that make them heroic in their everyday lives like striving, persisting, being courageous, being free.

This awareness also touches the past and future. It allows us to anticipate, which is different from expect. “Anticipation for something adds excitement and joy to our calendar,” says the team leader, “and it’s different from expectation, which could be dangerous because it sets us up for disappointment when things don’t go as expected. Anticipation is a source of joy.”

Anticipation allows us to set the goal to notice things once we are there in that anticipated experience. Because we anticipate sharing the experience with others we care about.

Bryant and Veroff call this effect “the mind as a time machine” which is to capture moments for the purpose of becoming a pleasant memory when it becomes past, or for the joy of anticipating being able to share it in the future.

Finally, Bryant and Veroff give some practical ways to increase the depth of experience.

Find ways to linger. Taking a walk or taking time to practice a sport during the week is a sort of lingering in enjoyable experience.

Have a daily vacation. Taking time off from ruminating about work or problems gives the mind a breather and recharges the mind for the next burst of problem-solving.

Unplug from the distractions. Spending some time away from devices opens up the mind to contemplation, a form of purposeful mindfulness which increases creative thought.

Move slowly through moments. Slowing down can give us time and headspace to consider a wider set of approaches later on.

Pay attention. Engaging in life includes being able to summon great focus, untouched by rumination about past events and future worries. Being present is more than being located in a space; it is being fully attentive to the task at hand.

An inquiry into balance suggests that people should not have to choose between life and work. Both are equally important. “The state of being well and doing well in being well” might mean to nurture those inner resources to create balance between doing and being. 

Learning is change; without change the experience of moving toward something different from the current state does not result in that beneficial change.

Life is constantly trying to balance being at rest and acting to change.

This inquiry tells us that both being and doing in balance help bring a state of wellbeing.


Featured Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Halton, M. (2019, February 04). Multiply your time by asking 4 questions about the stuff on your to-do list. Retrieved from

MacIntyre, A. C. (2014). After virtue: A study in moral theory. London: Bloomsbury.

Reissman, H. (2019, February 20). How to declutter your mind. Retrieved from

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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