Balance – And Why It’s A Work In Progress

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Recently, I started to reflect on the concept of balance. As you know, my blog is called ‘The Irish Balance.’ And as I’ve talked about in previous posts, and on my Instagram, that title came from wanting to share with you my own journey to the idea of ‘balance’, with the hope that it will help you to do the same.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how exactly I’ve been working on my own balance – between work and work commitments (exams, research, training requirements), family, friends, exercise, diet, chill-time, and sleep. Sounds like a lot when you list it out doesn’t it? I don’t think of it as a list though. I consider these as all being valuable key parts of my life, and my own happiness. And obviously, there are times when some of these aspects of your life will need more of your attention than others – you might have a family member or friend in need, an upcoming exam, or a busy period at work.

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I recently sat a really important exam after many weeks of damn hard work. I’m the kind of person who just has to be quite tunnel-visioned about big exams when they come up, and being honest, I find it really hard to be in anyway truly balanced when studying is my main priority. The exam was pretty frickin’ tough, and when it ended, as always happens (to me anyway, and I’m sure you guys can relate!), there’s that anti-climax where you go home, and realise that you can’t do any further study, or do anything exam-related really until you get your results. And I felt totally at sea. I did what I always do to take my mind off an exam – I went to the gym, blasted some music, and lifted lots of heavy things – trust me, it really helps! But when I got home, I realised just how ‘unbalanced’ I had been because of the exam over the previous weeks. I’m not berating myself for that, it’s how I’ve always approached hard exams and it’s what I intuitively know to be best for me. However, it did make me realise that I need to get some serious yin and yang back in my life – basically, the Irish Balance needed to even out those life scales big-time.

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There’s another aspect of life I want to chat about under the heading of balance. Diet. As you guys know, I took on a Vegetarian Week Challenge before the summer months – you can read my post about this experience here. And you know what? I totally loved it. I adored the creative boost it brought to my recipes, and it even inspired me to do a whole ‘Veggie on a Budget’ series of meal ideas (link to these right here). Even more than that, the feedback from you guys was absolutely fantastic, and it is so amazing to see so many of you trying my vegetarian recipes, and having some meat-free days  in your week! Additionally, after reading articles and watching Ted Talks and (SOME – not ‘What The Health’) Netflix documentaries about the impact of animal protein on the environment, as well as on the origins of styles of cooking (I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s series ‘Cooked’ for this, it is absolutely fascinating), I was further motivated to maintain a pretty vegetarian diet going forward, with an impact on flexibility (i.e. 1-2 days a week eating sustainably sourced animal protein).

But…as you many have guessed, I am a person who doesn’t seem to be able to do anything at 50% (duh, I hear you say!), and I found I was getting a little too black and white about being vegetarian. I was still eating fish and eggs in fairness, as I’ve always loved them. And to be honest, I really don’t miss meat since becoming more veggie. But, living with my lovely family as I do, I did start to miss family mealtimes, because I would be cooking my own vegetarian or fish-based meal most nights. Often, I’m home later than my clan anyway because of my working hours, but suffice it to say that I did notice I missed those shared meal-times that we would have around a big pot of homemade bolognaise (my Mom’s number one dish, seriously), or chicken korma, the Sunday roast (our tradition!), etc. I also realised that actually, I COULD make an impact, however small, to help the environment, just by having vegetarian lunches and breakfasts for the most part, and continuing other positive things we have always done as a family – recycling, composting, buying free range eggs – every little helps.

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So in the last 3-4 weeks, I’ve added some meat (mostly white, I’m not really a big red meat gal, but I’ll never give up my Mom’s bolognaise!) back into my diet, dinners shared around a chatty laughing table when I can make it home on time, and at weekends. I’ve kept my infamous ‘meal prep’ lunches vegetarian, and I love that. Any excuse to use smoked tofu! But I think this move towards better dietary flexibility on my part is a ‘balance’-related change I’ve made that I’m really proud of. Weirdly, I was nervous about sharing that with you guys, here and on Instagram. I even posted about it on Zanna Van Djik’s ‘Living Consciously Crew’ group on Facebook. But you know what? No backlash. Just positive support, and recognition that I was doing what works for me, for the good of my own balance. And I hope that me talking about this here will result in similar feedback, especially if any of you are also currently reducing your own meat/animal protein intake, and trying to do so on a flexible basis.

Okay! Phew. That feels like a big old load off my chest and I hope me being so honest (as always!) will help even some of you. But I’ll cut to the chase now. I’ve summarised my own little ways to strive for balance into three little points. Some will be more applicable to each of you than others, simply because we are all unique – work, diet, sleep needed, hobbies, the exercise you prefer – there is no one size fits all guys. But I’ve got my current fit, and here’s my three tricks I live by to maintain it as best I can.

1. Accept that no one is perfect

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Yes, that includes you. I’m not saying you’re not awesome – because actually, you are! But ain’t nobody got it all guys, and spending any amount of your valuable time, energy, and brain-power wishing you could ‘do it all’ or ‘be it all’ is SUCH A WASTE. Why be anyone BUT you? If everyone was exactly the same, with similar strengths and weakness, or even no weakness at all, that would, quite frankly, be incredibly boring. So the next time you berate yourself for staying too long at work, or missing that run you planned, cut yourself some slack. Remember, and say to yourself these two words – life happens.

2. ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ – So make a PLAN. 

Preparation Leads to Success concept on a notice board

Ever hear that saying? I’m sure you have. While it does sound a little ominous and negative, it’s frickin’ TRUE. Anything you want to succeed at, you just have to make a priority and set yourself up right. Let’s say, this week, you want to address your diet, and maybe have more home-cooked meals instead of buying lunch at work. Sit down at the weekend (or on your given day off) and get a notebook/diary. Ask yourself – ‘How am I going to achieve that goal?’ In this example, you’ll need to do a couple of simple things – pick what you’d like to make to take to work for your lunch, and source the ingredients you need to do this. Now you’ve broken a goal into two easy tasks – a food shop (even a small one!), and time allocation to make your meal (s). Personally, I always take some time on a Saturday or Sunday (if not on call) to choose a recipe (or make one up as I do this for the blog!), buy the ingredients, and make a big one-pot meal I can chuck into tupperwares, ready for a week ahead. Alternatively, why not make a double batch of your dinner and save half for the next day? It is a LOT easier than you think guys – it’s just about dividing a goal up into smaller, achieveable steps to nail it.

3. Prioritise YOURSELF – but not always at the expense of others you value.

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My second tip brings me to my third, and final trick to balance. Being kind to yourself can be a selfish thing to do, because it requires you to identify YOUR needs, and to prioritise them big-time. That can be hard when you have a family, or live with a significant other, or are just really crazy busy with work or life itself. And I think the concept of self-care and self-love, while more acceptable now, has been a taboo topic for far too long. It is MORE than okay to care about how YOU feel, what YOU eat, YOUR activity, YOUR sleep and stress levels – if you don’t, what’s the guarantee someone else will? There isn’t one. Obviously people who care about you will notice if you’re struggling – but often, only you will be feeling those early signs of stretching yourself that bit too far. It has become the norm for us all to be ‘busy’, with a million and one things to do in a day, let alone a week. And as a result, stress levels have become totally neglected by so many of us – myself included by the way, and happily I’m very aware of it as a doctor, so I try to minimise that happening as much as possible, especially as I get more experience and my responsibility at work increases. Personally, it’s why this year I’ve made sleep, Pilates and (when I can/push myself) meditation/mindfulness a big priority, and I’ve really noticed the difference. Bottom line guys – it is YOU who will live YOUR life, as obvious as that sounds, and I think we’d all agree it’s worth investing in our health and lifestyle a little (a LOT, actually) so that we can live the longest, healthiest, happiest lives we can.

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And that is a wrap! I am really excited for your thoughts on this post guys. It’s one I’ve been reflecting on writing for some weeks now as I said, and I needed to really organise my thoughts on it before sharing them with you. As always, I love your feedback, so leave a comment, DM me on social media (@theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter), message me, you get it! I’m proud that the title of my blog is a constant reminder to me to strive for my own balance, and aim for it to help as many of you as I can.

Ciara 🙂 x

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