The Physics of Work/Life Rhythm Versus Work/Life Balance

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Work Life Balance

Work/Life balance has been debated so often that it has become a tired cliché and lost its significance. Those who prescribe to its existence suggest one must recognize the four life quadrants, work, family, friends and self, and weight them equally to achieve real balance.

Recent developments have pointed to work/life rhythm as an alternative. This concept points more to an ebb and flow rather than constant balance where all components are equally stressed or relaxed simultaneously. Think of it as a State College restaurateur -- where are my Nittany Lions fans? -- who runs their establishment on Friday before a Penn State football game compared to a lazy Wednesday in June. The former situation requires high energy and speed while the latter, a much more relaxed pace. The theory prescribes that you understand the cycle and plan accordingly, adapting and creating a rhythm to meet its pattern.

Is this adoption of rhythm versus balance real and beneficial, or is it a self-help ploy to overcome the cliché status of its predecessor? I looked to physics for a definitive fact-base answer...

Balance is defined as a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions, whereas rhythm is described as movement characterized by the regular recurrence of different quantities or conditions. Further technical analysis of the physics of balance yields the following comparison:

Newton’s first law of motion states that “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” 

FIGURE 1: BALANCED OBJECT

 

As shown in Figure 1, the two forces are of equal strength and in opposite directions balance each other and the book is at equilibrium, a state of motion it will stay in until an unbalanced force is introduced.

 

FIGURE 2: UNBALANCED OBJECT

 

In Figure 2, as the book is pushed and moves to the right, friction acts to the left to slow the book down. If there is no force present to balance the force of friction, the force is unbalanced and the book changes its state of motion, slowing down.

Now let’s consider the physics of rhythm, another specifically defined pattern of variation. The technical description of rhythm is best illustrated by the three heartbeat EKG plots shown in Figure 3, which represent three abnormal patterns, each with a unique rhythm, similar to how people have unique work/life experiences.

FIGURE 3: EXAMPLES OF IRREGULAR RHYTHM

 

These rhythms parallel work/life patterns; although not normal, they are mostly regular and eventually return to a passive state. Comparing this to true balance and equilibrium represented earlier, one can easily deduce that work/life rhythm is much more readily occurring and achievable than work/life balance or equilibrium over long periods of time.

How often are your life and work situations in balance? In the age of unchecked demands, it is analogous to maintaining one’s balance standing at the wave break point on the shores of the Outer Banks. Standing with your back to the waves and anchoring yourself, you are invariably rocked by the unbalanced forces from the size and frequency of the waves. But by straddling the wave line and watching and timing the wave pattern, we can move in and out from the shore and maintain a rhythm that allows us the keep ourselves upright.  

The same is true with our work/life situations. Using the Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment to improve our self-awareness in turn helps us to better understand our own “wave pattern”. We then move in (work) and out (life) of situations using motivators to maintain stability and improve our quality of existence.

If you'd like to learn more about the Predictive Index, click here for a free Behavioral Assessment.