Veggies and Desserts: The right mix of activities for a balanced life

Do you have the right mix of activities?

Eating experts tell parents not to use food as reward or punishment. When my daughters were babies only drinking milk that was easy.

right mix of activities
Photo by Skyla Design on Unsplash

Later, I tried negotiating with them: “OK, eat one more bite of your carrots and finish that chicken nugget, then, yes, you may have dessert.” Not great parenting, but it worked. They stuffed their mouths with foods I deemed as good so they could satisfy their sweet teeth.

Now, that they are teens, I bite my tongue at mealtimes to avoid being accused of instigating negative body image issues. (I’m not always successful.)

Over the years, I’ve tried to teach them that different foods have different purposes. Some give us pleasure, others energy. Some keep us healthy, others keep us strong.

Similarly, everyone needs good mix of activities. How we achieve this, of course, depends on our tastes, constitution and resources. But, generally speaking, we all need to “work” but also have some fun. We want engaging activities, but we also have “chores” we can’t avoid. Some activities bring financial rewards; others require expenditures. There are occasions we exert energy, and times we rest.

Not having the right mix of activities can be problematic

The problem I often see in my practice is that clients are often too busy to even reflect on what they are doing.

Many smart and caring women often experience one or more of the following challenges:

  • Some deprive themselves of desserts completely. These women don’t feel they deserve to have immediate pleasures, big or small. Or they don’t see the value, or the ROI (return on investment) for fun. For example, I know a woman who loves celebrity gossip magazines. She may take a peek at the hair salon, but she never lets herself buy a copy.
  • Some are stuck on only meat and potatoes out of habit. Even though they used to love them and even perfected their recipe, they’ve grown tired of them. Tastes or needs have changed. But they are not sure what they want and are too busy or afraid to make change.
  • Some are gourmet chefs: they make elaborate meals day after day, attending to every detail, and as a result they feel exhausted. These women give 200 percent of themselves to their families, careers, businesses or homes. They may appear “perfect,” but they often feel drained and sometimes feel resentful and empty.

Components of a balanced diet of activities

Specifically, every woman needs to regularly figure out what mix of activities are right for her. After all, needs and wants change.

Continuing with the food theme, here is a framework you can use to categorize your activities:

  • Functional: This could be paying bills, making sure food is on the table, housework, child care, etc. We can compare these to the carbohydrates that fuel us in the short term.
  • Structural: These activities are the interactions we have with other people. We will always need to maintain or enrich our relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and/or acquaintances. Sometimes we must deal with adversaries. These are our proteins.
  • Sustaining: These activities include having a career, hobby or pursuit. They can ultimately impact other people, but mostly they fuel our talents and interests. These are fruits and vegetables that provide more lasting energy, maintain health and help us grow.
  • Pleasurable: These activities are done without a specific goal in mind but can have tremendous intrinsic value. Representing the desserts, these provide joy, excitement, and fun.

Find your right mix of activities

As you can guess, within each of these categories, You can choose options that are better or worse for your well-being. The right choices can help you grow or act as a prophylactic against stress.

In the next few days or a week, try to…

  • Track of your activities.
  • Identify the category for each.
  • Make one simple adjustment. I highly recommend not trying to make too many changes at once.)
  • See how it feels in the coming week.
  • Repeat!

You may be surprised what a little reflection and a small tweak can do for you. But, if you’re having trouble, I’d be happy to share some extra tools.

This is a revised and updated version of an older article first published in April 2010.