Steven Shallenberger has led several companies and worked with top executive teams as a consultant. His Salt Lake City company is called Becoming Your Best, and that's what he encourages with his clients. He teaches them to lead with vision, manage with a plan, and innovate through imagination. But in order to accomplish those managerial challenges, he also spends time exploring how to live in balance and peace.
"We all share in this challenge. It's not about getting out of the storm but trying to find peace in the storm," he said in an interview.
The tool he employs is called the Circle of Peace and Balance, in which you assess how you are faring in six areas of your life: Mental, financial, security and safety, social life and relationships, spiritual, and physical and emotional. Other coaches use similar circles but he felt that his model best uncovers how we are doing in life, when we rate each on a scale of 1 to 10 according to the attention we are currently giving it. (One means that you haven't given the area any attention or you feel it is badly neglected. By contrast, 10 means that things couldn't be better in this element of your life.)
That's actually the easy part. After marking your score, he asks you to consider what you can do to improve – perhaps picking out one area to focus on for the next few months. After that, evaluate yourself again on all six elements, see what progress was made, and decide on the next step.
On his wheel, the physical and emotional appear as one rating because they are connected. A few months ago, he found his score in that category distressing. He asked himself what was the one thing he could do to boost his balance in that area. He pledged to run two miles daily, and on his recent circle assessment that rating was much improved – as is his overall life. "I feel better emotionally. I come up with more creative ideas while exercising and it helps me deal better with other people," he observed. "Physical exercise can have one of the greatest impacts."
While running through the circle exercise with a St. Louis health organization, the president concluded that if he kept operating at the same pace, he would likely die 10 or 20 years early. He had decided some years ago to focus on his business but it was coming at the expense of his health and his family. He questioned the value of a successful business if he were to die young and not spend time with his family. Changes have followed.
About 10 per cent of the participants in Mr. Shallenberger's workshops decide that the one action they will take is to go to church, enhancing spirituality in their lives. "I am amazed. But the exercise shows what counts most in your life and helps you to strengthen those areas. Whatever is happening in your life spiritually gives you the strength to live and work more effectively," he said.
He chose the circle because it reminds him of a wheel. When a tire on your car is out of balance or has a bump on it, you are in for a rough ride. You'll get poorer mileage and stress will be heightened. But when the wheel is properly balanced, your trip goes smoothly and without stress.
Beyond the wheel, he recommends three other steps to finding peace amid turmoil: Meditate, laugh often, and use positive self-talk. Meditation is a stumbling block with the executives he counsels. "Everyone loves the idea but hardly anyone does it. I think it's because they don't know how and are afraid," he says. They assume they have to sit cross-legged and stare at a candle for 45 minutes to accomplish anything.
But he advises them – and you – to refresh yourself through simply taking some deep breaths, closing your eyes, relaxing all your limbs, and then thinking of a peaceful place like a favourite beach or wilderness area. He tries to do this a couple of times a day, usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon, for just a minute or two.
Laughter is a wonderful stress reliever. But too often it's absent from our lives. Instead, lace your day with humorous quips and stories, to provide balance for yourself and others. "The average child laughs 150 times a day, while the average adult laughs 15 times a day," Mr. Shallenberger said. We need to improve.
Much of our day we are bombarded by negative thoughts. He believes we can get more out of life by seeing ourselves in a positive light. Repeat a positive, uplifting phrase to yourself – he recommends 20 times a day in his book Becoming Your Best – so that your unconscious mind picks up that attitude. One of the previous companies he founded hired college students to sell door-to-door and he energized them by getting them regularly repeating three times "I feel healthy, I feel happy, and I feel terrific," ending by pumping their arms in the air.
Assess yourself on the wheel every few months, meditate daily, laugh often, practise positive self talk and he believes you will find your life more balanced and satisfying.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.