Goldilocks Complex: Finding Balance in Life

By: Lilly Ulmschneider, Occupational Therapist, Young Adult Partial Hospital Program

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a traditional children’s fairy tale story with countless variations and interpretations, but one key theme: balance. In the tale that finds Goldilocks wandering into the home of a family of bears, we learn that the ideal often lies somewhere between two extremes. Just as Goldilocks did not like her porridge too hot, or too cold, we can apply this same logic to many aspects of life, including our schedules.

Is your schedule too busy?

Busy schedules come in all shapes and sizes, from busy parents to college students, and even busy elementary school aged children. It has become an expectation in our culture. When busy becomes too busy, or out of control busy, you may see signs of:

  • Frequent mood swings.
  • Unhealthy sleeping and eating habits.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Inactivity due to difficulty organizing or prioritizing tasks.

What to try if you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  • Know your values and priorities, and compare them to your schedule.
  • Determine if there are any commitments in your schedule you can eliminate, delegate or reschedule to create more downtime.
  • Practice saying “no” to commitments that don’t align with your values and priorities.
  • Break large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
  • Look at your schedule from both short-term and long-term perspectives to create solutions for the present and the future.

Is your schedule too boring?

In a culture that puts value on being busy, being bored can be a real burden. Boredom happens often though, like for recent graduates who leave school and are about to enter the work force. Suddenly without the structure of classes, extracurricular activities, and homework—not to mention disruptions in their social circle—it’s not uncommon for recent graduates to experience a void in their schedules that can feel a bit daunting. Just like being too busy, there are signs that indicate boredom has reached a detrimental level:

  • Intense feelings of loneliness.
  • Not following through on commitments.
  • Feelings of anxiousness.
  • Lack of ambition or hope for the future.
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities.

Remember, everybody’s “just right” looks a little different, so be cautious when comparing your balance to others. When you find your “just right” balance, you’ll know, because you’ll feel it.

What to try if you need more activity in your life:

  • Know your values and priorities, and use them as inspiration to identify activities you can add to your schedule.
  • Seek help from others, like family or friends, to generate ideas for new hobbies or activities you can try.
  • Pursue meaningful commitments, like volunteering at a non-profit whose work you admire.
  • See about opportunities to grow and expand on activities you currently enjoy.

Is your schedule just right?

Finding the right balance of busy and bored—or downtime—can be difficult. Once you find it, it can still be difficult to maintain. If you can reach this balance, it often looks like:

  • You’re working toward your goals and making progress through incremental achievements.
  • You’ve made time in your schedule to relax and do things you enjoy.
  • Stress may occur but it remains manageable.
  • Ability to enjoy the present and maintain positive outlook for the future.

Here’s what you can do to maintain balance:

  • Reflect on your schedule to identify those things you’re doing to maintain balance. Keep doing those things!
  • Set aside a time each week to plan ahead. Allow yourself to forecast potential challenges that may interrupt your balance and plan out ways you can address them if they happen.
  • Be flexible. Things don’t always go according to plan. Build buffers into your schedule to account for the spontaneity of life.

Whenever you find yourself in either the “too busy” or “too bored” bucket, take a cue from Goldi and keep working towards your “just right.” The tips above can help you to achieve balance when you are feeling off, and they can help you maintain balance even after you have found it. And remember, everybody’s “just right” looks a little different, so be cautious when comparing your balance to others. When you find your “just right” balance, you’ll know, because you’ll feel it.