In last week’s blog, I started telling you about an effective model you can use to achieve balance so you can enjoy your life more and resist stress. The acronym for the PACT model stands for Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone. Adopting this model and putting it into practice on a daily basis is a fabulous way to keep your stress level in check and keep your work and life in balance—the ultimate goal being a happier and more peaceful day-to-day existence. Who wouldn’t want that?
We started last week with P: Perspective. Keeping good and bad experiences in perspective can contribute greatly to a feeling of well-being and help your stress level remain low.
The next element that contributes to peak periods of happiness and high stress resistance is autonomy. Autonomy is a feeling of having control over your own life. People with a high sense of autonomy usually have a clear sense of their own identity, feel the freedom to make choices in their lives, have career or job options and sufficient skills, and see their daily activities as moving them toward their long- and short-range goals. If we ask individuals a single question—Are you in control of your life?—and they answer “no,” we know that those individuals are at a much higher risk for illness.
The lack of power and control felt by those who are underprivileged, really struggling to make ends meet, in a situation where there is racial or sexual discrimination occurring, or simply stretched to their limits in terms of workload, is the very opposite of autonomy and control. People who feel powerless are under the most stress and are often the most angry. These people often have the most severe health problems of any group in our society.
On the other hand, people who are good time managers, who feel that they are managing their daily lives well and have the skills to do it, are the ones who are likely to feel the most control and the most autonomy. In their stories of peak periods of happiness, these people often referred to two or three weeks or a month when they were in a special place and they could decide what it was that they were going to do each day. Others referred to a job they had or a project they were working on where they could choose the direction in which they were going and felt in control of the situation.
Clearly, most people can’t go through life on a vacation or in complete control of everything—but certainly a young mother with two toddlers running around and no money for a babysitter has a different degree of autonomy than a young mother whose youngest child has just entered the first grade. The latter may have six open hours for deciding how to spend her time. Is she going to play tennis or sleep until 10:00 a.m., take a class to further a career goal, or start a part-time job? What is her choice for today?
One of the most powerful ways to build control and choice in your life is through the development of key skills—skills like knowing how to manage others effectively, being a good parent, managing your time well, or helping people feel like they are doing their jobs well. Again, people often have different degrees of autonomy at home and at work. Some people do very well at the office—they set goals, hold committee meetings, participate in performance reviews, and they progress well. At home, however, they never have time to exercise, break appointments with themselves and other family members for scheduled “quality time,” or they might have half-finished projects around the house they have been putting off for years.
The third ingredient in stress resistance and high life satisfaction is connectedness. Connectedness relates to the quality of relationships in peoples’ lives. People who report high connectedness often feel they have positive relationships with friends, family, self, coworkers and supervisors. Connectedness also relates to a feeling of contentment and resonance with one’s physical environment. You can have a highly connected experience watching a beautiful sunset or walking into a home that you’ve decorated because it feels good to you. In fact, there are good reasons for people, when they first move into a home or a new community, to spend time decorating that new environment so that they feel more connected to it. You can have a highly connected experience having a cup of coffee with a friend or sitting in bed at night cuddled up to a loved one.
My definition of low connectedness is when you do not feel you are an integral part of your environment. For example, if you move to a new community and go away for the weekend, then return and find that nobody knows that you were gone and came back, it can be an indicator that you are not very connected to your neighborhood. In fact, after a move most people feel totally disconnected and many people report a great deal of illness during the year following a major relocation.
In their stories of peak periods of happiness, people often referred back to a time when they were first married and didn’t have much money and so did more things at home, such as played a lot of bridge because that was all they could afford to do. Often, however, their friendships were solid and meaningful. Men often referred back to fraternity days in college or to a high school group of friends when connections were strong and non-competitive.
All types of relationships you have affect your connectedness, but the most important relationships are those with your spouse and your boss. In fact, the number one predictor of health at the worksite is your relationship with your boss. A bad relationship with a supervisor can make people sick. A good relationship can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and productivity. On the home front, are you spending quality time with your spouse? Do you make special efforts to plan “memory-building” times together? In general, have you spent the time that you need to nourish the most important relationships in your life?
The fourth element in the PACT model is tone. This important concept includes how you feel about yourself physically. This includes the way you look, your health and energy level, your sense of fitness, even the way you are dressed and the colors you are wearing. People with high tone generally have high energy levels, maintain a proper weight, have sound nutrition and feel really good about their physical appearance. In their stories of peak periods of happiness men very often thought back to high school or college when they were in the best shape they had ever been in—easily able to bench press 300 pounds or run several miles. Women often talked about the time when they were 10 pounds lighter and could fit into all the clothes in their closet. Generally both men and women talked about a time when they were active, looked good, had an abundance of energy, and paid attention to their physical health.
Over the years I’ve found that when everything else seems to be floundering and I feel my balance is slipping away, often the quickest and easiest ingredient to impact is tone. Tone is often easiest because it lends itself better to measurement and you can see concrete results more quickly.
Balancing the Elements
What has been helpful to me about this model is that the elements of perspective, autonomy, connectedness, and tone can be a dynamic balance for one another. As an example, what do we do in our society when someone becomes ill or injured and is hospitalized? By definition, their physical health (tone) is low now. So what do we do? Customarily we send this person a card. What might the card say? We care about you (connectedness). This won’t last forever (perspective). Soon you’ll be up and about (tone) doing what you want to do (autonomy). We may even send flowers to help him or her connect better to a sterile hospital room.
Why I like the PACT is it helps. It’s like a good diet. It will work even better for you as you personalize it and make it yours. I have used this model for many years now to keep my own life in balance and monitor the times when balance isn’t present. If I notice I’m not looking forward to a given day or time, or I feel my energy is lagging, I try to step back and ask myself: What’s feeling out of balance? Am I so over-committed or over-stressed that I’m doing what everyone else wants me to do today without any time for myself? Or am I upset about a relationship with someone close to me? Or does my house feel untidy with lots of undone tasks and thus doesn’t provide a nourishing harbor from the stormy world? Or have I lost track of what all my efforts are for? Or am I confused about why I’m working 12 hours today and worked 12 hours yesterday and don’t have time to see the people I love?
The PACT model has helped me, and it can help you, identify what’s wrong when you’re feeling out of balance and pay more attention to life when you are feeling great. When your life is in balance, stress naturally loses its grip and you are able to enjoy life on a higher level.
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