Stasis / Flux / Distress: A Better Alternative to a "Level Ten Life"
When something is out of balance for me, it's like a full stop in my creative life. It's this nagging discomfort that prevents me from making any meaningful progress.
Here's the thing: it's not always obvious what the issue is to begin with. Something's just "not right."
I find myself subtly making excuses or unable to concentrate until I figure out exactly what the hell the problem is and manage it.
Notice that I didn't say that I solve the problem when I identify it. I simply aim to manage it. This is usually enough to put my worries to rest so that I can move on.
This wasn't always easy to uncover... like, at all. When it's happened over the years I've tried different things in my efforts to identify the imbalance: freewriting, journaling, meditation, root cause analysis exercises, talking to friends, all kinds of stuff.
These are all fine. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn't. And sometimes they sort of uncovered "false" imbalances. What I mean by "false" is that the imbalance I sometimes identified were more of the something-that-I-convinced-myself-of variety and less something-that-was-actually-an-issue variety.
It felt like I needed to zoom out on my whole life and look at its parts individually to figure it out.
The Problem With A “Level Ten Life”
You've probably seen the "level ten life" circle charts on Pinterest and Instagram, particularly in the Bullet Journal community. From what I can tell, the idea comes from the book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod and the BuJo community just really loves it.
It's fine, and it's another tactic that I've tried when identifying imbalances. I get why people like it. It feels like it makes sense while you’re doing it.
The problem I have with the "level ten life" approach is that at any given time we're really attuned to where we are in that exact moment, and we naturally always have a next level in mind. We don't really have a fixed scale to judge our lives on.
"Level ten" is always going to be a time other than now, or it's going to be fleeting, and it just always feels a bit unattainable. The whole idea behind it relies on the assumption that your current life is not good enough, or that whatever is good enough has to stay that way forever (impossible).
A Personal Example
Not long ago I was beating myself up because I was between paychecks — I knew I had money coming in later that week, my bills were all paid, everything was fine, but I only had like forty bucks of pocket money left over for anything else I wanted to spend it on —and I spent the money buying a bunch of eggs because I didn't want to run out, protein powder, and truffle olive oil. And I guilted myself for it.
What a loser I was for spending all of my money! I felt terrible about myself.
If I filled out a level ten life chart regarding finances at that point I would have rated myself at a five, because I shouldn't ever be in the scenario where I don't have any money left! How irresponsible! I have to get my shit together.
Then I realized I was being a total fucking asshole.
Not having money isn't ideal. Everyone can agree with that. We're always trying to make more money and to make the money we have last longer. But I was beating myself up for spending my pocket money on food. Not food that I needed, but nutritious food that I enjoyed. At a time when I didn't need anything else and had more money a couple of days away.
Now compare it to the way that I would have absolutely spent the same amount of money five years ago…
I would have bought a pack of Parliaments and a maybe a protein bar and then spent the rest on adderall. I'd justify it though because even though my credit card payment was late and I didn't have my rent money yet, I would make it that weekend waiting tables. So I was fine.
If I had filled out a "Level Ten Life" chart regarding finances at *that point*, I WOULD HAVE ALSO RATED MYSELF AT A FIVE.
So even though the recent example is a level ten in comparison to the past example, it's still only a level 5 in my mind in the current day.
I don't know. It doesn't make me feel good and it makes me think that it furthers a personal narrative that your current life isn't ever good enough.
A Better Alternative: Stasis / Flux / Distress
I came up with an exercise awhile ago that I call "Stasis/Flux/Distress" and it has worked really well for me when I'm feeling out of sorts. I want to share it here in hopes that it will help you to check in with yourself when you're feeling unbalanced so that you can move on and get back into your creative flow as well.
If you want to get right to it, you can grab the free workbook here:
First, like the "Level Ten Life" chart, you try to list out the main "categories" in your life. Obviously human existence is complicated af and hard to categorize but just try. If something matters to you, use it. If it doesn't matter to you, don't. If a big part of your life revolves around building your business, include an "entrepreneurship" category. If you are really really dedicated to reading, and you feel all off kilter if you're not doing it regularly, then even include that.
You don't want to include every little thing, but you do want to include the things that really matter TO YOU. The things that are like "keystones" in your life. If you're on the fence about whether to include something, ask yourself if your life would be significantly affected by that category's absence.
Example 1: One of my categories is "Brand-building". It's a huge part of my life and something that I have been slowly educating myself about, obsessing about, and working in preparation of behind the scenes for years before I launched this blog. I wouldn't DIE if this category suddenly didn't exist in my life. I would, however, be unfulfilled in a way that would leave a huge emotional void and wreak absolute havoc on my wellbeing.
Example 2: I like to cook. It's a fun and rewarding practice that I find therapeutic and do every day. But at the same time, if I somehow never had to cook again and still ate good food or went through periods of cooking only out of necessity and not out of pleasure because there were other things going on in my life, I wouldn't lose much sleep over it. I wouldn't feel emotionally damaged from its absence. So even though it's a hobby that I enjoy and do a lot, I wouldn't include it as a category.
If you're suffering from analysis paralysis while doing this, then realize that this is a living document. It will change over time. Categories can come and go. Just think about right now, about the big things that impact you, and know that it's not final by any means. Ideally you'll keep doing this exercise regularly to check in with yourself and will have the opportunity to add and take away categories every time.
What you absolutely do not want to do is include anything that you don't really care about including but feel like you should.
Example: I don't have a "friends" or a "family" category. I know. It sounds terrible. What is wrong with me to not value my family or my friendships enough to include them as a main category in my life? I must be a monster. Well, to be honest, I have a family that is really toxic and unhealthy at worst and distant at best, and it's always really just been my mom and I. And I don't have any kids. So "family" is just not a thing for me. I also have a very low social drive and I get drained from a lot of in-person social interaction. Going out for the sake of being social feels forced and I don't enjoy it anymore, so I don't have a "friendship" category. BUT I do have a serious boyfriend who I live with and a group of extremely close friends who I love and am just crazy about and who I consider to be 100% family. I work hard to maintain and deepen those relationships and I value them as much as I do my romantic relationship or the relationship I have with my mom. So instead of a "friends" or "family" category, I have a "relationships" category and to me it's immensely more valuable and comfortable.
Next, you'll go through each category and you'll decide if it's in "stasis", "flux", or "distress" and give a short rundown of what the current status of the situation is.
Stasis: This doesn't mean it's sunshine and roses. This doesn't mean it's everything you've ever wanted it to be. This doesn't mean you don't want it to be different in the future. It means that it's MANAGED. You don't have to currently worry about it. Maybe you are completely content with the way it is and there's no problem, or maybe the situation is not totally stable but at the very least it's not something that's poised to erupt. This category is in stasis. This category doesn't need to cause you stress right now.
Flux: This doesn't have a positive or a negative connotation. It just means that something is changing or is in transition. It could mean that there isn't really a clear answer to be given at the moment because there are too many things in the air that will affect the outcome once they land. It could mean you just don't know, but at the same time you don't feel distressed by it but also don't quite feel content about it.
Distress: This means that it's out of control or unmanaged. Alternatively, it can mean that it's causing you pain and discomfort in some way. It's actively stressing you out.
Here are some examples to help you out…
Example 1: Someone who has debt collectors after them who won't open their mail because they don't want to deal with it would have a "debt" category that is in distress. Having an inventory of the debt and being in the process of making payments in a settlement agreement would be in stasis. Waiting to hear back about a settlement you proposed I'd also consider to be in stasis, because it's in a place of being managed and there's nothing you can exactly do yet, but you could consider it to be in flux if that feels right to you.
Example 2: Someone who knows they have a health issue but isn't taking steps to keep it under control or to heal from it has a "health" or "wellness" category that's in distress. If they've made the appropriate appointments and are actively in the process of putting together a plan for managing it or if they're awaiting results to find out if there even is something wrong at all, that category is in flux. And if they're actively doing what they need to do to care for themselves or there aren't any health issues then that category is in stasis.
Example 3: If someone is experiencing a lot of unrest in their creative practice, because they are having a block or because they can't seem to master a certain skill, then their "creative practice" category could be in distress. If they're in the middle of a new class or are in a transition of experimenting with new mediums but haven't quite settled on anything yet, then they might be in flux. If they're in the flow and have good momentum going, then they're in stasis.
Notice that it's not about having a category be "perfect" or as you think it should be, it's about having a category be managed to the best of your ability based on where you are right now, or at least knowing where you stand. There aren't hard and fast rules here, because life doesn't work that way. It's all about your impression of things right now when determining the status of each thing.
Finally, you want to quickly go through and ask "what was the status of this six months ago?"
Sometimes you'll realize you're doing better than you think, and sometimes you'll see there are some things you've accidentally been neglecting.
If there are a lot of things in distress at once, don't obsess over fixing all of it right now. Simply write down the very next thing you can do to move the needle out of the "distress" status, or accept that the category is in distress temporarily while you knock out the big things first.
It's not ideal to have distress in your life, but you're human and you can only do so much at a time.
Sometimes just recognizing that something is in distress and knowing that you plan to address it as soon as you can is enough to give you some peace of mind in the moment.
Categories that are in flux work the same way. While being in flux isn't necessarily good or bad, you don't want to have too many things be in flux at once.
This is the mistake people make when they want to "overhaul their life" or make some dramatic change. It's magical thinking that you'll go into a cocoon of transition and come out with everything beautiful and "Level Ten".
It's not gonna fucking happen.
It's hard for some people to accept. I've been there. But it's the truth.
Having everything in flux at once definitely forces you to change, but you have less control over a large amount of things at once, so things might not turn out the way you want them to.
Instead, try to manage how many things are in flux for you at any one time.
Sometimes you can control when a category is in flux (you purposely decide to start sending out resumes for a new job). Sometimes it's out of your control (you don't know yet if you got the apartment you applied for or if you're going to stay in your current place for another month). But either way, you have a better chance of "leveling up" when you're only managing a few things at a time.
Try the exercise, and at the end of it I have a feeling that you'll feel less uncertain, more autonomous, and like you can confidently move on with your day.
I've personally found the stasis/flux/distress exercise to be incredibly helpful to get my head straight so that I can get back into my creative flow. I hope you do as well.
If you didn't get it already, you can download the free worksheet / workbook below:
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