Are you one-boxing or nine-boxing?

The very first self-help book I ever read (and I’ve read a lot) was Susan Jeffers’ “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” back in the ‘90’s. It was revolutionary for me for many reasons- such a practical book, easy to read and full of ways to help you wake up and become more aware of how you’re living your life.

One part of the book particularly spoke to me- it shows nine boxes, like a 3 x 3 grid, and Jeffers suggests that if each box represents one part of your life, for example, health, or fun and recreation, or family, that it’s good to fill in the grid, deciding which nine areas are important to you and putting regular time and energy into them, as a way of making sure that your life has balance. Then if something challenging happens in one of the areas, you still have the other areas to sustain you.

Jeffers explains that some people tend to focus primarily on one area, which she draws as a box as large as the whole 3 x 3 grid, and then if that area goes pear-shaped (for example a relationship ends), it can feel like a catastrophe.

As an extremely driven classical pianist, back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, I didn’t have nine boxes. I only had one. I didn’t really focus on balance or well-being- there wasn’t time or opportunity- or so I thought. I didn’t really have much time to think at all! My life was a scramble from one practice session to another, and coaching, rehearsing, performing, travelling… I remember collapsing on a Sunday sometimes, unable to leave my bed. I just accepted that I had to keep moving fast in order to keep being able to pay my mortgage and bills. It wasn’t until I became injured and then ill that I began to question my lifestyle and my priorities. Being in pain and unable to work for a long period of time certainly gave me pause to reconsider the balance of my life. Now having something in each box is hugely important for me.

So with that in mind, I’ve started asking clients, “Are you one-boxing or nine-boxing?”.  It can be very tempting to focus exclusively on one area if you’re a performer and have loads of challenging repertoire to learn, or you just met someone new and are head over heels in love, or you’re struggling to pay bills and money worries seem all-consuming. But that’s a sure way to get out of balance, and that won’t help you deal with your life effectively.

Of course, you don’t need to focus on each box every day- but just giving each one some attention over time can be very effective in terms of health, happiness and personal fulfillment.  I love doing this work with my clients alongside their career goals as it’s great to see them blossoming personally as well as professionally.

What are your nine boxes? I know for me that I need friend time, creative time, client time, time in nature, travel adventures with my spouse, time to take care of my health, and so on. It’s very individual, so I encourage you to go ahead and fill in the boxes so you can see if it works for you. I’d love to know how you get on.