On the second day of second grade, my younger son told me from the back seat of the car about his day. He told me about who he played with on the playground, which parts of his lunch he didn’t like, and that he asked a friend if he would be joining cub scouts this year.
But his friend didn’t answer, so he asked again. But this time, he said, he used his level three voice. Now, teachers may already know this trick, but I learned that, for second graders at least, level one voice is being quiet, level two is using your inside voice, level three is an outside voice, and level four is a voice you should only use in an emergency. He also demonstrated level five, which you can probably imagine for yourself.
Sometimes it seems like life has volumes like that, too, doesn’t it? The last week of summer break feels like everything is at level three (or four!) with all of the scurrying around and getting things ready. Then, once everyone is back in their classrooms, life can feel like level one, nice and quiet, at least for a little while.
When I think about these levels, I imagine a volume dial like you might see on a radio or an old television set. Click it clockwise one notch, and it gets louder. Click it again, louder still. Keep clicking, and eventually someone is going to holler from another room to ask you to please turn it down. It got too loud.
In my life, I have a series of dials like this. There is a dial for exercise, a dial for healthy eating, a dial for sleep, a dial for socializing. I find I am constantly adjusting them to keep the level of noise in my life to one that I like.
Imagine being in a classroom of second graders who are all talking at level two. Even with everyone using their inside voices, it’s likely to be difficult to hear things clearly. Some of them need to dial it back a little.
If all of the children were talking at level three, it would be total chaos. Nothing could get done until someone stepped in and asked everyone to work at a lower level. And by “ask” I mean in the way that a second grade teacher would ask, not how it usually happens at my house, which is easily a level four!
The approach we take to caring for ourselves has levels as well. There have been times in my life when I was trying to do everything at level three - 100% effort on every single thing. You can probably guess how that went. Life was way too loud, and while I was really busy, not much got done very well.
There are also times when we are working at level one, and nothing is happening at all. The volume of effort is too low for any progress to be made.
You can probably see by now where I am going with this. As your coach, I wonder if there are areas of your life and well-being that need to have the volume turned up or down, and which combination is the right level for you to feel your best.
It’s tempting to jump into healthy goals at level three, doing all of the things all at once. We sign up for the new transformative diet program, buy all of the special foods, and for a week or two follow it religiously. But then, enthusiasm begins to wane as we find we are spending all of our time learning a new way of eating and cooking that it drowns out everything else.
It can be fun at first to begin an exercise program at level three, gung-ho with new classes and workouts, only to be so exhausted by the end of the first week that we drive through for fast food or pick up something convenient to eat instead of cooking a healthy meal at home. Has this happened to you? It happens to all of us. It’s why most new year resolutions don’t make it to February: we are trying to live life with all of our dials turned up way too high.
At what level are the important areas of your life? What do they need to be tuned to this week? It changes, you know. There are some times when meal planning and nutrition needs a lot of your attention, and that needs to be at a level three. That’s a good time to dial back some other areas to a one or two, so you can continue to do your best work.
Healthy living is about balance - a balance of effort, pace, and progress. Adjust where necessary this week, and enjoy the hum of a balanced life.