I recently heard someone in the personal growth industry opine that “balance was bogus.”
His argument was that if things are in perfect balance, there’s no dynamism. There’s no movement. There’s no flow. Whereas people think they want “balance,” but the truth is that if a system is in perfect balance, it’s a dead system. On top of all that, this person observed, of the people who preach about “balance,” not one of them themselves seems to practice what they preach.
I suppose there’s something to be said for “balance,” as an end in itself, being perhaps overrated. I don’t know if shooting for “balance” just for the sake of being balanced is all that productive.
I do know, however, that if you emphasize one thing over and over and over again, at the expense of developing other things, that’s a surefire recipe for burnout.
If, in attempting to improve your level of fitness, you emphasize weightlifting to the complete exclusion of cardio, you’re going to find yourself completely exhausted when your endurance is tested. Conversely, if you emphasize cardio at the expense of strength training, you’re going to wind up injured and slow.
If, in attempting to improve your intellectual development, you read nothing but self-help, psychology, and how-to books, you’re going to underdevelop your emotional and social intelligence. Conversely, if you only read fiction and poetry, you’re liable to drift away from the real world and underapprecaite the mechanics of reality.
If, in attempting to improve your romantic relationship, you only emphasize making your sex life hotter, you’re likely going to miss important attachment undertones to the bond between you and your partner. Conversely, if you only attempt to improve communication, you’ll likely miss the huge role sensuality and physicality plays in romantic bonds.
The examples are plentiful, but the lesson is clear: as we attempt to improve and develop our lives, it is necessary to look at the whole picture. Striving to make one, or a few, areas awesome, while neglecting their complementary poles, is simply an ineffective strategy.
This is what I interpret people to mean when they say they want or need more “balance” in their lives. It’s certainly what I have in mind when I encourage my patients and readers to pay attention to “balance.”
Notice, however, how I’m presenting the concept of balance: balance is a tool. It’s not an end in itself. It’s a concept that is useful in evaluating our plans and goals when we’re strategizing how to create the lives we want.
In other words, balance is something to be paid attention to— but it’s not exactly a governing principle in itself. It’s entirely possible to be perfectly balanced, but no closer to your goals. Paying attention to balance is a useful thing when we’re deep in the creative process; but setting out to create “balance” just because, well, it seems like the kind of thing most people “should” want, doesn’t make much sense to me.
Paying attention to balance has a lot of benefits. One of the main benefits is that attending to balance forces us to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes that we might otherwise underappreciate, because they don’t come natural to us.
A straightforward example of this is my experience with strength training: I like to run. I do not like to lift weights. I think lifting weights is boring, painful, and often frustrating. Given my druthers, I’d run every day, and keep my distance from the part of the gym that has all those scary, complicated looking weight training machines in it.
However, as I began to get interested in longer and more competitive races, I came to the inescapable conclusion that if all I did was run, I was eventually going to pull and strain muscles because I’d not paid attention to strengthening and stretching them. You simply can’t run a marathon without adopting a reasonable strength training regimen alongside your cardio conditioning. It took me a strained piriformis muscle and chronic plantar fasciitis to finally accept this.
Had I been paying attention to balance in my training routine, it would have saved me some— well, a lot— of physical pain.
By the same token, if my main or only concern in training was balance, I wouldn’t have been able to run a marathon, either. There are plenty of people who are plenty balanced in their training, but who can’t run a marathon. The main goal of training to run a marathon is, you know, running a marathon— not achieving balance.
Balance is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used or neglected, but paying attention to it is useful.
Keep balance in mind as you design your new life.
Balance intellectual development with emotional development.
Balance hard work with rest and recovery.
Balance trust and hope with skepticism.
Balance appreciating the forest with paying attention to the trees.
Balance isn’t everything— but it’s an important thing.
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