“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.” — Carl Jung
Balancing work, exercise, diet, relationships, self-reflection, and fun is…. difficult. At some point, we might be able to have all these aspects under control, but we know how rare these moments are. Well, it turns out that lifestyle is hard and sometimes can even feel pointless.
However, I have good news. If you ever felt like this you are on the right track. You are simply beginning to ride on that I like to call, the wheel of balance.
Let me explain.
The wheel represents the highs and lows of personal growth. The goal is to reach the top of the mountain and balance the ball there for as long as possible. That balance represents those special moments where every aspect of your life is balanced. Like the story of Sisyphus, you need to push the ball to the top. When you mess up or life happens, the ball falls and you start over.
I feel that this analogy perfectly describes my journey in intentional living, and self-development. It’s quite interesting how a physical system can have so many connections with our internal struggles.
A tough beginning — Getting the ball rolling
In the beginning of this post, I mentioned that if you are struggling with this balance, you are already on the right track. Somehow you managed to move the ball and begin your climb. But do you remember a time when you couldn’t move the damn ball?
Remember the time you didn’t know the ball existed?
At the bottom of this wheel, you can see how stable the ball is. Perfectly nestled in a comfortable, passive state. That’s why it is so hard in the beginning. Without our input, the ball is naturally in a balanced state. However, not all balanced states are productive.
In control engineering, this state is referred as a stable steady state. Almost all attempts to move the ball from this state will cause it to converge back into the same state. Sounds familiar?
The exact same thing happens to us and our ability to improve.
This initial inertia is effectively a gatekeeper, the price to be paid to begin the climb. In this game, failure doesn’t mean letting the ball fall.
Failure is accepting that the ball is not movable.
Climbing the mountain
Moving the ball upwards means different things for different people. It simply represents a state of high performance. Can be for a brief moment or for a long stretch of time where everything seems to be perfectly aligned. Micro and macro flow states.
Whatever that is for you, it is the goal.
To reach it, I believe that are two different ways. One is exciting and short-lived, the other is boring and long-lasting. Guess which one I prefer?
Motivation vs Discipline
You can use a slingshot and propel the ball to the top or you can slowly work your way up there. This the difference between motivation and discipline.
Consuming that piece of content just when you need it, can help tremendously to reach that special place but it’s usually not long lasting. You might manage to reach the top but balancing will be a hard task. Motivation fades and you are back to your old habits.
Discipline, on the other hand, is identifying those limiting habits and slowly changing them.
If you consume my content, you already know how I feel about the whole “motivation industry”. How addicted we all are to the good feeling caused by motivational content. That type of content can do wonders to get us in the right mindset to start the climb but… that’s it.
The content itself will not change you. You have to put in the work and move that ball by yourself.
Reaching the summit
As you get better, the amount of time you can balance the ball increases. You can focus longer and habits become more ingrained. However, this doesn’t mean that you stop balancing the ball.
Referring again to control engineering, the equilibrium of the ball at the top represents an unstable steady state. You actively need to influence the ball to keep it centered. In control, you would use a closed loop controller, which for us equates to execution and self-reflection.
It requires our full attention, making it so challenging but so rewarding. Every time I’m in that state, I feel on! Like a machine, designed to crush it 24/7.
But…eventually, I lose balance and the ball comes falling down.
Bouncing back to balance
As much as I wanted to remain at the top, the balance will eventually swing around. I mentioned how important good habits are to get us to the top. They are also extremely important to mitigate our inevitable downfall.
Every time I visit my home country and my parents, it is almost certain I will lose my balance. All of the sudden, my habits are thrown off the window and when I eventually return to my normal routine, the ball needs to be pushed to the top. But now there is something different.
The ball has a slight momentum and if we are fast enough, it can be used to our benefit.
Force yourself to restart those important habits. Those activities that will make you reach the top. If you cannot do your normal workout routine during a trip, try to at least do a simpler version until you can return to form. If you cannot write your 2 pages a day, at least journal for 5 minutes.
Keep the ball rolling until you can return to the center.
Part of the journey is realizing that falling from balance is part of the self-development process. Life is full of these ups and downs but we have to proactively seek those moments of balance.
Can you be more…practical?
You probably noticed that I wasn’t too specific on defining the top of the mountain. I simply mentioned you need good habits and self-reflection. Here is why.
I’m still trying to find what works for me so telling you which habits you should cultivate feels odd. Posts telling why you should follow the habits of people like Elon Musk or Richard Brandon are mistaking causation with correlation.
What works for me, doesn’t necessarily work for you. You have to find that out for yourself. So, with that said, here are some habits I identified as being crucial to my balance.
- Journaling for self-reflection and long-term thinking
- Bullet Journaling for mind organization and planning
- Working out (in the morning) for discipline and strength goals
- Deep work practice (no tech) for willpower and content creation
This is the wheel of balance. Have fun and remember: Keep the ball rolling.