You have targets to achieve in life. You want to achieve them all. Overlying this is your desire to be happy and live a fulfilling life. You have heard me rant about process and discipline. But it happens often that you work really hard at something and results do not seem to follow through. So, what might be going wrong? Well, what if you are rowing hard in the boat with a strong wind blowing, and all you needed to do was to put the sail up? Often, that is the case. But, wait, there’s more. Read on.
Progress in just about anything is typically driven by many factors. For example, within the framework of the Wellness Tree you will know these factors to be the various roots feeding into the various branches. Yet, we often forget to strike the appropriate balance between the various input factors that drive results.
We see it all around us even if we do not look for it – but you do have to pay closer attention to notice it happening. An excess display of a narrow dimension of effort. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a strong place for focused and intense effort in the journey to success. And there is a great deal of internal happiness from the completion of a bout of intense and single-minded focused hard work. But often what ought to be all of those adjectives, ends up being this – “just a large quantity of a tiny number of actions”. Oops!
The lazy will typically have low effort in a few things let alone overdoing one or many! The rest of us are often obsessed with the singular idea that ‘doing’ is the way to progress. So, we might do a lot in order to make a lot of progress. And, since we observe some improvements, it appears to make sense that we do even more for further progress.
The way your human brain has evolved, the pre-frontal cortex typically handles, at one time, just 4 variables well. So, it is always easy to focus on a couple of input factors. Add to this the constraint of your most valuable resource i.e. time, and you might feel that with that limited resource, it makes sense to focus on only a couple of factors and push them really hard. Dealing with multiple input factors is always challenging for the brain – and interactions between them can make things even more perplexing to think through. [With 4 variables, there will be 6 pairwise interactions.] And so, we conveniently fall into what I call The Tuesday Trap – to turn up for class on Tuesday and feel good that we must be making progress just because we turned up.
Whenever someone who has recently introduced recreational running into their life approaches me with the grand idea “I have run a half marathon, I have a run a full marathon, now I want to run an ultra”, my first question in response is always “why?”. Not because running an ultramarathon is not a tough challenge, but because often the thought process behind the desire to do so is heavily skewed. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.
[To understand why you need not run see this]
Going longer, without paying attention to other factors that drive performance does not need much intellect. And the results are not likely to be great. Driving results in life, using a range of factors, appropriately balanced with changing life conditions, is what is difficult. Getting that right is satisfying, and leads to greater success. Balance is true mastery.
At a bird’s eye view level, I spoke about how even having daily or weekly work-life balance was not enough and focusing on lifetime optimization was more important. So, if you do not have a plan to stay balanced, to start, you are reducing your chances of getting to your goals in the first place – simply by not having a balanced approach to getting there. Depending on what the area of focus is, there is also the risk of burnout, illness, injury, boredom. Now think about the fact that what you do is only rarely isolated from others around you, and then the societal (or family) problems only worsen the argument against balance. For instance, your children or others who look to you as a role model will also pick up the wrong strategy to follow for a fulfilling life.
Did it impress you when that parent once talked about how their 12-year-old was swimming twice a day every day to qualify for the school team? When your neighbor told you they were doing a zillion suryanamaskars to get fitter for a marathon did you think “Wow, how cool!”? When your colleague told you how they were forced to practice the guitar for an hour every school day before they were allowed to go out and play, did you think “Wow, such discipline!”? When that investment *anker gloated about how he worked 120 hour weeks, did you think “Such an impressive job!”? I wonder if you know where I’m going with this. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.
The central message for today is simply this – within your process, set up a regular assessment of all that you are doing and their connection with your final set of goals. It is wonderful to love the daily process because, after all, that internal motivation helps you move towards your goal. But, it would be unwise to have those processes not be in sync with your longer-term goals. And, typically, if you are doing a lot of X to get to your goal, almost always you need to do a little less of that X and introduce Y and Z too. Because, together, XYZ have a much better chance of getting you there. That is balance. Going extreme isn’t mastery. Balance is true mastery.
Let us look at a few examples together.
The Student Before Exams
The typical behavior plan I see is greater numbers of hours spent studying. Sometimes sleep is compromised. The effect of this is worst when the midnight oil is burnt the night before the exam. Food habits become unhealthier. Junk food is increased to satisfy the emotional stress of the grind, instead of there being greater focus on what one might call ‘brain foods’. Play time goes for a toss, instead of there being regular physical activity to support the academic study time. (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)
The Long Hours Investment Banker
Unfortunately, most corporate finance investment bankers gloat about their long hours at work. Those who have had any experience of what those professionals do will understand that a large part of it is grunge work, driven mostly by the chance of a large payoff from the lucky one out of 20 (or 50!) pitches. The sacrifice of personal health, relationships, and plain and simple (lack of) exposure to daylight plays havoc on the overall state of being. The idea that this must be the holy grail to a life of wealth and happiness is an odd one. (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)
The Newbie Ultramarathoner
When I see a friend has recently taken up recreational distance running and is clocking a crazy number of miles each week I wonder if they have ever stopped to think about the bigger picture. Typically, their effort seems to be pointed toward going longer with, perhaps, their main lifestyle change being to eat more calories to support the energy expenditure of their training. With only 24 hours in everyone’s day and the need to often be at work most days of the week, something has got to give. Unfortunately, that something is often sleep hours! Of all things, sleep is, perhaps, the single most important activity in a person’s week for good health, but it gets tossed out of the common-sense window. And there is often no increased focus on the details of the quality of nutrition. And what happens to family time and socializing with non-runner friends? (Tip: refer to the Wellness Tree for more ideas on solving this problem.)
The many good examples
OK, so those were a few dismal displays of imbalance. On the positive side, if you look around you, you will find excellent examples of balance too. I happen to mentor so many women who have wonderful balance between their satisfying careers, taking care of their homes, their children’s education and husbands’ demands. And yet they ensure that their own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is in balance. Perhaps your mother was like that too. Balance is true mastery!
I mentioned that broadly it is important to take stock and check if you have balance between the various driving factors that will feed into successfully achieving any of your many goals. This approach can be taken at any level. Within a process, for a balance between the sub-processes. Or within each sub-process, a further balanced approach to what goes into each of those as well. This is true for every aspect of your life – from the quality of overnight (or mid-afternoon!) sleep to minimizing the negative impact of dessert after dinner. The Wellness Tree highlights that concept well.
I know someone who reads a lot but knows very little of value. Yet, I also know someone who spends only a small amount of time on study and knows a lot. I know someone who spends hours on prayer and meditation but seems to never be in a state of calm and peace. Yet, I know someone who appears to dedicate no time to silent meditation but maintains a state of immense calm even when others would be in a state of turmoil. I know someone who runs a lot but looks nothing like an athlete. Yet, I know someone who dedicates only a small part of the day to exercise and is fit and looks ripped.
Balance is true mastery of life!
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.