Ideas for Maintaining Balance

It’s been while since I posted on the subject of maintaining balance, so I thought I’d provide a couple quick ideas for you to consider. As you can tell by the tagline of this blog (“Leaning Forward, With Balance”), balance is something I consider to be an important part of being human. For me, balance means investing time and moving forward in these areas of your life:

  • Intellectual: stretching our brain by reading and learning new things. This makes us more interested in the world around us and more interesting to the people around us.
  • Productive: creating something of value for someone else, which can include shipping software or doing the laundry. This can be known as “work”, but may serve a higher purpose. As the monks say, “laborare est orare” (to work is to pray).
  • Physical: activity, strength, endurance, flexibility, nutrition, sleep, good habits. 
  • Spiritual: investing real time contemplating the divine, seeking guidance from wiser travelers as well as centuries-old wisdom literature while also confronting our outsized ego (pride).
  • Creativity: as the saying goes, “we’re human beings, not human doings”. We’re here to do something other than answer emails. Make bad art, write bad poetry, perform bad music (or, if you’re talented, make good art/poetry/music). 
  • Social: the research continues to be overwhelming and conclusive: happiness is largely a function of the quantity and quality of our social relationships. 

As I’ve written before, sometimes it’s ok to go out of balance for a period of time for good reasons. Sometimes you need to sacrifice the social dimension to buckle down and get something done. This is fine, as long as it’s temporary and you seek to return to balance reasonably soon.

So, with that lengthy preamble aside, here are a few things I’ve been thinking about to pass along. I hope one or two resonate with you…

Smartphones
There’s no need to belabor the well-known point that we spend too much time poking at our luminescent gizmos at the expense of our ability to focus, not to mention our health. It also would be height of hypocrisy for me to lecture on this point since I spend much of my days lovingly caressing my bottomless pit of distraction. But I will leave here, without further comment, an excerpt from political writer Andrew Sullivan on the subject. He is referring to research indicating that the simple fact of having our phones with us – even when they’re in our pockets and we’re not looking at them, creates distraction.

“The effects in that study are small, and need replicating, but make sense to me. If I have my phone in my pocket, a small part of my brain is thinking about checking it, or waiting to check it, or otherwise marginally distracted from the task at hand. One way I’ve found to counter this proactively is meditation or silence with eyes closed for 30 minutes a day. I’ve found this is most effective if you do it before the day really begins. It helps steady the addled mind, twitching and eager for an iPhone update. It’s helped to turn off all notifications — as long as you don’t then compulsively check every app for updates. And then there’s simply leaving the phone at home as often as I can. Walking my beagles twice a day, phone-free, helps. Every few minutes, I get an addictive tug to consult the black mirror, but when it’s not there at all, my mind slowly calms and I start seeing the actual world again. The same thing happens at the gym if I leave the phone in my locker. It’s just an hour of pushing weights around — but you’d be surprised how your mind wanders in that little oasis, and how creative and productive that wandering can be.

If you need to do some concentrated reading, I’ve found going to a local coffee shop without a phone is helpful. Going back to a watch to tell the time also helps you leave it behind. Ditto an old-school alarm clock for the bedroom. Or setting a time each day to look at Twitter, preferably on a laptop or iPad. Every little roadblock helps. Then there’s simply what humans used to call the Sabbath. Pick a weekend day and make it phone-free — or at least as phone-free as anyone can in our overconnected age. You might be surprised at the relief you feel, the absence of stress, of compulsion, of distraction. You might reconsider the deep wisdom of the great religions in insisting on such a space apart from the deadliness of constant doing.”

(Link to the full article, which covers multiple topics, here)

Social
If you’re a middle-aged male, or happen to know one, there is increasing evidence that loneliness is an under-appreciated contributor to health problems in that demographic.  Earlier this year, the Boston Globe published this entertaining story on the issue. Excerpt:

“IN FEBRUARY AT A CONFERENCE in Boston, a researcher from Britain’s University of Oxford presented study results that most guys understand intuitively: Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond. Women can maintain friendships over the phone. My wife is capable of having long phone talks with her sister in Virginia or her friend Casey (whom she sees in person almost every day), and I kind of look at it with amazement. I hate the phone. My guy friends seem to share my feelings, because our phone conversations seem to naturally last about five minutes before someone says, “All right, I’ll catch up with you later.” Dudes aren’t going to maintain a bromance that way, or even over a once-in-a-blue-moon beer. We need to go through something together. That’s why, studies have shown, men tend to make their deepest friends through periods of intense engagement, like school or military service or sports. That’s how many of us are comfortable.”

Habits
I am a sucker for books about how our minds work, and why we, well…how do I put this….why we suck at doing the things we know we should do (and want to do) yet do things we know aren’t going to bring us real happiness. There are lots of books of this ilk, such as Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Khaneman, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (who I once had a conversation with where he got excited about my company’s Mobile Deposit technology: “I use that all the time!”).

I have started to use an iPhone app to help me track my progress on a few habits I want to cultivate (I pause here to let the big wave of irony wash over us as I talk about an iPhone app in light of previous remarks about our over-use of mobile devices ….).

Here are some basic suggestions if you’re looking to establish some positive habits:

  1. Start small. Habits are about routine. We typically set goals that are aggressive and heroic, only to fail, feel ashamed, and sink into a pit of despair, at which point we likely pull out our mobile phones, check out our Facebook app, and idly scroll through the highlight reels of our friends and family as they summit treacherous mountain peaks and learn new languages. Researchers are clear: the path to habit success is to start small and establish success.
  2. Consider a “commitment device”, which is a method to keep you on track. A common commitment device can be agreeing to regularly report on your fidelity to your habits to a close friend.
  3. Track your progress.

With those three things in mind, here are some updates from me

  1. Start small: One of the habits I’ve set for myself is (get ready to laugh) ….to drink one glass of water per day. I realized that I go whole days where the closest that water ever gets to my mouth is while showering and brushing my teeth – which is to say I don’t drink any water most days. So I’m not trying to meet the popular guidance/myth of drinking eight glasses per day – both because it’s too big of a goal that would guarantee failure, and also because I don’t want to spend half my day running to the bathroom. One glass of water per day? Hey – I can do that!
  2. Tracking: I’ve started using the app Habit List, where I track my water intake (as well as some other worthy efforts I’m trying to turn into habits, such as stretching). I like it.

I’m approaching 1,500 words here (not all of them mine) which is about enough I’d say.

Trying to regain your balance? Trying to reclaim your non-electronic device time? Trying to establish a good habit or two?

Good luck!

P.S. You can always click on the categories to the right if you want to read more content on this topic or others…..