A Missing Element to Balance

Obviously, balance is important. We have no problem conceiving of the need for rest-work balance, or social time and solitude, or nutritious and non-nutritious foods.

Yet when I picture balance I tend to picture a static scale like this.

Photo by Piret Ilver on Unsplash

Sometimes this is an accurate image, but when we think about our lives, it falls short because it fails to consider time and motion.

We like the idea of arriving, of setting things up the right way and leaving them alone. But life moves. You can never dial in the right balance of a thing once and for all and leave it alone.

Life balance is more like walking than it is adding weight to a static scale. When you walk, some of your weight is on your right foot, then most of your weight, then all of it. And then it’s time to balance. What was needed one second ago is the opposite of what is needed now. One second ago it was all about the right foot, but now it’s all about the left.

If you get tired of balancing and decide to plant both feet at the same time, you’ll simply stop moving.

I’ve often been discouraged at my constant need to rebalance, but maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe the day I “arrive” is the day I stop moving forward.

Discipline Isn’t Complicated

Discipline might not be easy at first, but it is simple. Sometimes we lose it because we complicate it.

Discipline it nothing more than the art of following through on pre-planned action without any regard to how you feel or think about it right now. It’s the art of harshly interrupting that voice in your head that wants to reason it all out again.

“I know you planned to work on this project at 10, but you also need to pull those weeds. … Are you sure this is the right workout for you this morning? Won’t this be an active day anyway? … But it’s Friday, can’t you have a cheat meal tonight? … You’ve been great at saving your money, should you treat yourself to one new pair of shoes?”

Shout loudly over those questions in your head before they can even finish. Don’t let the argument start. It’s just like any other argument in that there is no winner.

Ignore your thoughts and push your body into the action you already committed to. Close your eyes and jump. That’s discipline.

My Favorite Mental Trick to Stop Overeating

This post is for people like me who are prone to overeating. It involves a level of thinking about food that will strike you funny if you’ve never had the struggle yourself.

There is pleasure involved in eating. Several, actually:

  1. The pleasure of meeting a true physical need. Our body thanks us for responding to hunger.
  2. The pleasure of feeling full in the belly.
  3. The pleasure of taste in the mouth. 

It dawned on me one day that I have spent most of my life chasing pleasure 2 at meals. I had an implicit goal to get full—not stuffed, but more than satisfied. I sought more than the elimination of hunger. 

This habit, especially when mixed with high-calorie foods, is all it takes to become obese. Seriously. When I was obese, I didn’t stuff myself three times a day, but I got happily full often. When I decided to change, I knew this would have to stop.

We derive comfort from food, medicate ourselves with food, celebrate with food—it’s no wonder we have an emotional attachment to it! It’s an emotional experience to accept that you’ll have to stop eating in the way that has become natural over the years. I was truly disappointed to be eating less.

Then I had a realization: This isn’t the end of pleasure in eating, it’s the swapping of one pleasure for another.

Instead of chasing pleasure 2, I began to chase pleasures 1 and 3.

How many meals have I rushed through in my lifetime without stopping to savor what I’m tasting? Most! Because I was seeking pleasure 2 (full in the belly), and not pleasure 1 (eliminating hunger) and pleasure 3 (tasting and savoring).

This meant I could meet weight loss goals and still derive joy from meals. It also killed that most common lie we tell ourselves when trying to lose weight: “You’re missing out on something.” That lie is responsible for millions of unnecessary calories.

Enjoying meals more, not less.

You can actually gain more enjoyment from a meal if you seek pleasures 1 and 3 than if you seek pleasure 2. Here’s how:

Scenario 1 – Seeking Pleasure 2 (feeling full).

  • You have a double cheeseburger with large fries and a coke. 
  • You sit down, ravenously hungry, and take a bite. 
  • While you’re chewing the burger, you take some fries and stuff those in your mouth too. 
  • Then you use a splash of soda to assist you in swallowing. 
  • The moment the food is out of your mouth, when it has hardly entered your esophagus, your teeth clamp into the burger again. 
  • Repeat until the food is gone.
  • Time spent eating: 6 minutes.
  • You’ve thought about that meal for 3 hours, or maybe longer, and it’s already gone. The pleasure is over.

Scenario 2 – Seeking Pleasures 1 & 3 (eliminating hunger and tasting/savoring).

  • You have a single cheeseburger with regular fries and water (or no drink).  
  • You sit down, ravenously hungry, and take a bite.
  • You set down the burger on the table, lean back in your chair, chew slowly, and think about everything you’re tasting. You focus on what you’re doing. You breathe while you chew. You consciously try to enjoy the food.
  • When the food is completely chewed, you swallow. Your mouth is empty. 
  • Then (and here’s where a huge difference comes in) you take a deep breath or two. You look around. You allow gratitude that you’re alive and have food to fill your mind. 
  • Only then do you take another bite.
  • Repeat until the food is gone.
  • Time spent eating: 15-20 minutes.

In Scenario 2, you’ve (A) extended the total time spent actively eating (which is the thing you’ve been looking forward to since your last meal), (B) eaten less food overall, and (C)  given your body adequate time to tell you that you’re full.

Amazingly, you end up feeling almost just as full as when you stop eating in Scenario 1.

If you’re used to getting full at every meal, you may be surprised at how good it feels to be satisfied rather than full. They are two different experiences. When you’re satisfied, you’re not bloated, you don’t feel heavy, and you have the added feeling of pride that you’ve made a healthy choice.

Another benefit of eating like this is that you get the chance to assess your likes and dislikes. Some healthy foods taste better than we assume because we rush through them and don’t give them a chance. Some unhealthy foods aren’t as delicious as we think, we’ve just attached good experiences to them and built a reflex around them. 

Of course, this isn’t perfect. I don’t eat every meal like this, not even close. Some days I eat quickly with no shame. But this is the most powerful mental trick I’ve found for me.

Favorite mental trick to stop overeating in summary: change the type of pleasure you seek when you eat.

It’s that simple.

My Favorite Marketing Slogan of All Time

There’s a small part of me that disdains advice on how to stop procrastinating, how to get more done, and how to find motivation. It’s not because I’m a superhero. I struggle with those things all the time too. I sometimes disdain this advice because I think misses the point.

When you have to get something done, it gets done. 

The reason we struggle so much with motivation is that we don’t have to do the thing we’re procrastinating about—not really

As much as we would love the promotion, as much as we would love to get shredded and fit, as much as we would love to read more, we don’t have to.

But when you will certainly get fired if something doesn’t get done at your job, you show up early and stay late without even being asked. When your wedding is approaching and you are determined to lose 30 pounds for the big day, you happily say no to the birthday cake. When the exam is a week away, you sit down and read.

And you don’t need a single word to get motivated. 

Motivational speeches only exist for people who would like to get things done, not people who have to

This leads me to my favorite marketing slogan of all time: Just Do It.

There are a lot of things we desperately want, but they are self-generated desires and no one in the world will care if we don’t do them. It’s these types of challenges the phrase speaks to so well. In three words it gives you all the explanation and motivation you need.

So while I enjoy tips and tricks to stay motivated and form good habits, they pale in comparison to owning your actions and relentlessly taking full responsibility.

Don’t wait until you have it all figured out or find the perfect tool or buy the perfect program or meet the perfect person. In some ways, as sad as it sounds, you are alone in this world. You may have people who love you, but when it comes to your personal goals, it’s you vs. you. 

The future you is counting on you.

Just Do It.