Improve Your Personal Effectiveness by Finding Balance

To go past the mark is as wrong as to fall short.

-Confucius

Could you believe that the ideal person is never the best at anything? Our heads are so full of delusions about wealth and power that we run ourselves ragged trying to out do each other. We spin our wheels until we burn ourselves out and are left hopeless and exhausted.

There is great pressure to attain the highest level of achievement. We want to be the richest, most beautiful, and most well-liked because these virtues are glorified. But by indulging our vanity we do ourselves more harm than good. The only way to achieve sustainable happiness is to practice the Golden Mean.

The idea of the Golden Mean has existed for thousands of years. It is at the core of both Eastern and Western philosophy and is central to the teachings of Aristotle and Confucius. The idea is simple. Every quality has extremes at both ends. The Golden Mean is the natural balance between these extremes. At this harmonious point goodness and beauty are achieved.

Socrates used the example of extreme devotion to athletics versus extreme devotion to music to illustrate this idea. The athlete becomes overly aggressive and ferocious, while the musician becomes overly soft and effeminate. The ideal is someone who practices both athletics and music in moderation and acquires a harmonious mixture of both qualities.

Consider an example from modern times that I’m sure everyone has observed. The first person is extremely career driven. Each day he focuses on advancing himself. He spends long hours at the office, competes mercilessly with his coworkers, and flatters his superiors. As a result he has almost no personal life. The second person’s only pursuit is leisure. He likes to waste time with his friends watching television and playing video games.

Which of these persons is superior? Many people would argue for the hard worker. But at second glance his life is rather cold. His obsession with success has alienated his coworkers and left him without a family. He may become rich, but how will he enjoy it? The second man is no better. He has wasted his life in laziness. He has refused to develop himself and exists as a parasitic leech. Both men are worthy of pity.

I think we’d all agree the ideal would be somewhere in between these two people. So how do we find the elusive Golden Mean? The bad news: it takes years of trial and error get it perfect, but fortunately, we can all improve if we try.

It all starts with setting the right goals. Whenever you make a goal you need to do it with the right intention. Don’t set goals with the intent to dominate other people. This type of goal setting is ego driven and pulls you away from the mean. Instead, try to start with a goal that is in between total selfishness and total selflessness. If you are helping yourself and other people at the same time you can draw motivation from your ego driven side and from the part of you that wants to work for the common good. This type of goal setting is effective because whenever you start to lose motivation in one area you can draw from the other.

The next step to reaching the Golden Mean is knowing your limits. You need to know when that next drink is going to put you over the edge or when one more project is going to stress you out. The idea is to maintain balance at all times. You need to police yourself to avoid extremity. If you know when you are inclined to stray you have a head start on achieving balance.

Another step to achieving the Golden Mean is being aware of your personal needs. Sure we need money and success, but having good relationships with friends and family are just as important. Whenever you find yourself unhappy, take a moment to reflect on the reason. You will likely find that you have drifted over to one extreme and are feeling the consequences.

I know the Golden Mean is hard to live by, but it is the key to finding your inner confidence. Ben Franklin said, “The wise learn from the mistakes of others, fools, scarcely from their own.” Next time you find yourself willing to do anything to be the best of the best, take a moment to reconsider. You may find it is better to be the best “you” you can be.

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  • http://www.mindbodyblog.com Karl Staib

    Balance is so hard to find in my life and this article resonated with me. Thanks! Keep up the good work.
    Karl Staib
    Mind Body Blog

  • trebla

    I like it!

  • tejesh

    hi,
    i visited your website today and have already spent hours reading all the beautifully titled articles.
    this on and the one with gifted label are the ones which i thought concerned to me .

    i have a point against this golden mean theory though i appriciate it to the core. if we are the ideal person do we need to be a jack of all?
    no i don’t mind being one because that is what i am but seriously if being ideal being an average person who is someone who even dies unnoticed adter all throughout our lives we have taken inspiration from the extremists.

    please comment ..carry on the good work.you are enlightening.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Tejesh, I’m glad you like reading the articles. I apologize for taking so long to reply.

    Regarding your comment, I’m not sure if the ideal person needs to be a jack-of-all or if there really is any ideal person. We are taught to worship famous men like they are gods, but part of me thinks the perfect person would pass through life unnoticed, with no need for fame or fortune, happy just to exist in harmony.

    No matter what the truth may be, in the end we are only accountable to ourselves.

  • http://www.psychic-aus.com TerryG

    Another truly inspirational article. Very thought provoking. Looks like I will be thinking this one over. I liked it a lot. Keep posting.

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks for the motivation, TerryG.

  • Amanda

    Rather Apollonian the advice here, which, from my vantage point is never a bad thing! Most certainly having the qualities of moderation and balance, though archaic notions, are still beneficial in the modern world.

    Maybe, in today’s capitalistic rat race, such qualities are more of a requirement?

  • http://www.bsnl-help.blogspot.com Shypy

    Well said John. Also your answer to Tejesh’s comment was really good. Methinks this should be among your vintage posts, coz it makes one(me atleast) feel like their heart is speaking to them.
    =)

  • http://www.pickthebrain.com John Wesley

    Thanks for the kind words. Perhaps, I’ll put it in the vintage post’s list next time I change it.:)

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  • Sally

    Hi John,

    I have found your article to be fascinating, and very relevant to my own research. I am currently writing my thesis, roughly entitled ‘What does it take to be the best…. combining theories of intrinsic motivation and self determination with balance and the golden section?’. My theory is that balance and motivation somehow fit together, and performance, specifically that of athletes, can be optimized by recognising patterns in these. I am a design student and long distance runner, hence my choice of topic. I am looking specifically at visual patterns which can be created by mapping of information, and then analysis of this information with regard to the afore mentioned theories.
    Ill get to the point of why I am telling you all this…..
    You mentioned in your article about Socrates own studies of balance in musicians and athletes, and I wondered if you could tell me what source you got this information from, as it seems vital to my own research. Also, if you have any thoughts about my description of my project, or other sources/ references you recommend me reading, that would be great.

    Thanks, your article has really helped confirm that there is some theory behind my thoughts!!

    Sally

  • Mike C.

    I just have a few questions. Why is the lazy man’s life wasted? Does something different happen to the man who’s watched TV his whole life than to the man who has started a successful business from the ground up (or something else that others would consider to be a “worthy” life) Conversely, why is it necessarily bad to have a life focused solely on one’s career? I guess my point is that isn’t balance only something to strive for if balance is what you want? Is there a rock somewhere that says balance makes people happier? Even if there was a study that showed people with balance are generally happier, does that mean anything? Or would it equate to most people liking the color blue more than other colors?

  • http://www.friendster.com/aceneil ROMALYN M. PIZARO

    I have a question sir/mam:..how effective is confucius philosophy not only to the chinese but also to other philosophers?..and up to present,,isnt confucius philosophy is the reason why chinese became richer today,,,

  • elle

    If you want balance, happiness, success, riches, and love…simply be a good person, to yourself and to others…..If you can truely be this person
    everything else does follow.

  • Govind

    Hi,

    I spent more hours on this website. I liked all the topics what you have mentioned in this website. All are great articles and helps us in real life. I wish you the best of luck for future articles. God Bless you. I request all to help the people in someother way.

    Thanks to all
    Govind

  • joe

    Lately, I’ve been feeling depressed and ends up to loss of motivation… now I’m starting to get the idea why and how can I overcome it.

    All of your articles that I’ve read are very interesting and is really helping me a lot.

    Thanks… and keep up the good work.

    * I got your site bookmarked … 2 thumbs up.

  • Samuel Meyers

    I am a fourteen going on fifteen year old child and thoughout my life I have had many dreams, but one has always stuck with me, Iv’e always figured myself to be one of the greatest martial artists (some day). And even though I know I know many things and I know I don’t know many things Iv’e been making the foolish decision of not hearing the truth (even after I tell myself) and just constantley saying “I’m going to be the greatest”, but after reading this I was reminded that there are other conscious people out there ;sorry that was me speeching with pride.
    I guess I’m just trying to say thank you.
    Sincerley Sam

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      ADDITION the key…….denominator [ ]? not denominator (reply) (some day) (even after I tell my self) possive balance the gold mind…

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  • http://schatzren.piczo.com Renalie

    People who shared this article really uplift the spirit of anyone:)

    GREAT!!!!

  • Jao Vendetta

    I have just graduated from highschool and am in the summer before i really begin my life as an adult. Ive realized the enormous amounts of expectation placed upon me by my parents and older people and consequently have drifted to the extreme of the rebellious angry pre-adult. I tend to realize imbalances after mucking about in them for awhile, and so after reading this article, i feel as though i must try to regain the Golden Balance, or end up very unhappy and empty. Thank You!

  • edward

    I am a building contractor and i just am finishing a two week vacation, where i was working on my house—doing things that havent been done for a while—now i am having a huge problem with motivation—i just dont want to go back to work—an more so i dont even think i want to do this!?!?!?—the thought of a long estimate followed up by a two month go go go with all the crazieness just doesnt appeal to me—now what?

  • http://facedestiny.com/blog Dayflyer

    Balance does seem better than extremes, although there are some exceptions – financially successful people who do manage to combine this with relationship success. So maybe there are other factors at work as well, that help the overall balance.

    Writing this in January 2009, I wonder if the economic woes will help people get closer to balance? Less money and more uncertainty may lead to more thought and decisions based on compromise, due to not being able to afford everything you think you want. Maybe people will find they don’t need to have as many material things, they can balance these up with things that don’t cost money.

    Sometimes people aren’t following their own desires, but those of other people – whether they realise this or not. If your parents pushed you to succeed, you may end up unbalanced because you’ve not made your own choices.

  • Mohammed

    Really amazing work, GOD BLESS U ……

  • http://findingbalance Dan

    Free time is the new poverty. Health is truly wealth. A lot of people want wealth, fame, and power so they can receive approval from others. I saw a ufo as big as a football stadium. All true. Balance that!

  • Yosra

    Thank you for articulating what I already know but allow myself to forget.

  • Adi

    Hi John,
    This is a great article. Being the thought of being the best acquires a lot of fire (snowballing effect) and a man can go to one extreme, and when dejected can go to the other, in effect losing self confidence. Working less but finding yourself in the work you do is the key to happiness. Motivation of by way of self discovery, can only end at death. If ones mind is rooted here, I do not think he will need to look back.

  • Tom

    your articles are awesome been on your site since i found it

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    This is how i have been living my life for a year… under the influence of course but its starting to leak into my daily life! 

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  • R. Pirotta

    I appreciated this post. It’s true, the Golden Mean is hard to attain, but definitely attainable. I had a conversation with a friend along these lines today. She was on the extreme of being career driven. As we were talking I was reflecting and realized I have moved towards a Golden Mean. I wondered why though, how a competitive, ambitious person like me has not joined her on her extreme? I believe it’s because I’ve experienced and seen the damaging impact of being on the extreme of trying to attain career success. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t fulfill me (even when I am doing something passionate) and need to also develop the other areas and substance in my life (friends, leisure activites, etc.) I am thankful to be where I am, but the journey has been hard and it require constant maintenance.

    Growintoyourself.com

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