How to Achieve Balance in Less Than 20 Steps

I believe that balance comes down to one thing: happiness. Happiness is, in itself, a balance of pleasure and gratification. Pleasure is transitory and often becomes habit (great example: smoking cigarettes). Essentially if you do something repeatedly, over time, it becomes less pleasurable and more mundane. This forces you to seek out more intense and varied pleasure to get the same satisfaction. If you are able to be mindful when you indulge in pleasurable activities, you can have some modicum of control over the pleasure center in your brain keeping in mind that most people cannot do this. It’s hard to center yourself and be in the moment; to actively think about each part of the experience and NOTHING else. This is hard because we swim in a sea of distraction.

Gratification, on the other hand, is more immersive and involves thinking and interpreting the event. It doesn’t habituate as much as pleasure. These are the higher essentials such as your cognitive needs, the aesthetic you seek and your fulfillment. So for example, your work and/or the time spent with loved ones would be a gratification and listening to your favorite music or having sex would be pleasure. Gratifications are a conscious choice that you have to work at, and toward. You have to keep building it. It’s not fleeting like pleasure. This is why, I believe, you shouldn’t mix business and pleasure. It creates a work/life imbalance and adds considerable stress. It’s the mine field where your work, your life, your pleasure and your gratification collide. So I proselytize that saying no to things that are going to blow up your life is THE key to personal happiness and thus creating balance in your life.

Here’s my advice for what it is worth:

  1. Don’t try to be all things to all people. You cannot make everyone happy. Focus instead on making yourself happy and let others worry about themselves. Being called selfish as a compliment. You can’t please anyone until you are pleased with yourself.

  2. Learn to say NO. Don’t do things you don’t want to do. Don’t allow yourself to feel obligated to say yes to things and guilty if you say no. Stand your ground. You are not letting people down if you are honest as to why you don’t want to do something. “I’m too tired” is a totally legitimate excuse to bail on things.

  3. Don’t get angry about things you can’t control. It’s a waste of energy and it changes nothing. Your anger eats at you. It doesn’t affect the other person. Find a way to let things go. Oh and for the record, you can’t control anything in this life except your reactions.

  4. Prioritize your free time based on a priorities list. Your list should have a maximum of three things on it. That’s something reasonable that a person working full-time can accomplish. If you think you can consistently achieve more, you’ll put undue pressure on yourself. Oh you may be able to sort of do it, but everything will be half assed. So maybe your priorities are work out, sleep 8 hours a night and see at least one person that is important to you. Try to stick to your priorities. Structure makes you feel more in control of your life. Control makes you feel more balanced.

  5. If you are morning person, do your most important priority in the morning and vice versa if you are a night owl. ie. Play to your natural circadian rhythms. If you are a big sleeper, don’t fight it. If you want to sleep until noon, you should do it. Listen to what your body tells you. Don’t ever do what you think you are supposed to do. It’s a recipe for imbalance. The supposed-to propaganda machine is just that.

  6. Don’t let important things slide. There are two important things that you can’t ignore: your FINANCES and your HEALTH. Everything else can wait. You need to put money away from every paycheck. Being smart with money will give you peace of mind later on when you really need it. If something is wrong, go to a doctor. Leave work. Take the day off. Go get tests done. Whatever it is, don’t ignore it.. I have a friend who died because he ignored stomach issues for 2 years. He was too busy to go to a doctor. He worked right up until 4 weeks before he died…of late stage stomach cancer that had metastasized to 4 other organs. Totally curable if caught early. He was 28.

  7. Eat healthy. Don’t poison your body with crap. Eating fast food has been linked to depression. All of the bad habits you pick up when you are young will haunt you all the days of your life. Force yourself to eat a balance of fruits, vegetables, fiber and protein. Bad stuff only in moderation. Drink water – your brain is 70-80% water – maintain that. Too much sugar is increasingly being linked to disease. Sweets can trigger reward and craving states in your brain similar to addictive drugs which leads us to…

  8. Manage your mental state! How do you do that? First, limit drugs and alcohol. Self-medicating is literally the worst thing you can do to manage stress, anxiety and depression. Both vices actually put considerable stress on your body. Alcohol destroys the connection between your brain cells. When you stop, your brain will eventually return to normal. So drink in moderation. Drugs, even over-the-counter drugs like NSAIDS cross the blood brain barrier. MDMA reduces your serotonergic neurons over time. These neurons help regulate mood, pain, sleep and appetite. Once gone, they’re gone. Weed causes cognitive impairment (average loss of 5 IQ points in those users who started as teens) and structural changes in your hippocampus – the part of the brain that regulates emotion and long-term memory. I see so many talented people with a flat affect and all I can wonder is how spectacular would they be if they had emotion in their voice when they talked about their craft? When the drugs get harder, the damage gets worse. Your mind is SO important. Take care of it. Protect it. You need your mind and your passion for your craft to achieve greatness.

  9. Enrich your mind by reading, by going to lectures, by watching documentaries about subjects that interest you. Rest it by meditating (I highly recommend getting the Insight Timer app on your phone) for at least a few minutes a day. If you have trouble falling to sleep, listen to a sleep meditation or binaural beats when you go to bed. If you have anxiety, listen to a short meditation that slows down your breathing.

  10. If your mind really won’t shut down and you are struggling, reach out to someone who you trust, who inspires you and who always lifts you up. Tell them you need to talk. Then talk to them. People care if you just allow yourself to be cared for. You will never find balance if you close yourself off emotionally because you have no time or you are afraid to let people see you in your weaker moments. The strongest people you know came from weakness. Be mindful. Be fearless.

  11. Plan at least one holiday a year where you leave your environment, unplug and focus on yourself. So that means don’t go somewhere that you are obligated to go, or where your significant other wants you to go: go somewhere that YOU want to go. If no one wants to go with you, go alone. Solo travel is quite restorative.

  12. Buy a good mattress. Sleep on it as much as possible. Without proper sleep, your energy will suck. You won’t even know you feel bad until you get a good mattress and then you’ll be pissed about all of those years you slept on a futon. You MUST find time for sleep. If you work an allnighter, force yourself to sleep at least 6-8 hours, if not more. Forget about forcing yourself to get up and do stuff. The effects of sleep deprivation are catastrophic! In addition to impaired coordination, memory and concentration issues, it has been linked to many chronic diseases such as diabetes, depression, obesity and heart disease. Not sleeping enough can increase C-reactive protein, which is released with stress and inflammation. Life expectancy will be shortened and is dramatically so in shift workers! It’s not a stretch to think that the hours have some impact on the length of your life.

  13. Find a way to keep in contact with your network. Whether it’s texting, quick phone calls, email, face time or whatever, commit to connecting with at least one person for every work day that is important to you. That’s 5 people a week that you need to reach out to if you work full time.

  14. Manage your common sense! It is surprisingly uncommon in today’s world. How do you do that? Avoid doing stupid things. Your mind is your most important resource in the common sense arena. Take care of it. Listen to it. Before you do anything ask yourself if what you are about to do is something an idiot would do? If the answer is yes, don’t do it. Expand your circle of influence every chance you get and discuss complex topics with others.

  15. Protect your hearing. Wear ear protection at work if your workplace is noisy. Don’t blast loud music. You'll want your senses as you age – sight and hearing specifically. You can’t get these back if you screw them up. Common sense.

  16. Take at LEAST one 15 minute break in your day to be completely alone and unplug. Go for a walk, sit in your car and close your eyes whatever. Breathe deeply. No electronic devices. No music. Just quiet. You can also use these 15 minutes to stretch out the parts of your body that hold stress – neck and back.

  17. This one will be hard to accept BUT stop believing the lie that you can have it all. You can’t. No one can. You have to decide what is really important to you. Your core values will help guide you in this. If it’s your career, then be prepared that trying to have a wife and kids will be challenging, depending on how demanding that career is. Does it require long hours? Lots of travel? Truth is your personal life will hold you back and it will take you a lot longer to get where you need to go. Why? Those obligations will dictate what jobs you take. If you goal is to get married and have 4 kids, prepare that you may not get to the top of your profession because you will have to take jobs based on money, proximity and not on merit. If this is what you want, aim to work on smaller projects close to home that don’t pay as well. Big money means big overtime and a bigger commitment which means you may be away from loved one for 12 hours or more a day. Prepare to miss out most, if not all, of the major milestones in your kid’s lives due to the hours you’ll keep. You really need to ask yourself, is it worth it?

  18. Laugh as much as humanly possible. Start listing to comedy podcasts or the comedy channels on Sirius XM or watch stand up videos on YouTube. Go see a comedy film or watch old episode of Seinfeld. It’s cliché but laughter is the best medicine. It releases endorphins which are the body’s feel good chemicals. Endorphins are also critical in muscle relaxation and pain management.

  19. Lastly, never ever compare yourself, or where you are in your career, to others. This is a fast track to unhappiness and insecurity. Only compete with yourself. It’s all about mindset. There are two types of mindset: fixed and growth. Be the growth mindset. Think like an elite athlete. Athletes try to better their times. They try to improve over their last performance. They don’t sit around worrying about what the other athletes are doing. Spend your energy trying to do your best and always keep striving. If you have the mindset and the confidence of a winner and you are focused on achievement, guess what? You will be a winner. Don’t let anything or anyone put you down or sap your power. It’s easy to get knocked down and most people topple fairly easily. Don’t be most people.