Study too much and your relationships suffer. Exercise too much and your body doesn't have time to recover. Play too much and your productivity suffers. Try too hard and your spontaneity suffers. And on and on and on.
Balance is the mother of all practices, and it is never-ending. You continually find your balance, you don't achieve balance. Even if you were able to find your perfect balance and hold it, life itself will throw you off balance continually. There is no state of motionlessness for a tightrope walker. It is constant adjustment.
The brain is a good example of the difficulty of balance. An idiot-savant has extraordinary ability in one area but suffers mental retardation in another. So the person can do amazing mathematical calculations instantly in his head, but can't get along with others. So many abilities can be useful, and the space for brain matter is limited by what can fit through a woman's pelvis at birth. So evolution has had to compromise and do its best to keep a balance between all these abilities. An idiot-savant gives us a glimpse of what brainpower would be capable of if brain space were unlimited.
You can see the vital importance of balance in the way the brain has limited different abilities in the normal brain. The brain has achieved a kind of balance. You, however can never achieve balance. But you can get better at balancing. You can increase your awareness and your knowledge so you can detect sooner when balance is being lost and how to restore it.
When sailing, you set your sail and fix your rudder, but in a little while you need to adjust them because you're veering off course. Why? Because the wind has changed directions or the current has changed, or your boat is listing to one side.
How do ships' captains deal with this? Simple. They constantly check their location and direction and readjust their course. They don't try to set their course once and for all. They keep checking and keep correcting their course, so they arrive where they want to go.
Do the same thing with your life. Keep checking, and keep correcting your course. Aim for balance and keep aiming, and overall, you'll be pretty balanced. Look closely at a ship's course and it looks like a zigzag. Rise enough above it and the course looks like a straight line. Trying to keep your balance, it will seem that most of the time you're OFF balance. But look at your life from a sufficient distance, and, if you are fairly vigilant about keeping your balance, it will also look good.
tempus rerum imperetor
Life is like baking a loaf of bread. If you want to get it right, everything needs to be roughly in proper proportion. For bread you measure volume — cups, tablespoons. For life, you measure time.
The secret to the previous dilemmas of study versus relationships or play versus productivity, the dilemmas are solved not by choosing one or the other, but by allotting each their time.
Since you sleep (or should) eight hours a day, you get 16 waking hours every day. You have simply the question: Given your sixteen hours, how do you want to divide it up? Given that you want to be successful, given your desire for a close and satisfying relationship, given your desire for good health and a general feeling of contentment with your life, how are you going to divvy up that sixteen hours?
This is very much like trying to create a recipe for a loaf of bread. It is experimental. Every day is a new opportunity to experiment again. Add a little more yeast, or a little less flour, or more oil or less water. The size of the loaf pan sets the limit. The length of the day sets your time limit.
The task is only to fuss with the ingredients to get closer and closer to a satisfying experience. Sometimes you only need to change the order in which you do things — do one thing before another instead of after. Sometimes you need to add or delete an ingredient altogether, or add a new one to test a possible permanent new addition.
The process never stops, but a greater and greater mastery can develop and higher and higher quality can be achieved through experimentation. You can get closer and closer to balance.
The element to manipulate is time. Minutes and hours. And these minutes and hours need to be managed well enough that they don't manage you, but you are managing them, so there is no feeling of time pressure. Time pressure is low quality experience.
What you're ultimately after, with bread or with your life, is the experience of quality.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.