Why is balance so hard to achieve?
During my summer in Europe, let’s just say that I ate a few too many pastries. As I sit here writing this, my pants are just a bit too tight. It’s got me thinking about two things.
First, capsule wardrobes. When you’re feeling a bit out of shape, don’t you just want to reach for the same five outfits that make you feel great? Which makes me think I should really be wearing those things that make me feel great all the time. But this is a topic for another day.
Second, balance. Balance is such a tricky thing, and I think finding balance in health (food/exercise) and money are similarly elusive. At least for me. I either eat all the things or next to nothing. I work out every day or never. I buy everything or save all my money. Why is it so hard to reach a happy, sustainable middle ground?
One of my primary goals with this blog is to help people (myself included!) find balance when it comes to money. I’m not trying to promote extreme frugality, early retirement, or rapid debt payoff (although I completely respect the myriad blogs out there that are). I’m trying to find a balanced, sustainable approach to money that will work for me in the long term, and that will allow me to live a happy life both today and in the future.
Extremes seem easier, but aren’t sustainable
I have always been a person who likes to play by the rules. Set up a framework and I will do everything within my power to stay within it. I think this is why I like to set up my own rules or guidelines in my life. “This month, I’m going to work out every day.” “I’m going to stop eating food with preservatives in them.” “I’m going to save half of my income this year.” I make these rules for myself all the time. What can I say, I’m a sucker for self-improvement.
These are great goals, but let’s face it, they are extreme. It is easy to make these rules but very, very hard to follow through on them. When you set firm rules like this, it is easy to slip just a little. Once you slip just a little, it is easy to say “screw it” and let yourself slip a lot. This is why extremes aren’t sustainable. Without balance, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
And let’s look at the flip side. The extreme I’ve been dealing with lately is eating everything. I’ve definitely had the “I’m on vacation so it’s OK” excuse going on. But after a certain point, even indulging by eating anything I want stops feeling good. And with that, I start to swing in the other extreme direction. Extreme begets extreme.
It is hard to follow rules that are flexible
After I set these strict rules and then fail to follow them, I often recalibrate and try to set a more manageable framework. I try to set balanced goals that will be sustainable in the long term. “I’m going to work out more.” “I’m going to reduce preservative intake.” “I’m going to cut back on eating out to save money.” I tell myself that these are lifestyle changes, that I’ll take baby steps and work towards my more extreme goals.
The problem is that these more flexible rules are also hard to follow because they’re so flexible. If I say I’m going to work out more, that means that I need to work out sometimes but not all the time. That gives me an easy out on a day when I’m a little tired, and again the slippery slope begins. The lack of a measurable metric also makes me less motivated and therefore more likely to revert to old, unbalanced habits.
Achieving balance involves refining your habits
I think that the key to finding balance, in health and in money, is gradual change over time that leads to new, more balanced habits. The hard part about this is that it means that change won’t be quick. The good part is that it hopefully means that change will be sustainable. By taking small, measurable steps that lead towards better habits, I think it is possible to get yourself into a more balanced routine.
Of course it is important to recognize that this balance and the habits that support it need to change over time. At some point in time you might be more focused on health than money, or focused on some other area of your life altogether. I think that it is important to give a little in one area if you need to re-focus attention in another. The tricky part is not changing a good, balance habit altogether in pursuit of another.
How do you achieve balance in your life?