It’s easily possible to have an excess of anything we want or need, but it’s not actually the best idea to do this. It’s human nature to consume 100 or 110% of a good thing (or bad things that make us happy). We forget that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, whether it be health, work, relationships, or what have you.
We follow our impulses and urges even when we know we shouldn’t, and sometimes that leads us to places that we would rather avoid.
If it’s human nature to “consume” more, why should we consider changing it? Well, unless we do so, we’ll be undermining ourselves in the way we move and do our work, and inevitably, the quality of our relationships will decline.
When we live in extremes (a life antithetical to that of moderation), we do more of the following — we eat more to satisfy our emotional hunger (which never stops), we spend longer hours at work and get less work done, and oftentimes we spend so much time with others that we fail to give quality time to others in our relationships.
Overdoing each of the things in these areas leads to burnout, stress, fatigue, exhaustion, etc. and are simply not sustainable. It gets tiring fast.
Overeating food leads to stomach problems, weight gain, obesity, etc.
Overdoing exercise leads to increased intensity of exercise in the short-term at the expense of losing consistency over the long-term. That involves shooting for a short-term goal instead of following a system that is goal-agnostic, but more on that in a future post.
Spending more hours at work leads to getting less work done, because when we work beyond a certain threshold (say, 40 hours in a given week), the work we do leads to diminishing returns. It’s not about the number of hours we put in, but the quality of work we do in the hours we use.
Spending excess time in our relationships leads to boredom or lack of things to talk about or to do together. I don’t mean to suggest that we spend less time with our friends and family. Instead, I’m suggesting that we give them space every now and then because we all need a bit of solitude in our lives.
There are three key areas of life that we typically make the mistake of overdoing: health, work, and relationships. So, how do we overcome our own nature and avoid overeating, overspending, and becoming burned out?
I suggest that we practice doing things in moderation to overcome the challenge of following these urges/impulses with doing “more” in the short term to sustain our good habits in the long term.
There’re a few reasons why we should practice moderation in our lives:
- When we practice moderation, we feel better about ourselves. We know that by doing less of something, we enjoy the experience of doing it again. It’s more fun. And, we look forward to doing it the next time.
We tend to underestimate what we can do in the long-term and overestimate what we can do in the short-term.
Moderation doesn’t prevent you from thinking big. It helps you focus on acting small. It doesn’t matter how slow you move as long as you’re moving in the right direction.
Consistency is better than intensity. Showing up and doing the work today is more important than the promise of doing it tomorrow. Life is lived only in the present moment. It’s better to conserve energy and use it next time rather than tire yourself to exhaustion today.
Moderation works great for relieving stress as well as preventing burnout, and by extension, makes it sustainable.
Let’s consider those key areas in our lives — health, work, and relationships.
Hara Hachi Bu is a Confucius teaching that instructs people to eat until they’re 80% full. By doing this, you enjoy the experience of eating some food rather than eating 100% or beyond (and regretting it later) when there is no more space in your stomach.
Overeating affects the way we move and feel. Overeating regularly can lead to obesity and other diseases as we enter our later years.
Eating in moderation can help us maintain our weight over the course of our lifetime. Eating right can help us work effectively because it affects how we move and how we feel. For instance, when we eat in moderation, we don’t have to worry about weight gain, because you know you’re eating right. You’re eating when you’re physically hungry. You don’t crave foods because you’re eating for the right reasons: eat to live, not live to eat.
When we eat in moderation, we enjoy the experience of eating. When we practice eating right consistently, it becomes a habit and you no longer have to think about “controlling” your behavior with regards to food, because it’s not about “control” but about changing your relationship with food. More on that in a future post.
This same principle applies to exercise. How do you practice the principle of moderation with exercise? Begin with the end in mind. In other words, think big and act small. You want to build the habit of exercising regularly in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t burn you out from overexertion. For instance, that could mean making a commitment to exercise thrice a week because you know you can definitely fulfill that promise because you think is doable. Doing it thrice a week is better than promising to do five days a week and breaking that promise by not showing up. This is how you also build long-term consistency rather than short-term intensity. We tend to overestimate what we do in the short-term and underestimate what we can do in the long-term.
You can practice moderation in your work by working for fewer hours and getting more quality work done. Work fewer hours, and get fewer things done well rather than spending longer hours at work and getting less work done. This is common in a lot of organizations today because very few of those hours are actually productive in terms of getting work done.
Just because you spend longer hours at work doesn’t always equate to getting more work done. We all have a daily threshold for the amount of meaningful work we can produce, and working beyond that will only result in diminishing returns.
This is not a popular idea. For instance, if you’re spending 8 hours at work, practice doing work for 4.5-6 hours, knowing that those few hours of work will be fully productive without wasting any time.
Working fewer hours helps you do better work because you’re using those few hours productively rather than wasting time. You show up every day and do the work, and that’s the mark of a true professional. You’re driven by values, not feelings. This helps you avoid burnout and stress, among other things. By working this way, you make the habit sustainable. As a result, you enjoy the work more because you know that work is not all you’re doing, and that there’ll be time for play later. Time spent away from work (call it “downtime” or “play”) is not wasted time because play feeds into work just as work feeds into play. Working fewer, but higher quality, hours leaves more space for play that might include spending time with loved ones and/or doing things that you do in your leisure time. In turn, this contributes back to your work in an indirect way.
Of course, the principle of moderation can also be applied to relationships. Instead of spending a lot of time with friends and family every day, spend some time with them occasionally and leave room between each visit. Why is that? When we spend time with family and friends in moderation, we (a) give them space to be themselves because we all want some solitude to renew ourselves, and (b) have a lot more to catch up on when we meet next time.
We fail to recognize that others in our relationships need some time and space for themselves just as we do, in the form of solitude. For instance, I spend my mornings by myself doing things that are essential to me. I want my space then. My family knows this and respects my need for solitude in the mornings. Having this solitude helps me create more space in my life and helps me renew myself.
We need the space to renew ourselves. If you’re more of an extrovert than introvert, you’ll renew yourself mostly by spending time with others and less time with yourself, which is okay. If you’re like me and more of an introvert than an extrovert, you’ll need more time with yourself to renew or to “charge your batteries”, so to speak.
This principle can be applied in other areas as well. For instance, artists and performers know and understand this principle all too well. They leave the stage while the audience still loves them and don’t want them to go, not after they have had enough and are “full” or tired of them. They understand you have to leave the audience before they’re 100% satisfied so that the idea of an encore is exciting and well-received.
It’s important that we leave ourselves wanting to do more of these things in each of the major areas of our lives. That will ensure that we don’t suffer from stress, burnout, etc. and instead make those things easier for us to sustain and be consistent without thinking about it, while also maintaining momentum in those areas.
Practicing moderation helps us lead happier lives, do better work, and cultivate deeper relationships. In short, moderation is how we improve ourselves.