There was a time when people had to choose between watching channel one or channel two on their television sets. As a kid we’d play cricket, rugby or soccer. Occasionally we’d play some other games. When it came to ice-cream, it was either chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. In a world with little variables it felt very natural to make a quick decision and feel content with the outcome. Walking the middle road was a matter of avoiding very obvious extremes in a very localized neighborhood where everyone knew where the drug dealers lived- except the police of course :). The world today is complex. People are psychologically traumatized by the abundance of information, advertisements and subliminal content fed to them constantly through social media, movies and even at the traffic lights. They are fed ideals without even knowing it and programmed to think in ways that often do not profit them. How do we find a middle road if the middle road is the center between extremes we aren’t aware of? How do we find the middle road in a world where billions of dollars are spent on manipulating people.
There was a time when it was considered normal in South Africa to see beaches with the sign “Whites Only.” State sanctioned racism was basically just a stone throw back into our very recent past. Was that the middle road? There was a time when slavery was normal. Was that the middle road? There was a time in the 70’s when most people were self employed. The baby boomers thought it was normal to have a bunch of kids. Some environmentalists argue that the best thing for planet earth is a reduction in population. In the midst of all of this, people are asking, “How do I live a balanced life?” Here, in brief, I will attempt to help you start answering that question.
There are a handful of things that make up a balanced life and it is founded in millions of years of our existence. Fortunately, we have a record of our history and we are aware of the basic motives we share in common- for the most part. In order to know how to live a balanced life we need to ascertain what our basic needs are, and identify the ways in which we can try to meet them. Part of knowing these needs in a generic sense is down to getting educated about it, and part of it is down to knowing yourself.
Unsurprisingly, the first thing we need is to sustain ourselves through eating. I grew up hearing that “you are what you eat.” What do we know about food and diet? Surprisingly, we actually don’t know much. At least we don’t know what the best foods are definitively- for overall health. Some specialists suggest that the ideal diet would vary from person to person based on their unique nutritional needs and possibly their genetic make up relative to the region of the earth they originate from. They hold that the best foods to eat are the ones that are locally produced because it corresponds with the climate. What we do know is that unprocessed foods are better than processed foods. Over-eating is considered unhealthy. Excessive intake of sugar is similarly considered unhealthy. Sufficient hydration is vital to good health and must include pure water on a daily basis. Much more than that isn’t known. For example, being a vegetarian isn’t necessarily good for everyone. Eating red meat might be very healthy for most people but not for all. Fruits and vegetables are generally healthy but in excess might actually be detrimental to people who originate from a lineage where the diet didn’t include much of that. In other words, as a generic balance, eat mostly unprocessed foods, don’t over eat and drink enough water. A balanced life must include a balanced diet. Put simply, when presented with a donut or an apple, choose the apple 🙂
Sleep disorders are very common and is a direct determiner of various health problems. People are not all the same and don’t require the same amounts of sleep. However, on average a young adult should try to get at least eight hours of sleep. Older people tend to need less hours of sleep. At a minimum six hours of sleep on average could be enough. Sleeping at night is much more revitalising than sleeping during the day, because our bio rhythm is set to work with our natural environment. There’s a common saying that sums all this up, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Exercise is also an extremely vital part of good health and of living a balanced life. In our natural inhabitat, outside of this modern jungle, we typically wouldn’t have needed to put time aside to exercise. Recall that man needed to walk long distances, and engaged in many physical activities requiring him to lift heavy things, run, jump, swim and fight. Survival often depended on people’s physical abilities. These days we get in and out of cars, and many of us have office jobs where we sit for eight hours a day and then go on to sit at home. Hence, our generation must make a conscious effort to exercise. At a minimum, twenty minutes of high intensity cardio vascular exercises can maintain- at the very least- a good functioning heart. The heart, after all, is a muscle and without exercise it becomes lazy and grows tired. By increasing your heart rate- within a safe range- on a daily basis you are maintaining it.
Most people need to work in order to bring home an income for their families. Since work is an obligation, many people aren’t in a position to choose their ideal job or career. Most people often have to take what they can get. Unfortunately, many people are under a lot of pressure and are overworked. They often earn less than they need to sustain their lifestyles and end up compromising their health for their jobs. In order to maintain a balanced life you will need to learn to switch off from the job when you’re not on the job. One way to do this is to complete your work at work. Never bring work home. If you work from home, set a special place for you to work. When you leave that place, be it a room or a corner in your house, you should know that you are done working. Also, if work is consuming more than eight or ten hours of your day, consider the possibility of living a simpler life so that you can reduce your expenses. A simpler life is often a better life. When you work, work hard. Use your time wisely at work and do as much as you can. Then when you leave work focus your attention on playing- doing things that you love, and spending time with people you love.
Doing nothing is doing something. We all need time out from a busy day. Make sure you take time out to relax, hangout with family and friends and enjoy the simple things in life. Go for a walk in the sun and have a good conversation. Time out is important for productivity. When you go to the gym after you’ve rested, you often make better gains. When you go to work after you had a good night’s rest, you often accomplish more. The time you set aside to relax should be taken seriously. Strictly guard your free time by keeping it free. Do not schedule activities in your free time. Have at least two hours as unscheduled time in which you can relax and read a book, go for a walk or hang with friends.
Finally, in order to have a balanced life you need an anchor. For some people that anchor is a life goal that they work towards. For others it is a religious theme they live by. People need to be part of a grander purpose that is beyond themselves and the mandanities of life. In other words, we all need a direction that we are working towards. We all need the big thing that helps orientate the little things in our lives. Eating properly, sleeping enough, working and playing needs to come together for a grander purpose. What is that purpose? Why are you here? What do you bring to this world? My own motto is that wherever I go and whatever I do, I must strive to leave a place better than it was- or at least not worse than it is. Your grand narrative, your grand purpose, your life’s mission, will suitably narrow down the variables in your life and you will know- by your purpose- how to choose. Having many options is often the reality of a person who hasn’t taken a step in his or her own life. The minute you decide, your choices become restricted. Do you really want unlimited choice, or would you rather be faced with two things?