Why a “Balanced” Lifestyle is the Last Thing You Want if You Want to be Successful

by Alexander Heyne · 12 comments

USDA Food Pyramid Balance

About a year ago I decided to say “I quit” to a balanced life.  It wasn’t getting me where I wanted, and I realized, balance probably isn’t getting you anywhere either.

Because balance never got anyone anywhere.

We have a culture that claims that balance is the way to a long life, to success, and to a harmonious home life.

But is balance really the right word? And does it carry the right connotation?

That USDA pyramid to the right is supposedly a “balanced diet.”  Yet anyone who has read the research knows that you’ll be deader than my great grandma in no time eating a diet like that.

I once asked a nutritionist how much soda is it okay for people to drink, thinking she’d obviously say “get it out of your life and you’ll be better off”. Instead, she said “everything in moderation.”  But the truth is that some things are better than others. And some things are worth getting rid of entirely, like the idea of balance.

Now, I realized the nutritionist was probably giving me an ass-covering answer, and that’s fine, but this idea of balance is so perversive in modern society that it needs to be addressed.

And I firmly believe that the ridiculous concept of balance is holding you back from getting what you deserve in life.

Balance is overrated


The reason I say that balance is overrated and that you should oust it from your life is that I was a victim of the balance craze my entire life.

I read a lot of Buddhist and Taoist works since I was a child, meditated for 10 years, and fell prey to the “balance is da bomb” assumption.

I thought that I shouldn’t work more than a 9-5, so I had my free time.  I thought that I shouldn’t do cross fit because it was too stressful on the body.  I thought that I should eat a balanced diet based on the USDA food pyramid.

And what happened? In my work I got nowhere, I was only working for other people.

In the gym, I lifted weights for 5 years and still looked the same year after year – like most others in the gym.

I started having digestive problems and then when I saw the nutritionist she said “I don’t know, you’re eating a perfectly balanced diet, this is really puzzling.”

And so I told balance politely, but firmly, to piss off and never return.

Balance and your success

The hairy thing about balance is that we assume it’s supposed to be a principle that underlies everything we do in life.

Don’t ever work overtime. Don’t workout too hard at the gym.  Eat a little bit of everything to be healthy. We assume it’s a prerequisite for success.  It’s not.

But has anyone ever told you the “How come?” part of the equation?

If you work overtime what happens? … You have less free time.  Does that mean you’re not balanced? Not if you are enjoying your work.

Right now I work 8:30-6:30 most days and then come home, eat dinner, and work on other start-up projects until I sleep around midnight.  Then wake up at 7 to do it again, 7 days a week.

But am I unbalanced?  Nope, because by and large I’m enjoying the work I’m doing, despite the fact I’m working 14 hours a day.

Balance is entirely in your head.

In the gym if you push yourself hard what happens?  Done correctly, muscular growth.  Done incorrectly, injury. But doing a “balanced workout” never produced someone with an incredible physique.

And the balanced diet. People love using the balanced diet as a cop-out for really answering the question of what to eat and what not to eat, because there actually are things you will live longer by living without.

Alas, beyond the aforementioned examples of balance, there is one huge reason why you should avoid it.  Balance never produced anything or anyone special, unique, or exceptional.

True vehicles of high achievement

Balance never produced Mozart, Tiger Woods, or Donald Trump.

Balance is boring, unexceptional, and mundane. And expected.  The 99% live balanced, predictable, ordinary lives.

One thing is for sure: there is going to be an ever-increasing number of people on earth, and the only guarantee for you and I is that it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder to stand out.

Quit balance. Find the extremes, and stand out.

In addition to balance never producing greatness, there are a couple other ways it hinders your achievement:

  • Balance prevents you from doing what it takes (*no matter what*) to get what you want
  • Balance is a psychological barrier that tells you to quit even when you are ahead, in the interests of being “balanced”
  • Balance is a subjective concept, whose standards change from person to person
  • Balance is not conducive to change, learning, or growth,  because you’re, well, already balanced
There is, however, one underlying reason why I want you to never live a balanced life again. If you choose to skim this whole post, don’t miss the last section.
Imbalance is the natural, required, and desired impetus for growth, change, and greatness.

Bros before hoes & the growth kicker

If I could sum all of this stuff up in one sentence, it would be this: balance is not conducive to change or growth.

If you begin feeling comfortable in life you should be terrified.

You have to fall down and scrape your knees while learning to bike before you attain balance and can ride smoothly.

And you have to stumble around like a drunkard with vertigo while learning to walk as a child.

But what happens once you do attain balance as a child who learns to walk?  You stop improving.

So what do you do next? You either stay the same or you begin learning once again by running.

Balance is the single most insidious idea that has found its way into our new-age information prone brains.  Only through imbalance can you improve. Imbalance is the stimulus for growth.

The avoidance of being balanced, comfortable, and settled are the key attributes of getting truly exceptional at anything.

And only through being imbalanced can you learn to do big things with your time on earth.

Greatness was never achieved through balance — so stamp that shit on your wall as a reminder.

 

 

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiela October 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Interesting that you use yourself as an example of how imbalance is preferable to balance, and then point out that actually you’re not imbalanced at all because you ENJOY WHAT YOU DO! Isn’t that the whole point? There’s joy in balance. Imbalance HURTS! I know, I know… There’s that widely held belief that “no pain, no gain.” So we tell ourselves that if we’re in pain, we must be doing something right, and if we’re in joy/balance, then something’s wrong! Basically, there are two ways to live: one is in grace and ease; the other is in suffering/imbalance. It’s a choice.

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afheyne October 22, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Agree that balance is definitely subjective, and I’m not really a take or leave it person with “no pain, no gain.” Sometimes I don’t think it fits, sometimes I think it’s perfect, so I’m not the best role model for that statement.

Yeah you make a good point regarding the definitions of balance though, that’s probably where we are not connecting. I think balance falls along the spectrum like Yin/Yang, there isn’t really an ideal amount of Yin/Yang as far as i know, it’s just that they balance each other out, and they are fluidly changing constantly along that spectrum.

But no, I’m not exactly enjoying what I do. Right now I work more than 14 hours a day and I’ve spent more days stressing myself into feeling sick than I can remember in recent history. However it’s part of that eat bitter thing the Chinese say a lot.

But eating bitter is totally useless if it’s just for the sake of eating bitter. Workaholics for example have been tested and repeatedly show that they just work to stay busy. A reduction of 25% in their hours actually improved work done.

Lots of things to consider, but I firmly have come to believe in recent years that balance is not an ideal state to strive for at all. Neither is imbalance, but there’s is some kind of state inbetween that involves favorable chaos and growth.

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Jeff Chen October 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm

achievement comes in many different flavors… finding true balance is in and of itself a great achievement too.

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Afheyne October 23, 2011 at 8:24 pm

True that man, there has to be a feeling of being balanced, I think. More importance should be put on that subjective feeling than some objection notion of what’s balanced.

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Andrew McAuley December 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm

An excellent article, and site – having just gone through a period of rapid self development many of your articles mirror what I have found.

I think you’re too focused on the idea of balance being static and, no better word comes to mind, unproductive. Rather I would argue that balance in the form of say, inner peace, enables the best of you when doubts and fears could otherwise hinder you. It helps to think of balance as cyclical – I can test against an extreme, succeed and then I am better prepared for the next, from confidence or knowledge gained. The balance would then have changed, yes, but it would still be a balance it’s not necessarily good or bad – it just is.
Ultimately I think that balance is neither good or bad. That being said, failing to test the boundaries is probably *the* reason normal people stay normal… because they’re internally imbalanced with doubts and fears haha

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afheyne December 3, 2011 at 11:23 am

Andrew,

Yeah my stance on balance here is a bit polarized (deliberately that way). And I agree that balance in the form of peace of mind or feeling content is the best form of balance.

If you look at the Yin Yang it is never perfectly balanced, the Yin Yang is perfectly balanced, but not the individual Yin and Yang pieces. I totally agree that the degree of balance changes and morphs through time, taking a new shape.

For me, this post sought to prey on what society views as a balance lifestyle – one clear cut definition. 8 hours sleep, 9 hours work, 7 hours free time. We think “all things in moderation” or “don’t exert yourself too hard” or a myriad of other limiting things.

Those same authorities that tell us “all things in balance” fail to recognize that the greatest of the great was never achieved via balance. Playing violin 16 hours a day is not balanced, I don’t care who you talk to. But some of the greats have done it.

And I’m with you 100% on why people remain normal – they fail to test the boundaries. It’s incredible how fast you can evolve in just a year of constantly pushing the boundaries (it’s like spending 10 years learning).

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with being normal. But I try to poke people in the direction of greatness as best I can, because it makes like an adventure —

Thanks for stopping by —

Alex

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Carol Beaumont August 21, 2013 at 6:37 am

Spent my cycle into town this morning contemplating this piece, trying (and failing) to practice a bit of mindfulness while travelling through the park and mulling over various decisions I need to make today. Did I clock up one of Alexander Heyne’s 14 hours? I’d like to think so.

I imagine his 14 hour days aren’t spent bashing away at a keyboard ‘producing’ stuff. I reckon they include a lot of conversations, reading, networking, musing and reflecting.

Remaining alert to ideas, opportunities and connections that are interesting and relevant to your work for 14 hours a day is something that’s attainable for most people who have an enquiring mind and a passion for what they do.

But are most people in a ‘9-5′ made to feel like that’s work? I don’t think so. The real challenge for employers is to cultivate the kind of ‘always on’ mentality that doesn’t confuse presenteeism with productivity or reward 11pm replies to unnecessary emails, but positively encourages and recognises people who have other interests that enrich their ‘day job’. Then perhaps less people would feel so stultified and limited by their working environment and find their own balance, whatever that looks and feels likes for them.

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Alexander Heyne August 21, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hey Carol,

You’re absolutely right. There are big issues with the whole 9-5 concept of productivity. I think we’re seeing a change though, closer towards the stuff you’re talking about. More and more organizations have work at home agreements (like mine), many companies (esp. startups) are having ROWE (results only work environments), and bosses (thank god) are getting more evolved that time does not equal results… and we all work differently.

The funny thing is this – I don’t really agree with this post anymore that I wrote. 14 hour days don’t lead to success any more than 6 hour days. The time invested isn’t the main thing we should be paying attention to.

Cheers
Alex

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Caroline Beaumont August 21, 2013 at 10:57 am

Thanks for your further thoughts Alex…I’m based on London and work mainly with UK non-profits…would love to hear from anyone who has experiences of ROWE in effect in NGOs.

rachel March 20, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Oh whatever. You want to talk about going balls to the wall or something and that nobody can do something “balanced” – you’re just working out your own bullshit there. I’m absolutlely certain there are about a million examples of people who built up slowly while allowing time for kids or school or other responsibilities. Just because you lost focus while doing it that way doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
I used to stress so hard with your line of thinking – that there was one way to “achieve” and it’d require me to burn the candle at both ends and if I’d get too anxious, stressed out, or disturbed by going about it that way, then there was something wrong with me. No, I just needed to slow down a little, take stock of my surroundings, stop taking on more than I could and be SMART about the way I was going forward.
Honest, it’s more about Strategy than it has to do with going full throttle.

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Alexander Heyne August 21, 2013 at 11:50 am

Hey Carol,

It’s not always easy to find a ROWE job, but they’re becoming more common. I also don’t know if the UK or Europe has caught on, but if you look I’ll bet you can find one.

Does your non profit have a work at home policy?

– Alex

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Caroline Beaumont August 21, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Yes they’re pretty common in the sector over here, but I don’t think that alone produces a more results oriented culture. Or encourages a healthier outlook on what ‘work is’…so if anyone out there has experience of non-profits doing interesting things in this regard, I would love to hear them.

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