Better Balance: The Economics of Personal Resources

By | March 19, 2016

There is no shortage of stimulation at present. If you want to be engaged and entertained by someone or something, it’s all available to you in about any way you want it. No one is forced to deal with quiet or boredom anymore (or some might say “has the privilege of” quiet or boredom anymore). Yet there can be too much of a good thing. To be fair, there are economies of scale (making something cheaper and easier when doing it in large quantities), but there are also diminishing returns (getting less value out of each additional unit of something). Our goal in life is to maximize value. Utility. Happiness. Finding that sweet spot on the curve isn’t about always getting more, it’s about getting just the right amount. How do we find that right amount, and how do we maximize our own resources to give as much to others as we can while still maintaining our own balance in life?

You know, it’s funny how things work out in life. You spend so long chasing something because there was so little of it. And then, all the sudden, you wake up one day and realize that somehow the something you were chasing has quietly grown and spread to the point that it’s now actually difficult to escape from even if you wanted to. Then again, maybe it didn’t happen all that quietly. Maybe we were just so locked into our quest that we failed to notice it right under our noses. Perhaps the chase, or other social distractions, drew a fog over our eyes that we were unable to see what was actually transpiring.

When I was a kid, I was always chasing fun and entertainment. I constantly drove my parents nuts with my obnoxious cries of “I’m boooorrrred! I’m so bored!” This was especially true on lazy summer days when I didn’t have the structure of school to fill my time (which I was very thankful for back then, by the way). There were cartoons on Saturday morning and in the afternoons on weekdays for maybe two hours, but what after that? Daytime TV sucked. When you got tired of feeling like the couch was growing onto your ass, you went outside for a while. Nothing to do. Just a stupid yard with a stupid porch and a stupid garage. I’m tired of riding my bike. I just rollerbladed yesterday. I’m so bored!

Perhaps my childhood self would love my life today. I have smart TVs (plural), a smart phone, a laptop, and 24/7 access to…”The Internet.” Bring up that concept of the Internet to my ten-year-old version of me, and he probably would have peed himself with excitement so intense he’d forget to be embarrassed standing in front of you with urine all over his shorts. He would never be bored again! He could watch any show, movie, or YouTube video he wanted, all day, every day. He could talk to any friend he wanted at any time via phone, Skype, IM, text, email, or FaceTime. He could play video games all day long without bothering anyone who wanted to watch “regular TV” because there would be multiple TVs not to mention the computers and phones and tablets to play them on as well. Life would be amazing!

I sometimes sit and wonder what today’s children will think about twenty years from now. Will they ever remember being bored? Will they get bored of all the technological stimulation the way I got bored of my bike and rollerblades? Hard to say now, of course, but I tend to think they’ll have different memories and different “issues” if you want to call them that. Maybe they’ll remember longing for occasional quiet or wonder what it would have been like to ride their bike outside all day long, not knowing what time it was or what was on TV or what happened online that day. Maybe they’ll feel burned out from the constant stimulation, the constant requests and requirements of their ever busier and more stimulated youth. Will they be somewhat stunted due to lack of “boredom,” or as I now think of it, “introspective, daydreaming time?”

I love the fact that humans have such amazing intelligence to literally alter their own environment and create their own paths to a new future. Our potential is astounding. We might actually colonize freaking Mars someday soon, for crying out loud! But as we’ve all heard, with great power comes great responsibility. We have been really good at creating the power part, but being responsible is rarely our strongest suit. Of course, this makes sense. Even when we were children, being “responsible” was another “boring” thing prevented us from attaining ultimate awesomeness! Ain’t nobody got time for dat!

The frustrating part for me is that all this progress is usually created with the goal of improving the standard of living. Making things easier. Making life happier. And don’t get me wrong, this is way better than living hundreds of years ago and wondering if I might catch the plague or drop dead from drinking city water that was filthy with parasites. I believe we can do better, though.

Instead of using our technology as a way to increase leisure time, get a little more done in the same amount, or even less, time, it’s become an excuse stealer. The word “enabler” might be more appropriate, but my brain was really tickled when it thought up “excuse stealer” for some reason. No one has an excuse anymore for not answering that work email during the evening. No one has an excuse for not communicating with everyone they know every day. No one has an excuse for not responding to a text within ten minutes of receiving it. We can do almost anything today, and that’s become our expectation of ourselves. We are doing more, but are we doing better?

There is a big difference between working harder and working smarter. There is a big difference between experiencing more things (taking pictures of them and building a big folder of them on Facebook to show the world you checked it off your list) and really EXPERIENCING something, taking it all in, engaging with it, and burning it into your memory so vividly that there is no need for photos (though they still are fun to share with friends later). There’s a big difference between increasing the breadth of our friendships and increasing the depth of our friendships. There is a big difference between information and wisdom. One of my favorite professors told our class that last line back in 2003; there probably wasn’t 10% as much “information” readily available to us back then as there is now. The information/wisdom ratio is falling to ugly proportions.

So what do we do about it all? What do we do in a world that enables so much but then just expects that much more in return? How do we find balance? How do we find happiness? How do we say “No?” Or should we even say “No?”

Every problem brings about an opportunity. The two are very complimentary in nature. Everyone is aware of this information overload society now to some degree, and there is no shortage of “answers” out there. You can find tips on everything from meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness activities to massage, acupuncture, and detoxification regimens all the way to self-help books, seminars, and classes (and yes, my writing here is a part of that for sure). All those things can be amazingly helpful too…if you know how to apply them and get the most “bang for your buck,” so to speak. There isn’t enough time in the day to do them all, and there’s still a lot of livin’ to do in between!

One of my friends and readers dropped a great quote recently on this topic. It’s the Zig Ziglar that reminds us “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” I still think it’s very possible to live a balanced life today, even with all the craziness going on around us, it just requires a little more conscious effort than it ever did before. When I was a kid during those lazy summer days lying in the grass watching clouds, being so “bored” at the time, I didn’t have to put down “meditation” or “relaxation” or “introspection” into my Outlook calendar. I got it every day! In fact, I sometimes sit and think about what that was like as a child, and it’s shocking to remember the feeling of just lying there, staring at the wall, and thinking about total randomness for a while, completely untethered by assignments. It seemed “boring” then, but we forget how important that time can be.

Of course, there are two different ways to balance this equation life resources equation. You can budget your “costs” better. In life terms this would mean reducing your schedule, saying “No” to people, and generally trying not to overextend yourself. I do believe there is value in us doing more of this today. I think we have forgotten how to say “No” for fear of letting others down. But what’s worse is overextending yourself and not having the gas to do a good job. To constantly half-ass things and go through the motions like a zombie makes for a poor life experience, for both you and those around you. You have to be in touch with yourself, know your limits, and know what things pick you up and what drain you. Understanding this side of the equation is definitely part of making a better life.

That said, though, there is a limit to how much you can work the “cost” side of the equation. You can’t cut down to zero. There are always things you have to do. Even if you cut out all the superfluous extras, you still need to eat, sleep, earn a living, maintain your home, and give a little love to family and friends. Anyone who’s ever run a successful business knows that while being responsible with costs is prudent and keeps the lights on, finding new ways to exponentially increase revenue is where you can truly make quantum leaps forward.

How do we make these quantum leaps? How do we accomplish more in the same amount of time? Again, there is no shortage of information out there on time management skills, life hacks, tips, tricks, etc. I wouldn’t be adding much value rehashing all that; I trust you can do your own Google search. I want to simply give you things from my own personal experience that I think expand the realm of what’s possible, and they do so in an organic way, not by running beyond capacity till you crash, artificially propping yourself up with external stimulants, or using smoke and mirrors to make it seem that you’re getting all these things done until the house of cards collapses later.

Let’s get back to basic fundamentals…and physics. How do you do more work? Why, you add more energy, of course! So part one is to improve your energy balance to have more to give. Energy, however, means nothing if you’re not motivated to use it. So part two is increasing motivation.

Part one is the easier, more obvious one to explain but sometimes harder to implement. Part one is about making lifestyle changing that improve our energy flows. Part one is about most of the other posts that I write in this blog. Our modern life, amazing as it is, does us little good in the energy game. Everything about modern life, our indoor time, our fake light, our technology pollution, and our constantly stressful expectations, drains our energy stores faster than any time in human history.

Likewise, we’re missing out on our most important energy resource, sunlight, by spending all that time indoors, making our other energy source, food, so much more important. This is leaving those of us eating “crap” diets of sugar and processed food in very bad energy balance situations, and those of us trying to go back to more organic, healthy diets better than we would be but still struggling with chronic illness, fatigue, and autoimmune problems, not to mention sleep issues which perpetuate the problem.

It’s very important to balance energy levels organically. It would be wise not to underestimate this concept. We can get along artificially (caffeine, sugar, “energy drinks,” etc.) for a while, sometimes even years, but we will eventually crash, and we’ll be limiting our potential along the way. The only tried and true method throughout billions of years of evolution is mother nature. We require clean, organic food, water, and sunlight. If we make that a priority, we will find we become more resilient to life’s challenges.

Part two is actually easier to implement, but may seem rather contrarian and counterintuitive. This is, however, where I feel I may have a new and novel piece of wisdom that could do wonders for improving one’s own economics of life resources:

I believe it is vitally important to take care of yourself first and prioritize at least one passion of yours above and beyond everything else, or anyone else, in life, even if that passion doesn’t necessarily add any “value” to the greater society in terms of real economic output or monetary value.

Now, to be fair, there are going to be some limitations here. If you are a parent of young children, for example, they are completely dependent upon you for survival, and it is your sole responsibility to care for them and raise them. You main not be able to fully implement my idea here, but it’s still possible to implement a mini version when time allows.

That point aside, I expect some other heat over this idea in general. Many of you are thinking “How selfish? Shouldn’t you put others ahead of you?” And perhaps many more are thinking “That’s silly and irresponsible. Why would your first and most important priority be something that’s just a ‘passion’ or a ‘hobby’ or silly goof off time when there are important things to do?”

I know it seems backwards, but think of it this way. How many times have we all had to drag ourselves through a monotonous day of checklist items or responsibilities at work where time seemed to crawl? And when you get to the end of the day, do you ever feel like you “didn’t get anything done today” or that you really did two hours of work within an eight-hour day? Did you ever make mistakes because you weren’t focused or were too tired to have total awareness and be present in the moment?

No go back and think about one of those days where you decided to just do something you really freaking loved doing. It was something with a purpose, but also something that was a true passion of yours where you were totally lost in the moment, completely in flow, oblivious to time passing, and when it was done, and done well, you felt like you could conquer the world? Didn’t everything else seem effortless the rest of the day thereafter?

For me those such days involve things like learning a new song on my guitar, working on my golf swing, or writing one of these blog posts. On the days where I prioritize an item like that first, and I have a great driving range session or nail a new song or write a post that I truly find creative, funny, or helpful to other people who read it, I get such a natural dopamine high (nature’s ultimate motivator) that everything else is a breeze. I feel wealthy inside with happiness and energy, so I feel more apt to give to others and help them. I don’t mind doing all my errands and chores because I already got my piece of the proverbial pie that day.

The other side of the coin here are those days where you do nothing but your errands, your “day job,” and things for other people. And yes, I know, helping other people is great and can be very fulfilling as well. However, when you go through days like these without tending to yourself and your passion, eventually you run on empty, and you start to resent everyone else. You start to feel like all you ever do is help them. It’s an ego thing, really, back to psychology. Your inner child wants to play, damnit, because it’s selfish, and when you’re out there running about, doing the noble thing for everyone else, you’re pissing off your inner child who’s sitting in the “backseat” of your mind yelling “when do we get to go to the park?!”

I think most of us think that inner child is wrong and needs to be suppressed. Perhaps the inner child can be managed and harnessed, through things like meditation and other mindfulness work, but it can’t be eliminated. We need to express ourselves creatively. We need to do things that matter to us. We need to feel like we have a purpose in this life. Otherwise it all becomes drudgery, and we become resentful and eventually angry or depressed.

Let’s go back to the math equation. Say you have five things to do on your “checklist,” and they each normally take an hour each to finish. On good days they take a little less, on bad days a little more, but on average an hour. And maybe you didn’t sleep well. Maybe three of those things on your list are for your boss and the other two are for your spouse (none for you). You didn’t eat well this morning, and you’re getting irritable. “Why does my boss even need this done today?” you think to yourself. “And why am I bothering to go to the store for my wife/husband when she/he probably won’t even use the dumb thing I’m buying?” Maybe you get those things done in five hours. Maybe it takes six…seven? And you’re feeling nothing but resentment at the end of the day because life isn’t fair and you never get to do what you want to do.

Now imagine that before you start the list, you do something for yourself for an hour. Maybe you read a few book chapters. Maybe you go to the gym. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you take a nap! And then that energy boost and dopamine high give you a kick of motivation. You’re not resenting anyone because you stepped out of the victim role by taking time for yourself, and now you can happily focus on helping others. And you get everything done in about two hours with two extra to spare, either for more “passion time” for you…or maybe even “passion time” with your spouse or significant other?

I challenge you to try it this way. I know from my own experiences lately that it works. And if you want to take it to the next level, try a little introspection activity. Instead of just playing an hour of guitar or reading a few chapters of a book, think bigger. What is your passion and purpose in your life? Maybe you’re in the wrong job entirely? Maybe instead of finding that extra hour of “me” time, you find a way to replace eight or ten hours with something you were meant to do, something that is both work but also passion, that expresses your creativity AND adds multitudes of positive value to society. We could all strive for such a thing.

I hope you enjoyed the post. More importantly, I hope it inspired you, motivated you, and helped you in your path to find balance in this life. If so, please share with your friends using one of the buttons below. And if you have any experiences or insight of your own, please comment below. Or even if you don’t, just comment anyway! Growth comes from within us, but we can all use a little help along the way.

10 thoughts on “Better Balance: The Economics of Personal Resources

  1. Brett Bloemendaal

    Thanks, Jon! Actually, that's not entirely inaccurate either. I attended the Renaissance festival in Shakopee, Minnesota, once as a child. I got a sweet wax replica of my hand and a caricature drawing of my brother and I that showed off my kid mullet before I even knew what a mullet was. I wonder where that drawing is these days…probably in a mullet museum.

  2. Kale Halder

    Upon reading the first paragraph, I knew exactly where you were going with this post. 🙂
    That said, I completely and totally agree with absolutely everything, pretty much. the key is finding and maintaining that balance. So many times I feel behind at work because I've been focusing on things requiring my attention outside of work, but then many times the opposite happens. As I get behind at work, then I realize I need to switch focus…while then the other stuff starts to slide. Maybe THAT'S balance?? I don't think I've EVER felt a moment that feels like absolutely everything in my life is in sync and in balance. Obviously the life lesson here is learning to juggle everything reasonably.

    COMPLETELY agree on the section about taking care of yourself. I'm a very firm believer this. So many days I've felt pissy or grumpy because I've gotten the unfair end of the stick…running errands for others, doing chores, etc. and not having time to do what I want to. It's extremely important to be selfish once in awhile to focus on your own passions. that keeps you sharp and better able to help and server others.

    Lastly in regards to your thoughts on technology and being glued to our phones, I think you hit the nail on the head there too. I'd like to suggest the book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. This is from the TED Talk series, and this book can be read in one sitting…very succinct and to the point. But it is about disconnecting, and the importance of taking time out for nothing. Shut your phone off, email, etc., turn off the TV, and just enjoy being in the moment and nature around you. I'd highly recommend it!

  3. Brett Bloemendaal

    That's a very interesting point, whether balance is going back and forth on which things wind up sliding or if there is some way to literally keep ahead of everything. I guess it also depends on where someone labels the set point of "balanced" to determine what it really means to be overextended. You could say that letting anything slide or missing one thing on your calendar or not meeting one deadline is technically "overextended," or perhaps some amount of missing deadlines and being overextended is "normal" and it's just a matter of calling yourself overextended when you start missing or being late on 10%, 20%, 30% of something. Certainly an interesting discussion point.

    I think it also depends on personality type. For me, as a very perfectionist type and compliant to rules type (at least one half of my ego), I already feel overextended when I miss that first deadline or wind up late to something one time. Maybe I ought to reset my normal set point to where I just expect that to happen a little bit in order to take on more in other areas. Something to ponder.

    I'll have to check out that book too. I've certainly heard of it.

    Thanks for the feedback, Kale!

  4. Kale Halder

    I was simply just throwing out thoughts regarding the "letting some things slide" viewpoint. Completely agree, I'm a perfectionist with OCD, and I despise having to overextend deadlines.

    An example that immediately comes to mind is laundry. I used to be so very diligent about ALWAYS being caught up on laundry…never had more than half a dozen articles in the dirty bin. Yes, I did small loads all the time. But now life seems so busy, sometimes I'm just too tired and say f_ck it, I'm going to bed. Initially, it was very hard…I felt horrible going to bed with a basket full of clean clothes needed folded and put away. But recently, I've gone 3 days or so before finally folding and putting away washed clothes. Ideally, I'd do laundry all in one sitting. But now, "overextending" laundry has pretty much become my norm. So maybe I'm slowly changing?

  5. Brett Bloemendaal

    The mere fact that we're talking about prioritizing laundry is probably a good hint that we definitely have some perfectionist and OCD things going on I would say!

    Nevertheless, I think that brings up another interesting point which is the process by which you can actually lose time by always staying on top of something. I've actually been working on this a lot lately. In your example, in order to stay ahead and not be "late" with laundry, you wind up doing a bunch of different small loads and probably wind up spending more total laundry time than you otherwise would.

    I think a wise thing to do is figuring out why you're doing it so frequently. Is it because you have plenty of everything but only enough, I don't know, say work socks for four days? And then you have to do laundry at least every four days but just because you keep running short on work socks? Could you buy a few more pairs of socks and then do laundry half as often?

    Obviously kind of a silly example, but say you substitute socks for something bigger and more impactful in your life. Are there places where just a little bit of planning and analysis now, up front, could save you more down the road by reducing the frequency of times you have to attend to a certain project?


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