(8 minute read)
This post is the third and final post in a three-part series I’ve written called The ABCs of Self-Development. If you haven’t read the first two posts in the series, I recommend doing so before continuing. You can read the first post here and the second post here.
Having been a student of personal development and other related fields for the past 15 years, I’ve been exposed to a massive amount of ideas. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the best way to organize this information in order to make sense of it all.
To that end, I’ve identified three distinct categories into which most life advice/wisdom might be sorted. It’s a simple framework and is still under construction. But there does seem to be something to it. At the very least, organizing information helps your brain remember it more efficiently and effectively.
The Many Different Expressions of This Principle
This category is a bit harder to describe than the previous two, partly because it’s so ubiquitous (how do you explain water to a fish?) In a nutshell, it has to do with balancing opposing forces in order to establish harmony. It is characterized by equilibrium but also by paradox. In many ways, it is axiomatic because it describes how the world is ordered and the natural rhythm of life. It’s the philosophy represented by the Yin Yang symbol.
Here are a few examples of the equilibrium aspect of this principle:
Self-development is largely about balancing the different aspects of your personality. You do this either by cultivating the underdeveloped aspects of your personality or tempering the overdeveloped ones. For example, if you’re lazy by nature, striving to cultivate a stronger work ethic will help counterbalance your lack of industriousness. If you are highly disagreeable and abrasive, practicing emotional intelligence and developing people skills will help smooth out your rough edges.
Harmonious relationships occur when people who balance each other out come together. If you are an overly neurotic person, a friend who is more emotionally stable will help counterbalance your neuroticism. If you are introverted, you’re likely to choose a more extroverted romantic partner, and vice versa.
Who we are is the result of the interplay between two opposing forces: nature and nurture (intrinsic and extrinsic factors).
The creation of life itself occurs through the union of two opposing energies: masculine and feminine.
The way our brain operates is by balancing two primary systems: Emotion and reason. Although they seem to work at cross purposes, they are, in fact, two sides of the same coin and balance each other out. Both are necessary for optimal brain functioning.
A functioning society is a result of a well-balanced political system. The bi-partisan political system in the West, although not perfect, balances two different ways of thinking about the world. Broadly speaking, the political Left is concerned with challenging and changing current social structures, especially those that put certain groups at a disadvantage. The political Right, on the other hand, is concerned with maintaining social structures and institutions, especially those which they believe will cause undue disorder or chaos in society if disrupted. Both are necessary to maintain a functioning society. A country whose political Left remains unchallenged would become unstable and chaotic, since order could never be established. A country whose political Right is left unchecked would eventually become stagnant and corrupt due to an unwillingness to change and adapt.
Cultivating physical health is largely a matter of maintaining balance (homeostasis) between different systems in the body, which can be achieved by the proper balance of diet and lifestyle.
Here are a few examples of the paradoxical aspect of maintaining balance:
The idea that challenges help us grow is paradoxical but profoundly true. The very thing standing in your way is actually the key to moving forward. The idea shows up repeatedly in psychology. Take exposure therapy, for example: It’s a behavior therapy used for treating anxiety disorders where patients are exposed to the source of their anxiety and become more courageous as a result. The “darkness” of the unknown is balanced with the “light” of awareness. Other ways of phrasing this: The obstacle is the way. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Every adversity carries with it the seed of success. Face your fears.
What you resist, persists. What you accept, you transcend. This is one of the oldest spiritual principles put forth by Taoism, Buddhism and modern teachers like Eckhart Tolle. Water is the symbolic representation of this principle. It doesn’t resist things, it goes around them. Yet its unbelievable power shaped the Grand Canyon. This idea is sometimes also represented in fiction. The Devil’s Snare in Harry Potter is a magical plant that constricts and strangles anything that touches it. Struggling or resisting when in the grip of Devil's Snare only causes the plant to constrict even tighter. Only when you relax, will it release you.
In order to get to where you want to go, you must first accept where you are. In other words, balance your attachment to the outcome with appreciation of the process. Or, you can think of it as balancing your desire for a future event with gratitude for the present moment. Giving too much significance to the outcome and not enough to the process traps you in an endless cycle of unfulfilling achievements. When you are less attached to the outcome, things tend to work out in your favor more frequently. Andy Warhol pointed to this principle when he quipped: “As soon as you stop wanting something, you get it.”
Creating your reality begins with the understanding that your outer world is a reflection of your inner world. As above, so below. What you put out is what you get back. Attract what you want by being what you want. All of these axioms (and others like them) point toward the same principle. Eckhart Tolle expresses this concept beautifully when he says: “If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” Spiritual leader Marianne Williamson also points to this idea: “Ego says: Once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace. Spirit says: Once I feel peace, everything will fall into place.”
What are your thoughts?
Where else do you see this principle, “Maintain balance” show up? Are these categories helpful? Do they make it easier to conceptualize and understand the different kinds of advice out there? Or do they confuse you even more? Let me know in the comments below!
Ruben Chavez is a writer, personal development educator, and host of The Think Grow Podcast. He has created a community of over 3 million readers across his collective platforms, including his popular Instagram page ThinkGrowProsper. Along with this blog, these platforms are his way of inspiring and connecting with thoughtful, creative, and ambitious people just like you.