“Only actions give life strength; only moderation gives it charm” -Jean Paul

(Title quote by Jean Paul)

The principle of moderation, or avoiding excess of any kind is part of humanity’s heritage. We are fortunate in that we have been left a number of guiding principles to build our lives on. These universal truths are sometimes called perennial wisdom or the wisdom of the ages. Although they all date back to more than 2,000 years ago, they are as relevant today as they were then. The wise heed these principles, for they are shortcuts to success and happiness. If we adopt them, we will be learning from the successes of our ancestors, rather than from our own disastrous mistakes.

Two of the ancient principles adorned the temple of Apollo at Delphi, which was first built around the seventh century BC. Both inscriptions were succinct: “Know thyself” and “Not too much” (avoid excess). As today’s subject is moderation, let’s take a quick look at how some of the ancient sages specifically taught this principle:

“Throw moderation to the winds and the greatest pleasures bring the greatest pains.” (-Democritus)

“Moderation in all things.” (-Terence)

“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.” (-Marcus Tullius Cicero)

“He will always be a slave who does not know how to live upon a little.” (-Horace)

“The middle way is safest.” (-Ovid)

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.” (-Epictetus)

Not everyone agrees that moderation is a good policy. For example, here are two dissident views:

“Moderation is the feebleness and sloth of the soul, whereas ambition is the warmth and activity of it.” (-Francois de La Rochefoucauld) and “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” (-Oscar Wilde)

However, if we follow the adage “Moderation in all things”, we must also be moderate in our moderation. After all, there are exceptions to every rule. William Lloyd Garrison points out how silly it is to believe we can be moderate in everything we do: “Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a case like the present (political turmoil).” And as Anne Sexton adds, “Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.”

In addition to the dissidents, we also have the ambivalent. For example, Benjamin Disraeli was both for and against moderation. In his argument against it, he said, “Moderation has been called a virtue to limit the ambition of great men, and to console undistinguished people for their want of fortune and their lack of merit.” Yet, he praised it by saying, “Moderation is the center wherein all philosophies, both human and divine, meet.” And he also said, “The choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation.”

The fact that people sometimes disagree with or doubt the value of moderation merely indicates that a balanced view is necessary. This Jewish proverb is an example of balancing moderation: “Don’t be too sweet, or else you will be eaten up; but don’t be too bitter, or else you will be spitted out.” So, moderation is a valuable guiding principle as long as we remain balanced and moderate in its interpretation.

Also, we need to practice moderation in the right things: “Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.” (Thomas Paine). Perhaps the advice to be moderate in all things is a bit vague, so let me sharpen the picture by saying we need to practice moderation in all areas of our lives and follow this by giving some examples.

Example Life Areas in which to Practice Moderation

1. DIET

The problem of obesity in North America has grown alarmingly. Eating in excess results in physical, emotional, and mental health problems. It also adds to the problems of the already overburdened government health care system. For healthier lives and a healthier economy we have to learn to eat in moderation.

The biggest factor for improving health and extending life is by reducing the calories we consume.

The longest average lifespan in the world is found in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. Here, the people eat up to 40 percent fewer calories than Americans, 17 percent fewer calories than the Japanese average, and the caloric intake of Okinawan children is 36 percent below the Japanese Government recommendation.

What is the result of the Okinawans low caloric intake or calorie restriction (CR)?

  • They have the highest percentage of centenarians (people living to be 100 or more)
  • Okinawan seniors are 75% more likely to retain cognitive ability than Americans
  • Get 80% fewer breast and prostate cancers
  • Get 50% fewer ovarian and colon cancers
  • Have 50% fewer hip fractures
  • Have 80% fewer heart attacks

The message is clear, for a longer, healthier life we need to consume fewer calories.

2. Work / Recreation / Family

In the areas of work, play, and family, if we overindulge in one, the others will suffer. Moderation is the key to balancing our lives.

Did you ever feel like a tightrope walker trying to keep your balance as you follow your life path? Pope John Paul II describes the feeling: “Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance.” You see, we take on many roles in life, each of which allows us to express a different dimension of our being. It is these separate roles that need to be balanced. Here are some examples. If you are doing well in your career, but your family is complaining that you’re not spending enough time with them, your life needs balancing. If it is not only your career, but also your body size that is ballooning, your lifestyle needs balancing. Finally, if you get to prove your skill in chess, bridge, or mah-jongg every night, but have no time to fix the leaky faucet, mow the lawn, or clean the garage, your life needs balancing.

There are two main ways to balance life. Since life coexists with time, the first way to balance life is to balance time. To learn how to develop your time management skills, there is no finer book than “The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management” by Hyrum W. Smith. The second way to balance life is by balancing our attitude, perspective, or worldview. And we do that by avoiding extremes and taking the middle path. For instance, extreme political views, whether to the right or left, are divisive, but moderate or centrist views are unifying.

We move ahead in life by setting goals and we live a balanced life by setting goals for all our roles. Let’s start by looking at our major roles in life and follow that by steps we can take to get better balance.

CAREER: provides us with the opportunity to earn income, express our personality, and develop our potential.

FAMILY: provides us with the chance to express love, assume and share responsibility, and contribute to society.

SPIRITUALITY: an opportunity to tap into a power greater than ourselves and a source of inspiration. An appreciation of morality, the arts, wonder, awe, and nature will heighten our awareness of the spiritual dimension.

FRIENDS: an opportunity to practice sharing and caring, as well as baring our soul.

SOLITUDE: quiet time to recharge our batteries, meditate, and make plans. Also, a time to work on improving our emotional and intellectual development. A time set aside to work on self-improvement.

FINANCIAL: here’s where we plan for the purchase of a car, home ownership, family vacations, and a retirement income.

LEISURE: fun and recreation release steam and provide opportunities to socialize and develop new skills.

HEALTH: an important component of mind, body, and spirit balance. Exercise, a proper diet, and sufficient sleep are the ingredients to success in this area.

Now, for some steps you can take to increase the balance in your life.

a) List your various roles and show by percentage how successful you think you are in fulfilling that role. For example, CAREER, 80%; FAMILY, 60%; HEALTH, 40%, and so on. Bringing the present state of imbalance into your awareness is the first step in changing the situation for the better. The areas with the lowest percentage are the areas that need the most work. The areas with the highest percentage show where you are devoting most of your time.

b) Decide how you can divert time from high percentage areas to low percentage areas. As an example, you may want to divert time from your CAREER to your FAMILY. You can do this by eliminating wasted time, developing your time (life) management skills, working more efficiently, and wresting control of your job rather than letting it control you.

c) Whenever possible, perform several roles at once. For example, if your family joins friends for a volleyball game at the park, you can fulfil several roles at once: LEISURE, FAMILY, FRIENDS, HEALTH (exercise), and SPIRITUALITY (by getting in touch with nature and enjoying a sunset in the park). Moreover, if your friends are from work, you would also develop your CAREER role as well.

d) Take control of your life by making deliberate choices. Carefully weigh the costs of living with imbalance. Take corrective action where necessary, and regularly monitor and fine-tune your progress.

e) Remember, we are all unique. It is unreasonable to expect everyone to perfectly balance each role in life. After all, part of our uniqueness lies in how we interpret what roles are the most important to us. Great artists, for example, may be consumed by their craft, spending little time elsewhere. Yes, their lives are imbalanced, but of great value to society. So, the important lesson is not about balancing our lives perfectly, but about balancing them in a manner that best expresses our potential and role on earth.

f) Follow the simple laws of BE, DO, and HAVE. You’ve got to BE self-disciplined to DO the necessary steps to balance your life. And when you do so, you will HAVE balance, peace, and contentment.

g) Here is some good advice taken from “How to Be a Happy Parent…In Spite of Your Children,” written by Fred G. Gosman, “Finding the perfect balance is getting harder and harder. We need to teach our children to be cautious without imparting fear, to learn right from wrong without being judgmental, to be assertive but not pushy, to stick to routines without sacrificing spontaneity, and to be determined but not stubborn.”

What happens if you’re on a plane with your child and oxygen masks suddenly pop in front of both of you? The answer is, put on your mask first, then your child’s. After all, an unconscious parent is no help to a child. Because we can not help others until we help ourselves, it is important to balance our lives. It is only after doing so that we can maximize our contribution to our family, friends, and society. How do you know when your life is balanced? If you can die today, contented with your life, it is balanced!

3. Self-Improvement / Self-Acceptance

We have an innate desire to endlessly learn, grow, and develop. We want to become more than what we already are. Once we yield to this inclination for continuous and never-ending improvement, we lead a life of endless accomplishments and satisfaction. Yet, if we are motivated to change for the wrong reasons, we will end up being unhappy. So, let’s take a look at some mistakes we may make in our quest for endless improvement. Let’s also consider how to balance the desire to change with the need to accept ourselves.

Our motivation for change can be negative or positive. It can be based on dissatisfaction or satisfaction. For example, Jerry is overweight and unhappy about it, so he decides to try to lose weight. But what if he is unsuccessful? Won’t he be unhappy? So, he was unhappy before he tried, unhappy after he failed, and he remains unhappy. Not very positive, is it?

On the other hand, Betty is in relatively good health and happy about life. In fact, she’s enjoying it so much, she wishes to increase her enjoyment. It’s like sipping a cup of tea and thinking, “Wow! This tastes great! I want some more!” She realizes she is a little overweight and believes that if she were to lose a few pounds, she would enjoy life even more than she already does. She is an example of positive motivation in action.

Can you see how negative motivation can pull one down or hold one back? And can you see how positive motivation can pull one forward? It’s like choosing to work with a stick or a carrot, isn’t it? But what if one is, for example, overweight and unhappy? Are they doomed to failure simply because they’re unhappy? No, they’re not, but progress becomes much easier with positive motivation. So, why not change one’s attitude? Jerry, for instance, could shift his focus from his unhappiness of being overweight to his happiness of his many other accomplishments. After all, everyone has many accomplishments. By focusing on them and savoring the pleasure they have brought, we can motivate ourselves to seek even more pleasure than that which we already have. Use positive energy to pull you forward. You can’t push someone up a ladder; they need to be pulled up.

Although there are other wrong approaches and false beliefs that hamper our progress, let’s move on to considering the need to balance our desire to improve ourselves with our need to accept ourselves. Let’s say you are suffering from anxiety, shyness, or self-doubt. If so, your wish to improve the situation is perfectly normal. And you may decide to take an assertiveness course to change things for the better. That’s all fine. But don’t expect perfection. It is unreasonable to expect all your fears to vanish. The purpose of improvements, such as assertiveness training, is to help you cope, not to make you perfect. You have to balance your desire to improve with an acceptance of the limitations imposed upon you by life.

Let’s look at an example. The great, former night show host Johnny Carson always suffered from self-doubt and insecurity. At a party, he would feel uncomfortable mingling with strangers and talking one-on-one. Yet, he learned to cope with his lack of confidence by ACCEPTING it as part of his personality. He performed nightly before large audiences not because he got over his nagging self-doubts, but because he chose to act in spite of them.

Johnny Carson’s weakness was his strong point. His lack of confidence was a great gift, for it caused him to compensate for his feelings of inferiority by becoming an entertainer. His constant fidgeting, twitching, nervous tics, and skittish laughter exposed his vulnerability, and endeared him to all. After all, with all our weaknesses, we could easily identify with him and wanted him to succeed. Also, the fear he experienced before coming on stage caused adrenalin to surge through his veins and resulted in a natural high and bursts of exhilaration as he daily proved to himself that he could entertain others despite his doubts.

We need to follow the Johnny Carson model by accepting who we are and making the most of it. In a world of perfect people, everyone is the same. Everyone is plastic, molded after perfection. Everyone is lifeless. But in the real world, people have imperfections, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. This is what defines people. It gives them personality. It also gives them the opportunity to display great strength and courage by acting despite their fears.

4. Gullibility / Skepticism

If the period of 1650~1800 is known as the Age Of Reason and Enlightenment, what will we call the present age? Isn’t it the Age of Gullibility? Why are we so quick to swallow half-truths, false premises, and outlandish claims? Why are we so credulous, so easily deceived? How did we arrive at the point where we accept ideas with little evidence, with no evidence, or contrary to the evidence? Are you gullible? Be careful, this is a trick question, for if you answered, “No,” you are gullible. You see, it’s gullible to believe you are free from an ailment that inflicts us all. The only difference among us is not the presence or absence of gullibility, but the firmness of its grip on us.

There are others who share this view. For example, in his book “The Courage of Conviction,” comedian, musician, author, and profound thinker Steve Allen had this to say, “No matter how assured we may be about certain aspects of our belief, there are always painful inconsistencies, exceptions, and contradictions. This is true in religion as it is in politics, and is self-evident to all except fanatics and the naive. As for the fanatics, whose number is legion in our own time, we might be advised to leave them to heaven. They will not, unfortunately, do us the same courtesy. They attack us and each other, and whatever their protestations to peaceful intent, the bloody record of history makes clear that they are easily disposed to restore to the sword.”

Yes, we are culpable or guilty of gullibility, and the first step in removing it is to recognize its presence in our lives. It’s easy for us to get sucked into false beliefs because we live in the New Age. The Age of Gullibility and Quackery. Marketeers (some would call them racketeers) misuse our language to deceive us, and we are taken in because we fail to look into the validity of their claims. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

As a teenager, I studied the works of leading hypnotherapists. At that time, hypnotherapists were clinical psychologists who studied and used hypnosis in their practice. But today things are different. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can become ‘certified’ as a ‘hypnotherapist’ if they are willing to pay $1,200 and go to a six-week training course! Never mind that they have no knowledge of psychology, how the mind works, or a deep understanding of hypnosis. They ‘studied’ six weeks, isn’t that enough? The New Age has ushered in franchise systems in which self-proclaimed ‘experts’ get rich by ‘training’ and ‘certifying’ others as therapists, facilitators, consultants, and practitioners.

Do you have any problems? Not to worry, I can heal you. All you need is a little craniosacral therapy, or past life regression, or iridological analysis. Can I really heal you? Well, at $40 ~ 60 an hour, or more, you will certainly be healed of that lump in your wallet or purse!

We can excuse the naïve or too-trusting person that falls for such shams, but what about those with overactive imaginations that fall prey to conspiracy theories or believe in alien abductions, psychics, séances, and other forms of madness? Aren’t they blind men and women stumbling about in a dark cave in search of a black cat that doesn’t exist? When we’re gullible, we stunt our intellectual growth. Instead of climbing mountains of wisdom, we trip over mounds of half-truths, falsehoods, and deception.

Although we speak of the New Age, there is nothing new with humanity’s gullibility and fascination with the bizarre. That’s why Plato taught, “Whatever deceives men seems to produce a magical enchantment.” And nearly 2400 years later, Carl Sagan wrote, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge  even to ourselves  that we’ve been so credulous. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.”

Why are we so gullible? One reason is modern man’s loss of religious faith. That loss creates a vacuum ready to suck in some new form of belief. The eminent British broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge had this to say on the subject, “One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.”

Why are we so gullible? Another reason is we can’t face the truth. We’re too weak to accept the fact that not all of life’s questions have answers. We want stability, security, and answers. And we would rather find what we hope for or already believe in than the truth. We’re willing to sacrifice the truth whenever it makes us feel uncomfortable. But, as Plato taught, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

If we seek the light of truth, we need to strike a balance between scepticism and open-mindedness. Broadmindedness is called for because every new truth is first ridiculed, then opposed, and finally accepted as self-evident. So, we need time to weigh the evidence. Isn’t it true that we can’t make progress unless we arrive at new conclusions? Yet, scepticism is equally important. Each false belief we cling to diverts us from the truth and wastes precious time.

To discover the truth we need to wear the cloak of humility, for we cannot advance until we realize there is much we do not know. Indeed, there is much we cannot know. However, if we accept that there is truth in opposing views and that the truth is shared by all, we can learn a great deal more. Charles Caleb Colton offered this sage advice, “The greatest friend of truth is Time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion is Humility.” The search for truth is never-ending because our understanding of it is ever evolving. That’s why Andre Gide advised, “Believe those who are seeking truth, doubt those who find it.”

5. Possessions

Why do people go to work? Of course we go to survive. That is, we need to earn money to buy food and clothing and pay for shelter. But once our basic needs are met, why do we go to work? Isn’t it to get possessions? We seem to have an innate desire to be, do, and have more. Wanting to have more in itself is not necessarily bad, but perhaps a better goal would be to have enough. You see, the desire for more can easily become insatiable and impossible to fulfill. And a constant parade of new products takes away from the time needed to enjoy what we already have. Gail Sheehy put it well when she wrote, “Would that there were an award for people who come to understand the concept of enough. Good enough. Successful enough. Thin enough. Rich enough. Socially responsible enough. When you have self-respect you have enough.” And as Lee Segall expressed it, “It is possible to own too much. A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.” Moreover, as Bhagawan Das teaches, “If you have too much of anything, you cannot know yourself.”

6. Productivity

Rather than trying to do too many things and accomplishing little, focus on little and accomplish much. It is true careful planning can make us more efficient, but beware of spending more time on planning than on doing.

7. Exercise

One of the most beneficial activities is exercise. Yet, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Although aerobic exercise helps lower blood pressure, averts type 2 diabetes and some cancers, controls weight, and improves disposition, over-exercising can weaken the immune system and cause injury. Regular workouts in the gym are helpful, but your muscles need time to recover from strenuous activity. If you exercise unabatedly muscle and tendon damage can result. Excess exercise can also increase the likelihood of heart damage, osteoporosis and a weakened immune system.

8. Prudent Concern vs Pointless Worrying

Be cautious rather than rash, but don’t be timid. And remember that we get more of what we focus on. So, if you are always grateful for what you have, you’ll end up with more to be grateful for. But if you spend most of your time worrying about problems that may appear, you will find problems will appear. Therefore, focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. Heed these wise words: “Worrying is praying for something you don’t want.” (Bhagavan Das)

Moderation, then, is a form of self-control and discipline that experiences the world beyond the sensory input of our senses. It sees the big picture, the positive and the negative, reconciling them and guiding us to a life of balance. Mastering moderation is a monumental task because we are programmed to seek more and mistakenly seek as much as possible. But it is only by setting limits that we will find the freedom to reach our potential. Mastering moderation is also a mandatory task because if we fail to do so, we shall have to face the consequences of choosing mediocrity over greatness.

References

BOOKS

On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World by Harry Clor

The Middle Path of Moderation in Islam: The Qur’anic Principle of Wasatiyyah By Mohammad Hashim Kamali

Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life By Niki Brantmark

The End of Over-consumption: Towards a Lifestyle of Moderation and Self-Restraint By Dr. Marius de Geus

Less Is More: An Anthology of Ancient & Modern Voices Raised in Praise of Simplicity By Goldian VandenBroeck (Editor)

No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy

VIDEOS

How To Develop Self-Control To Create An Amazing Life

Why Self-Discipline is So Hard to Master

15 Steps To Master Self-Discipline

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