“True balance—dynamic, powerful balance—is sustained by determined and diligent effort to elevate the quality of our lives no matter where our time is being spent.”
– Pr. Dana Arakawa, MAPP
For the last 13 months I’ve stepped on the same scale every week, at least once. Last Monday was the first time that I was truly afraid. My heart pounded. My stomach was shot through with icy trills of anxiety.
My feet were held back by two great fears. The first was that this wasn’t the night that I lost my last pound and hit the number that I had been striving toward. I felt nearly parylized by feared of the disappointment. The fear that the number wouldn’t change was an old friend compared to the new guy. This fear was that the number would change and thus change my whole life. Again.
But I did step.
A noise burst forth from me which was more a personal gush of air than a cheer and made it only more precious. So many changes, learning experiences and steps led to that number on the scale, but it was done. 200 pounds lost. Literally half the man I was.
Yes, there were tears. Yes, there were grateful prayers.
There was not a moment of “what next?” I had been facing this number for a over a month, brining my worry to my class and my coach, my wife and my God. I had begun the research, anticipating this change, and this article. The answer to my life after weight loss was both big and small; Balance. I now believe that we all should seek balance after any big life change, as a way to conceptualize maintaining a healthy life, or regaining one, if the change was a negative one.
I learned quickly, however, that healthy balance was about so much more than calories in and out or making time for a work out. Pr. Dana Arkawa, has noted that “the quest for ‘balance’ has become a popular fixation” in our stress saturated and calorically overwhelmed culture. But “in our search for balance, we re-prioritize our to-do lists and think about ways to shift our schedules around” which is not a fulfulling balance at all. “Managing energy,” she said “not time, is the key to enduring high performance” in workouts, carreers and life itself. (Arkawa, 2007)
From “< Less Than” to “= Equal to”
“We often think of [balance] as the end product of a perfectly aligned schedule, with the ‘right’ amount of time dedicated to each sector of our lives,” Pr. Arkawa continued. “Our to-do lists neatly checked off in prioritized order.” While this is certainly a type of balance, it is task focused, rather than fulfillment focused. Further, as I had to learn, it is not rooted in the concept of energy balance—and Dr. Arkawa’s most crucial point of the source of that energy—and thus in jeprody of imploding.
Early in my research I had tried to remain focused on weight maintenance, but quickly became concerned because there would not be the single focus and instant gratification of the number on the scale going down. In the post-weight loss world “medical experts from Mayo Clinic, the FDA and other medical and healthcare offices…believe that fluctuations of up to five pounds within a single day are perfectly normal…” and, while that still sounds a little fast-and-loose, it was a clear indicator that weight was no longer a reliable means of measuring our success. (Dray, 2013)
I knew I need goals to shoot for, as we all do. I fear growing stagnant after so much effort to move the scale needle one direction. Worse, I wasn’t sure it was possible. I could shoot for the extreme, but shooting for a median felt like shooting for “meh;” striving to achieve a nice, firm “whatever.” This idea of balance seemed so devoid of passion.
It need not be. Aristotle knew that way back in the day, when he coined the concept of the Golden Mean. Of course! I mentally cried, we don’t shoot for Meh Median, we shoot for the Gold. “The golden mean is the balance of extremes,” not the pursuit of one, and cornerstone the corner stone of Dr. Patty O’Grady’s work with students on attaining emotional balance. “The golden mean is the equilibrium found in the ecology of science, the harmony of music, the mindfulness of measure, the balance of nature, and the ebb and the flow of life,” she said. “The golden mean is the symmetry of well-being.” (O’Grady, 2013)
You’re Already Gold, Pony-Boy
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind.”
In life after any powerful positive change, this “symmetry of well being” is the holistic goal. “In other words, finding the golden mean creates a ‘golden self’” Dr. O’Grady asserted, “that uses emotional strength to defer impulse, make and keep friends, work in groups, resolve conflict, and help others.” (O’Grady, 2013)
Think upon your “Golden Self” for a moment. What arises in you? For me it’s continuing my physical discipline, increasing my emotional and mental balance and enhancing my sense of personal energy and fulfillment. What does your Golden Self look like? How far out of your grasp is that? Scary, right? Perfect.
Our pursuit of our Golden Self requires a powerful fuel. “We can think of balance as the powerful flow of a river whose constant flow creates enormous energy,” said Dr. Arkawa, and the source of the river is spiritual. “The benefit of a spiritual practice…is to refresh our confidence that our lives inherently have the power and unlimited capacity of a mighty river.” (Arkawa, 2007)
I could not have become half the man I was without the power and refreshing of God. Maybe that’s not true for you—maybe you find your spirit in other things—that’s up to you. Pr. Arkawa is a Buddhist, I am a Christian, for all I know you may be a Jew a Wiccan, A Pagan, in terms of practicing healthy, spirit fueled balance it doesn’t matter what you call the source of your spirit, only that you give honor to it as the source—in the means your faith dictates—and that you’re continually refreshing yourself spiritually, because moving toward your Golden Self along the Golden Mean takes continual effort.
Note the language; “Moving toward” your Golden Self, not attaining it. What we’re considering is not the ribbon on the finish line, but the next horizon on the path. Once you define your Golden Self and your Golden Mean, you already become your Golden Self. All that’s left is continually walking the path. Take heart, “this emphasis upon continual effort is consistent with research at UCLA, ‘that those who maintain a learning or process approach to intelligence…are better able to withstand the storms of life.” (Arkawa, 2007)
All Systems Go! I mean “Forgive!”
“Autopilot is great for driving a car, but no so great for emotional functioning.”
– Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D
In therapy we speak of “generalization” which is when a skill or concept learned to adapt to one stressor is successfully and intuitively applied to others. In terms of attaining a healthy weight, the self-disipline and “can do attitude” become generalized to over-all health.
I find it best to think of this generalization in the form of the dashboard of your car. We never want all the gauges to be at maximum. Similarly, we never can be fully, 100% successful at maintaining a healthy diet, a sound mentality and a balanced emotional spectrum all the time. That will put all the gauges into the red.
The base line for our physical Golden Self can be achieved through “Keeping a food and physical activity journal [to] track your progress and spot trends [and] try different behaviors,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. They further advise that “people who have lost weight and kept it off typically engage in 60—90 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days…This doesn’t necessarily mean 60—90 minutes at one time.” (CDC, 2011)
“The golden mean” of emotional balance “requires the brain-based skill of self-regulation of feelings: the awareness, identification, and moderation of emotion…” This can be achieved through anything from emotional journaling to art, to music, to simply having a conversation with someone you trust. The key is to involve yourself in the process of judging the validity of your emotions and their value to you. Remember, just because you’re feelings are real that doesn’t make them true all the time. You get to choose how and when to let them out. As we become more aware of our emotional spectrum we can then “…learn to deconstruct negative feeling so that a positive feeling emerges. When students are able to balance conflicting and competing emotions, they become emotionally stronger: more calm, capable, and resilient.” (O’Grady, 2013).
Similarly, our Golden Self is the CEO of their brain, as advocated for by Dr. Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D. “You feel like your thoughts and feelings are you and so you accept them unconditionally as the truth without really looking at them.” Dr. Greenberg’s no-nonesense approach to keeping our brain in check, like an inconsistent employee, is in line with Golden Self thinking, because it does also incorporate a key element; mindful forgiveness.
“Our thoughts are passing, mental events…like mental habits. And, like any habits, they can be healthy or unhealthy, but they take time to change,” She said. “Just like a couch potato can’t get up and run a marathon right away, we can’t magically turn off our spinning negative thought/feeling cycles without repeated practice and considerable effort.”
There’s that idea again, repeated, consistent, considerable effort no matter if it’s on your food choices, your physical training, your emotional regulation or to “retrain your runaway amygdala” through Mindfulness practice, which is “not only noticing where your mind goes when it wanders, but also gently bringing it back to the focus on breath, eating, walking, loving, or working.” (Greenberg, 2013)
Now that we stand in the shadow of our Golden Self, let’s not forget our fuel. “When we feel unbalanced and bitter about the challenges in life, we can take these feelings as ‘an indicator of the need to focus our faith and actions on awakening to and expanding our true capacity.” Let us also remember that the goal is not to achieve the Golden Mean, it is to be ever-moving toward it. The closer we get the more resilient we will become, and what was impossible yesterday will become tomorrow’s baseline. (Arkawa, 2007)
The Real Which-a-ma-callit
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
We were never talking about balance, holistically. Yes, any one of the items on our dashboard should be balanced within itself—emotional, physical, mental and spiritual balance are the tennants of our Golden Self—but the over-all goal is to keep all of those componanents in line with the Golden Mean, and that is about harmony. Balance is an equals sign in quantitiy, where harmony is a fluid, invigorating dance of quality.
In wrestling with how to illustrate the harmony we seek, I developed an acronym to get keep us shape. Or, S.H.A.P.E. This is how we walk along the Golden Mean.
[S]pirit Fueled because “the spiritual struggle to awaken to our true capacity is a form of training as necessary to our well being as exercise is to maintaining a health body,” and it can be just as taxing, if not properly fueled. (Arkawa, 2007)
[H]ope Focused because being future-focused is back to the quantified, calendar idea of balance. We are hopefully planning our next move toward the Golden Mean in faith that we will reach the next horizon.
[A]chievement Celebrating because there will be more achievements. The number on the scale, or the LDL Cholesterol, or the A1C or the dress or pants size is just a number. Our achievements live in us. Let them thrive in the sun.
[P]racticing Mindful Forgiveness because the only true failure is the one we didn’t learn from. The best way to retrain your body, spirit, amygdala or heart is with gentle, consistent effort. This also applies to others. Our walk can’t be weighed down by holding on to the hurts of others. Keep your dignity and leave them behind you.
[E]ver Evolving because balance is not stagnant and harmony is a dance. There will always be a new goal, that is why we celebrate the ones accomplished and the ones ahead. Thank God for the next horizon!
And when we get tired, remember the final thoughts of Pr. Arkawa. “To live a balanced life, we must have faith that the unlimited power of a river is available to us. Then…train our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities…to harness the power of the river and continually refresh the lake that is our life…though it may appear stable and calm on the surface, you will know that this balance is not stagnant, and not a result of shifting around your schedule and to-do list,” and you will know that you are ever closer toward the Golden Mean, and already your Golden Self.
Arakawa , D. (2007) Living a Balanced Life. Positive Psychology News Daily. Retrieved from: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/dana-arakawa/20070814368
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). It’s not a Diet, it’s a Lifestyle. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/keepingitoff.html
Dray, .S (2013) What Is Normal Weight Fluctuation? eHow. Retrieved from: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5007466_what-normal-weight-fluctuation.html#ixzz2Tv8d04hT
Greenberg, M. A. (2013) Become the CEO of Your Own Brain in Six Easy Steps: How to be the boss of your brain, rather than letting it master you. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201304/become-the-ceo-your-own-brain-in-six-easy-steps
O’Grady, P. (2013) The 3’R’s of Emotional Learning Golden Stars or the Golden Mean? Psychology Today. Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positive-psychology-in-the-classroom/201304/the-3rs-emotional-learning