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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: September 2003

Balancing Act® is in three sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
  3. Musings

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Watch people and their reactions. I do this all the time in airports. Some smile, some scold, some are warm, some are cold. What prompts those reactions? Which of them are you most like?
    • Exercise your mind as you should your body. Do some word games or crossword puzzles. I love acrostics. Hint: Do them before you go to sleep and you'll sleep soundly. The next morning, you often know the answer to something that stumped you the night before.
    • Take action, don't get frustrated. I hate computer spam, which can waste inordinate amounts of time. So I found out how to set up filters and add new spam sources to them daily, so that 90% of junk email is sent to a "delete" folder, which I quickly scan to ensure that there's nothing actually of importance in it.
    • Act only on observed behavior and evidence. A woman reported to me that a third party warned her that a client was going to reject a proposal, yet the client said that they should talk the following week. Ignore rumor and innuendo.
    • Listen to your mind to analyze, listen to your heart to make the close calls. If you don't feel right about something, don't do it. I'm not talking about new ventures or bold steps. I'm talking about right and wrong.
    • When you're on top of the world, think about doing something nice for someone else. You're playing with "house money," psychically. When you have more happiness than you need at the moment, spend it on others. You can't take it all with you. It's that trickle-down thing.
    • The customer is NOT always right, trust me. There is no honor in fulfilling a ridiculous or inappropriate request. Don't enable dysfunctional behavior.
    • If you want to do someone a genuine favor, listen to their story. It's as simple as that. Most people prefer to be heard than receive hasty empathy or abrupt commiseration.
    • When you tell others who have been of service, "You know, you really helped me out the other day," they're quite prone to do it again.
    • If you get up and start the day in a bad mood, it seldom goes uphill from there. Whatever you do, try to arrange a morning regimen that is positive, supportive, and fun. Listen to a favorite radio show, play with the dog, kid around with your kids. If you start well, you'll finish better.

  2. The Human Condition: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

    I work out every other day at a local gym. I hate to work out. But I love fine food and good wine, so working out is an unavoidable accoutrement, not unlike having to clean up after a really great party. Except you can always hire people to clean up.

    The gym is full of regulars who attend at the same time that I do� I'm a morning work out person, let's get it over with and enjoy the rest of the day. Lifting iron objects and trying to keep up with an endless track on a machine is not something I choose to look forward to at the end of my day.

    A chain recently bought out the gym's independent owner and immediately made improvements. The machines are more diverse and maintained better, the steam rooms and lockers have been improved, the entire flooring and walls have been redone. The environment is better, the atmosphere fresher�and the dues now more expensive. As of our renewal dates, the annual fee increases by $200.

    Quite a few of my perspiration-mates are working up an even greater lather than the Nordic machines usually generate. They're swearing to leave at the end of their membership year, upset at what works out to a $3.85 weekly increase. (For my every-other-day regimen, I'm paying a whopping extra $1.10 per usage, and slightly less in leap years.) They are going to find a more distant gym, not as well maintained, lacking their present coterie of intimates, to save that outrageous extra expense.

    The parking lot, meanwhile, is full of Mercedeses, Beemers, Jags, Porsches, and ominous looking SUVs. Sometimes it's tough to find a safe space to park my Aston Martin. What's wrong with this picture?

    Have you noticed that people will spend enormous time, energy, and even money, to obtain rather paltry perceived savings on that investment? Last week my wife and I disembarked from the Acela at Penn Station in New York and made our way to the taxi line. However, it was beginning to rain rather heavily, and as we tried to shelter ourselves under a small umbrella, one of New York's millions of entrepreneurs approached the line and asked in general, "Who wants a ride to any hotel in midtown in my Lincoln Town Car for $20?" (The taxi fare would have been about $12 in most cases.) Astoundingly, no one in the 30-person line said anything except one other person with whom I found myself competing, until I turned and saw that my wife and I were both trying to get the car at the same time.

    We rode high and dry to our hotel. Was it worth getting drenched to save $8? Evidently, most of those other people thought so. I'm not sure what's going on there.

    We don't seem to calculate our discomfort, inconvenience, and downright misery into the equation when we're confronted with minor investment decisions. People who think nothing of spending an extra $100,000 they can't afford on a house, or another $5,000 for a special edition of a car they may not really need, will hem and haw and drag all available feet when faced with the proposition of paying another $50 to maintain or improve current comfort levels.

    "Penny wise and pound foolish" comes from the British currency system, when the pound was really worth something. The origin is quite apt. If King George had stopped obsessing about the minor tea tax, the British Empire would be alive and well and include America.

  3. Musings

    There is something wonderfully freeing and luxuriant in living for the moment, but it also seems to require a complex and difficult set of human responses. One would think that LFTM would be the simplest of all reflexes, but it ain't necessarily so.

    Dogs live for the moment. They'll stop a full-throttle sprint after a squirrel to vigorously scratch behind an ear, eat all the food on their plate (or yours) without a thought to saving some for later, or leap into a car to get a ride without care about where it's going or even who's driving it. Canine existence is replete with instant gratification.

    People seem reluctant to allow such spontaneous joy into their lives. (Grief, of course, is another story, and can take over in a nanosecond, as can guilt, regret, and fear.) "I really shouldn't�" is one of the cautionary signs we erect on the road to LFTM. There are the ever-lurking potholes consisting of: "Maybe another time�," "I really ought to think about it�," and the multi-purpose "THEY won't let me�"

    (I've never met THEY, but they are clearly one of the strongest emotional blocs and blocks in existence. THEY prevent us from doing a great deal that might otherwise constitute joy and happiness right now, right in the moment. We've got to get THEM away from us.)

    Recently, I had the rare and exquisite opportunity to deliver an extraordinary speech in front of 1,700 people. While I'm always good and I frequently speak to large groups, this occasion was special because they were 1,700 peers� professional speakers, all of them. And I blew the doors off. From the moment I walked on stage I knew it was working and I began to enjoy myself tremendously. And as the session progressed, I actually realized that I was in "the zone." It's that wonderful, virtual out-of-body experience when we can take uninhibited joy from what we're engaged in at the moment.

    I had leaped into the car, canine-like, and the ride was everything I had hoped it would be. I didn't warn myself to slow down or get the car washed. I simply relished the exhilarating experience.

    The next time that a momentary and personal pleasure�a quick swim, a quiet walk, hitting a golf ball, buying some clothes�itches at your conscience, maybe you should take the time to scratch, metaphorically, behind your ear. I've been fascinated by the readers who occasionally take me for task, for suggesting such innocent hedonism and self-satisfaction as important to life balance, on the grounds that we should give to others before giving to ourselves, that it's improper to consider ourselves first, and even that we're all sinners.

    Sorry, but I can't agree. There's a reason that they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you attempt to help others. And that reason, inarguably, is that you can't help others unless you've helped yourself. You can't really bring joy unless you experience joy, and there's nothing indecent or immoral about leading a joyful life, right now, right in the moment.

    Jump in the car, the ride will do you good. As much as my dog, Koufax, enjoys the wind and the speed, I find that I'm not really doing him any favors, since I'm having as good a time as he is with just the two of us, living for the moment.