How to Adult: Holidays

Los Angeles has, at most, two seasons. There’s a sunny and hot one, and a sunny and slightly cooler one. There are very few days with rain. Few days that are even overcast from morning to night. On most days out of the year, it could be any month if you weren’t looking at the calendar.

This was quite an adjustment for me. I spent nearly 25 years growing up in Wisconsin where there are four clearly defined seasons. You can watch and feel the transitions from one to the next. The summer thunderstorms. The colorful fall leaves. The first flakes of snow. The plants climbing out of the spring dirt.

These natural beats mark time throughout the year. They give you a sense of the change as time passes. Yet also a sense of rhythm and familiarity as many of the same beats happen from one year to the next. The more true seasons and seasonal signifiers, the more connected to time we feel.

We, humans, have added to nature our own markers through the year: holidays. In the United States as recently as the 1830s, there were only Independence Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and Christmas. Since then, we’ve expanded to days like Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Labor Day. And there are several more informal holidays like Super Bowl Sunday, Black Friday, and national food days for everything from Baked Alaska to leg of lamb.

Holidays give us more beats to mark time through the year. And unlike seasons, we control what holidays are and what they entail because we constructed them. Being relatively older, Thanksgiving and Christmas have particularly deep roots. If you celebrate one or both of them in your family, you’re likely to have a whole host of traditions, favorite things, and memories associated.

The foods you eat, the decorations you put up, the things you watch together, the gifts you give and how you give them, the religious rites you partake in, and more. It can go from the super specific to the broad and ineffable: from the dish that grandma works all day to make and serves at 4pm to an intangible feeling of love and warmth.

Holidays give us rhythm like seasons. You might not circle National Leg of Lamb Day on the calendar, but you undoubtedly look forward to holidays with more depth and memory–Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s. They are moments and spaces in time we come back to year after year so that we can remind ourselves of who we are and what we care about. In places like the endless sunshine of Southern California, or in the distracting bustle of work, school, errands, and bills we can lose track of the passage of time, and with it our self-identity.

Holidays are pockets throughout the year that, no matter what is happening or will happen, we stop and come together with the people we care about. For at least that day, we’re making life happen instead of life happening to us. We have ways of honoring and relishing that day with others.

So as we move into Thanksgiving week and the rest of the major holiday season, spend some time reflecting on and enjoying the traditions, the favorite things, and the memories. And make some new ones!

The heaviness of the election still weighs on many. Amongst family and friends, there are starkly different political views. It happens. We should absolutely talk about those things together when it’s the right time–openly, patiently, respectfully, constructively. But before you go on a rant about who won and why the world is either saved or ending, reach out for a hug, tell them you’re thankful they’re there, and peel some vegetables for the casserole. Put on the movie or the game you all snuggle up and watch together. Reminisce about the travel obstacles you overcame in years past to be together. Grieve the emptiness left by family and friends who are no longer around to celebrate.

Time passes unceasingly. Seasons, holidays, freezing and thawing, growth and death. We never know how much time we have, but at least we have today. And once in awhile today has added layers because we’ve designated it a holiday.

Stop and take notice. Give thanks for the people around you. Embrace. Remember. Make life happen.

May you find rhythm, togetherness, and identity through the march of time.

How to Adult: Laundry

Laundry. Does anyone get excited about it? Like most cleaning, you probably wish you could have the results without doing any of the work to get there. If you love cleaning clothes, I have a basketful that I’d be happy to give you.

For the rest of us, we’ll let our dirty clothes pile up on the floor or in a hamper until we have to wash them out of necessity. Eventually, there’s nothing clean left to wear. Fortunately, with a little bit of willpower to build a habit, and some basic understanding of how to clean the different types of clothes in your wardrobe, laundry can be less of a chore. Maybe you’re relatively new to doing your own laundry. All good. Follow the steps below, and you’ll be a responsible pro in no time.

Pick a day or a time to do laundry each week. It’s so much less of a burden to do one or two loads of laundry every week than four or five (or more) loads once every few weeks. Doing laundry every week means you’re cleaning clothes more often, but it’s far fewer items to worry about at once. I find this much less stressful. Plus, you’ll never have to go long without any particular item of clothing. Your favorite athleisure pants or kickass dress will always be clean.

Sort your laundry into the right groups. Colors all together. Whites and grays together. For most items, it’s as simple as that. Your regular laundry night will consist of a load of colors and a load of lights. If you don’t have a full load of one or the other, be kind to the earth and save it for the next week. Some things you may want to wash in more specific groups: just blankets and sheets, just towels, or just sweaty workout wear or other super-soiled things.

And some items do require special care. It’s always a good idea to look at the tag when you buy something so you know how you’ll need to clean it. If it’s dry clean only, it will obviously have to be taken to a dry cleaner nearby. Some items dictate that you tumble dry them on low heat, or to not put them in the dryer at all. Etcetera. Check out the chart below for a quick reference to the laundry hieroglyphics you see on tags.

Fabric Care Chart
via GQ

Find the right detergent and fabric softener for you. This may take some trial and error. My wife and I both have somewhat sensitive skin, so we use a free and clear type detergent and fabric softener. Also, the washing machine we use is high efficiency, so we picked out a detergent that is also rated HE for ideal cleaning. You may have particular convictions about the environment, and there are plenty of detergents to choose from nowadays that are more selective about the components they’ve put into the bottle. Or maybe you really like a particular scent to your clothes. If you want Christmas Meadow, Apple Mango, or whatever else, you can probably find it.

Try some different detergents and softeners out over time and see what you like best. Again, follow the instructions on your clothing labels and on the back of the bottle or box to make sure you’re getting the best results.

I am not a fan of bleach, but if you think you need it there are plenty of easy to find instructions for that too. Just be considerate of others if you have a shared washing machine. No one likes a bleach surprise when they go to wash their own clothes.

If you’re not sure about cycle and temperature, default to cold, permanent press. Hot or warm water may be best for certain items, but hot water does not equal cleaner. Warmer temperature water may even cause your clothes to wear out faster or result in color problems. Many detergents clean just as well in cold water as they do hot, so you might as well play it safe and save energy with cold. Here’s an explanation of the different cycle types if you want to play around with them. You don’t need to obsess about it, though.

Have something awesome to do while your clothes are cleaning. Whether it’s a book, a podcast, planning out your meals for the week, catching up with a friend over the phone, an episode of a show, or something else, laundry time is the perfect time to do something awesome for yourself while you wait. Get the clothes started washing, set a timer for the machine, and get started on a little me time of your choosing. You’ll have another block of time to enjoy while the clothes are drying. Nice.

Dry your items properly to help them last. Some things you don’t really want to put in the dryer: bras, coats, sweaters, and more. These things are usually best air-dried on a hanger or a hook of some sort. For sweaters, jackets, and other tops, try to get wooden or other sturdy hangers instead of the skinny plastic ones so you don’t get dimpled, saggy shoulders as they dry. If you have things hanging outside, make sure you check the weather for anything inclement on the way.

Fold and organize like a champion. I don’t know what your home setup is like, but we have a small closet with a rack for hangers and a small dresser with drawers. We like to hang all of the tops that aren’t t-shirts in the closet so that they don’t get super wrinkled: dresses, sweaters, button-downs, etc. T-shirts, underwear, sleeping wear, and other items like them, can be neatly folded and put into drawers or on a shelf in a closet. I toss clean socks in a pile on the corner chair and match those up after everything else is put away. (I do roll them up instead of folding them. Sorry Marie Kondo).

Find an organization setup that works for your clothes, and come up with a simple system for folding and putting things away once your laundry is done. This will help you to actually put them away instead of leaving clean things in a pile of their own somewhere.

That’s it! Are there other tips and tricks to consider? Of course. You can get washing bags for delicate items. You’ll probably want to wash specially dyed pieces of clothing or especially colorful clothes once or twice on their own before including them in a load of other things so you don’t get weird color transfer. You can refine your process even further: stain-treatment, ironing, and the like. We can talk about that more in the future. How to remove a stain is probably a post of its own, and I’m not an expert on that myself yet.

But for now, you’ve got plenty to work with to become a professional laundry-washer–to become more of an adult–and tackle the dreaded pile of dirty clothes. By getting into a weekly routine, you’ll never have too much to do, and with plenty of time to do other things while your clothes are washing and drying, laundry night can actually be a block of time that you look forward to because you can do whatever you want while you wait. For all of us sane people that wish the clothes would just wash themselves, that’s not too bad a consolation.

 

How to Adult: Sleep

For something that takes up about a third of our lives, it’s surprising that sleep is still rather mysterious. It’s not fully clear why we need it the way we need it. There are people who have died from lack of sleep. There are researchers trying to “hack” human biology so that some people–for example, soldiers–are able to function reasonably well for several days at a time without any. And others, including the current GOP presidential nominee, brag about how little sleep they require. Do you have one of those people in your workplace?

We all know what it feels like when we get a really good night of sleep. But it’s not always apparent what led to sleeping so well. Was it the right amount of hours? Going to bed at the right time? Avoiding alcohol and caffeine before going to sleep? Because you were able to sleep in?

Even if we don’t fully understand why we sleep, there are definitely some steps toward improving it.

For starters, four or five hours is probably too little. Ideal hours vary with age, and surely from person to person also. But even for older adults, who require less sleep than children, the bare minimum is probably about 6 hours. Four hours plus three cups of coffee is unlikely to allow for full rest overnight and good brain function during the day–even though it might feel like you’re doing OK. And we’re finding out that it’s actually dangerous to your health to think that you can “catch up” on sleep on the weekend or other days that you can sleep in.

The hours you sleep need to be deep sleep, as you’ve probably figured out. A huge hindrance to that in the age of smartphones is our screen time leading right into bedtime. The lighting of smartphones and other devices actually tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime–making it harder to fall asleep and achieve restorative, REM sleep. Many people sleep with their phone right next to them, and any kind of sound or vibration doesn’t help either. Smartphones are the epitome of an always on, always connected society. That’s not a friendly condition for achieving good sleep.

Getting the hours on a regular schedule also seems to be especially important. It helps your body lock into a consistent rhythm of waking and sleeping. Alert when you’re usually up; asleep when you’re usually in bed. We need that usually to be as consistent as possible.

So how can you start to put these things together in a practical way?

Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. The rhythm and length are clearly important. As you start to get closer to regular going to sleep and waking up times, think about how your body is responding to the number of hours that you slept. Do you feel better with 7 than with 8? Does it seem like your body might need something more like 9 to be your best? Having regularity will give you a feel for how much sleep is right for you.

Have a ritual when you go to bed. Start working on shutting off phones and other tech a little while before you think you might climb into bed so that your brain can unwind from the screen activity and other stimuli. Make sure your bed is a haven of rest and relaxation: good pillows, regularly cleaned sheets and blankets, good room temperature, and all that. My wife and I have experimented a bit with essential oils and salt lamps, and things like that can definitely help you relax and sink into sleep. There’s an old rule for many that the bed is for sleeping and sex–nothing else. Maybe you need to give that rule a try.

In the morning, don’t hit the snooze button! Time and again, sleep research has shown that this significantly ruins your rest rather than adding to it. Maybe you need to establish a morning ritual too that gives you an enjoyable reason to get out of bed: a tall glass of cool water, making some coffee, climbing in the shower, going for a walk, meditation, whatever. Just don’t grab for your phone right away. It may be tempting, but it’s the wrong kind of engagement with the world when your brain isn’t even fully alert yet.

Are these things easy? Of course not. A night of too much drinking, 2am texts, or stressing about life can easily ruin the best sleep intentions. And going to bed with too few hours before your alarm is set to go off, or sleeping in late on a Saturday, can throw you way out of rhythm–even (or especially) if you had rhythm for several days beforehand.

But intention is an important place to start. This week, see if you can get your bedtimes and waking times to occur around the same hour or two each day. Maybe one night you go sleep at 10:30pm, and the next, 12:15am. Then you can work on narrowing it to something like between 11pm-12am every night. That’s better than 10pm some nights and 3am others.

I’ve found that I feel pretty great with about 7 hours of sleep–around 11pm to 6am. Give me a nice cup of coffee at 7:30ish when I’ve been up for a bit, and I feel ready to tackle most anything the day can throw at me.

Because even if we don’t fully understand sleep yet, you’re going to spend a third of your life doing it and the other two-thirds either buoyant or in agony based on how you spent the sleeping third. You might as well try to get some good sleep. You deserve it.

 

The Thing That Keeps You From Being Who You Want to Be

There is perhaps nothing more quintessentially modern American than obsession with health. At a time when a majority of Americans are at least slightly overweight, it’s not a surprise that there’s a whole industry of supposed quick fixes–everything from foods processed to remove the “bad stuff” to the latest celebrity personal trainer trying to persuade you her workout program will get you her abs in a few weeks. Taking advantage of the desire for instantaneous self-improvement is a tremendous way to make money.

Do quick fixes work? Rarely. If it were that easy we probably wouldn’t have a national weight crisis. But new fixes are constantly being wheeled out and showered with confetti as the remedy for health happiness because we just can’t seem to achieve it with willpower.

And it’s not just with health that we struggle for improvement. Have you ever been awake in bed at night, or somewhere else contemplative, and wondered if you were meant to do something more with your life than you are? Have you ever had an idea for a work of art, a business, a charity, or a political reform? Did you embrace it with excitement and start working on it? Or did you dismiss it as something that you could never do?

What’s going on there? Like gravity, there is a force in the world that tries to yank you back down to earth when you’re passionate about making something take off. Steven Pressfield, in his excellent book The War of Art, calls this force Resistance.

Resistance can be subtle. It can gently nudge you into thinking, “Yeah, I will start that! But I’ll start it tomorrow.” And then it’s pushed to the next day, and the next day, and the next day. You feel pretty good because you think you’ve committed to something life-changing, but nothing ever actually changes.

Or Resistance can be blunt and painful. You may indeed start to improve your health, or make music, or begin a business, only to feel a wave of judgment and rejection from those who are close to you. Whether it’s because of jealousy, closed-mindedness, or something else, they can’t handle that you’re becoming different. What are you supposed to do when Resistance forces you into a choice between relationships and passion?

Resistance can take the form of the apparent quick fix or distracting escapism. Fad diets, get-rich-quick schemes, hooking up, substance addiction, binge-watching. They give you a bit of a result or a good feeling for a little while, but eventually, the effect fizzles out and you’re back to the beginning–probably more discouraged than when you started. It’s no wonder many of those things can be linked to depression.

If Resistance is so powerful, how can we possibly overcome it? As Pressfield sees it, we must become a professional at whatever our great passion is. The hardest part of any pursuit is not that we aren’t the world’s greatest artist, an expert on exercise and nutrition, or a graduate of the most reputable school (though doubting your qualifications is its own form of Resistance). No, the hardest part of becoming the person you’re meant to be is simply showing up over and over again and giving the work your best. Resistance does everything it can to prevent you from finding rhythm, traction, and growth.

The professional is the person who has committed to sticking to a regular schedule and showing up to throw themselves into it no matter what. It’s both incredibly straightforward and incredibly hard. Most people haven’t decided to become professionals in this way, and Resistance wins sooner or later. You decide to eat well and then your family gives you crap about how you think you’re better than them. You commit to working on writing music at 7pm, and Resistance whispers in your ear that a new series just dropped on Netflix that you can start watching instead.

Resistance got me with this post! It should have been out earlier in the day, but I got persuaded that it’s been a stressful and exhausting week and that I needed to sleep in this morning instead of writing at my usual time. Resistance is really good at rationalization.

Over time, though, as you begin to win a battle here and a battle there against Resistance, you become stronger and more adept at sticking to being pro. Every time you’re ready to do the work at 7am and pour your best into it, Resistance is forced to try a different tactic next time because you overcame it–even if you only wrote one sentence or one chord, or could only manage half the reps.

I strongly believe that we are all capable of the unique, the important, and the transformative. Learning to overcome Resistance in all the ways it will try to undermine and stop you is the path to becoming the person you’re meant to be.

 

This Week in Upgrades: March 14

Oh hey, it’s a new week! Hope yours is off to a good start. My Monday was so filled with other things I didn’t get a chance to post this Upgrades, but Tuesday is close enough to the start of the week, right?

The time change from the weekend has me still trying to adjust to a different rhythm. Is that you too? Maybe it’s time to actually, finally end Daylight Saving Time?

The US Presidential election continues to be a head-scratching, exciting, depressing, astonishing process. What will happen next? Can we at least agree to condemn violence wherever and whenever it occurs?

Today’s 2 Super 2 Tuesday includes some important primary states. Is it your turn to vote? Get out there and do it!

Plenty of other interesting human stuff from the last week. Here are just a few things:

Does your nose ever alert you that you’re in need of a shower? Do you almost pass out when someone is wearing a whole bottle of cologne? Here’s the long history of battling body odor.

According to one study, just three laws would reduce 90% of all gun violence in the United States. That seems like a pretty big deal, if true.

Do you know the difference between ambiguous and ambivalent? Another grammar upgrade.

The National Parks of the United States are one of my favorite things (probably said that a million times). Sadly, they may be getting “loved to death”. How can we preserve them for the future?

Space and space exploration are pretty rad too, and PopChartLab has put together this awesome poster of all the vessels that have been sent out to study our solar system.

A depressing note on nutrition in the United States: half of all calories consumed now come from processed foods. Yikes.

Surely one of the great obstacles to eating well is cooking. Maybe 3 new seasons of Chef’s Table on Netflix will be inspiration for us all to make meals at home more. The original season was probably the best food documentary I’ve come across. Have you seen it?

 

Yoga: It’s More than the Pants

As a younger me, I did not in a million years think that I would ever get into yoga. In college, as many classmates and coworkers began to find their way into studios every week, I wondered what exactly was so appealing about methodical stretching and deep breathing. Yoga is bodily in the fullest sense. Practitioners often show up in minimal clothing, are in close proximity to one another, and fill up the room with sweat and the occasional aromas of flatulence, active feet, and old mat. To this day, I much prefer to do yoga at home by myself for those reasons alone. The introvert in me is entirely uncomfortable being that unfiltered with other people. Maybe that’s irreverent. I apologize to the hardcore yogis committed to judgement-free group work in the studio.

I’m decidedly low-key and solo. I haven’t received extensive instruction on the asanas–the poses. I don’t do yoga because I’m seeking spiritual enlightenment or a transcendent experience. I have a DVD and a mat in my living room at home that I take out a few times a week. Close the blinds and begin. And the DVD? It’s a “power yoga” course from the 90s that is so 90s: saxophone and synth dad-music, original VHS-quality video, and cutoff jean shorts for workout wear. Just watch some of this! The first dozen times I used it I went back and forth between calm focus and hysterical laughter. The most-sensitive-man-in-the-world intro still gets me every time.

I think when I see that unintentional comedy it helps me shake free of the crazy things that happened during the day. And then begins the stretching and breathing stuff, which is unexpectedly powerful. How can something so simple and mundane be so beneficial and transformative? I find myself grateful for giving the seemingly uninteresting practice of yoga a very open-minded chance, and the purchase of a random DVD to try doing it regularly on my own. Serendipity is a wonderful and amusing thing sometimes.

Now, I get frustrated at myself when I go a week without yoga. On vacation, I’ve gone into the corner room where we’re staying and played the same accidentally hilarious video on my phone just to make sure I do a little bit. Why is this?

There’s an incredible thing that happens when you push the pause button on everything else in the world a few times a week. The whole be present in the present mentality is overflowing with a sense of silly spirituality, but there are some profound things that happen to you when you eliminate busyness and distractions and just be for a little while. No phone, no work, no social pressure. I’ve come to realize how much I need that. Now I long for that recharge and clarity through the week.

Yoga also presents physical challenges that compel me to keep coming back. Even if you do the exact same set of poses each time, you can always go a little deeper. With each position, you’re working at the edge of increased flexibility, strength, balance, and calm. I would not be surprised to find that one of the reasons yoga is so engaging for mind and body is because it puts you into so-called flow. You’re challenged just enough that you can rise to the occasion, and every time you complete another session you feel a little stronger and a little more whole. I’ve been doing yoga regularly for a couple years now since stumbling into it, and I can honestly say that I have more energy, sleep better, have less body pain, and feel better prepared to tackle what the day throws at me because of it. That’s no small thing.

Give it a try. Get some cool ass pants if it helps. You feel like a rockstar with yoga pants on. Based on how often they’re worn in public, apparently a lot of people think they’re made for feeling like a rockstar when you go shopping. I can tell you that if you do wear them around town you’re probably going to feel even better in them if you actually do yoga. That incremental increase in strength, flexibility, and the rest, leads to an increase in body confidence as well. You feel good and look good. This is a whole-body thing in a very tangible way.

Get an awesome retro yoga DVD. Or sign up for a class in your neighborhood (if you can handle bodies without boundaries).

Whatever it takes to commit, I promise it’s worth it. We all could use a bit less stress and anxiety, exercise that we actually look forward to doing a few times a week, and regular recharge and refocus. To my great surprise, yoga is an excellent way to achieve it.

 

Adjusting the Dials: Why Your Life Is Chaotic, and How to Fix It

Piece of electrical audio equipment with knobs. Old retro amplifier with selective focus
serkus/Bigstock.com

It would not be surprising to find out that for most people busy has replaced good as the auto-response to a How are you?

All 168 hours in the week may not actually be blocked out with schedule commitments in your smartphone calendar, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. Some of that is surely the acceleration of life that unprecedented technological innovation has enabled. Until recently, we didn’t have to worry about things like creating laws about email cutoff times to prevent people from barraging each other with messages late into the night. Workdays had clean boundaries.

Some of the busyness may be purposefully self-inflicted. A number of artists and academics have wondered if we try to preoccupy ourselves with busyness to avoid confronting feelings of emptiness, mortality, or meaningless. Even if we know it’s exhausting or stressful, busyness is better than nothingness.

The problem is that busyness for busyness’ sake is just a different kind of meaninglessness: spinning your wheels instead of being parked and paralyzed. In its best form, we’re busy because we’re engaged in activity that’s worth doing. Work we love. Learning a new hobby. Training for a marathon. Cooking for the family.

But the good kind of busy, worthwhile activity, is still only half of a flourishing way of life. The other half is rest and disengagement. The most basic form, of course, is sleep. This is not a biological complication in need of a technical fix to eliminate it. Sleep is essential to our ability to function properly during waking hours. Yet many of us wear a badge of honor proudly proclaiming how few hours of sleep we think we can get by on. Even then, we shoot ourselves in the foot in the race to REM sleep by gluing our eyes to blue-screened devices (blue = clear skies of the daytime = be awake, brain!) right up until we lay our head down on the pillow. During the day, our bodies work hard to maintain periods of stable energy and then let us know when they need rest, but we hijack that cycle by consuming all sorts of uppers and downers: coffee, tea, energy drinks, supplements; cocktails, beer, wine, sleeping meds, and the like. Most of us can’t hear our bodies telling us when we can be exerting and when we should rest.

Activity and rest are the most fundamental set of complements of a well-rounded life. We need engagement, risk, and sweat; and we need disconnection, mindfulness, and sleep. If we’re primarily just one or the other our lives get out of sorts. Just activity: exhaustion and bewildering bustle. Just inactivity: melancholy, occasional self-loathing, and extra pounds of bodyweight.

There are several other complements that flow out of the foundation of activity and rest. Exercise and recovery. Work and time-off. Socialization and solitude. Teaching and learning. Being in the city and being in nature. Self-critique and self-love. And many others.

These are not antagonistic binaries. Rather, there’s a sliding scale for each set of complements from one to the other. So if purely active is the left edge of the active/rest scale, purely restful is on the opposite end. Since binaries, scale, and purely this or that probably reads like a whole lot of jibjab, take a look at it visually.

Active/Rest Scale
Baldukas2015

Depending on what’s going on in your life and the time of the day, you’re likely closer to one or the other end. If you’re purely active, you’re probably not reading this because you’re too busy and about to pass out from exhaustion. If you’re purely restful, you also are likely not reading this because you’re in deep sleep. The rest of us are somewhere a bit left of center (middle of the workday, in the midst of a workout) or somewhere a bit right of center (streaming a movie, browsing through cake blogs).

Life feels chaotic whenever we’ve been too far to one side for too long.

Because we don’t swiftly jump back and forth between really active and really restful like alternating electric current. It takes a while for your body to recover from a long day of work or other strenuous activity. You’re trying to mellow out, pick up carryout for dinner, and go put sweatpants on, but you’ve still got adrenaline and cortisol flowing and a high-strung mind. Your body is still active when you’ve hit a time to rest. It takes a little while to slide over on the scale.

The middle of the scale is the goal. It’s balance; well-being; stability and contentment. To find that balance requires rhythm. Rhythm is understanding where you’re lodged on the scale and what you need to do to bring you closer to the center. If you’re off-center to one side, you need the contrast of the other side. If you’re in a state of hyperactivity you need an equivalent form of rest. It’s like counterweights. Or better: like the dials on a stereo or equalizer in a music app. If there’s too much bass in a song, you turn the dial to increase the treble to compensate. If your life has too much bass (and let’s be honest, we were a little too all about that bass, no treble for a while, there) you need to counterbalance to bring things into equilibrium.

This is true for any of the complementary pairs that contribute to your well-being. Too much exercise: you need recuperative things. Too much work: you need a vacation or a staycation. Too much socialization: you need some solitude. Too much city: get out in the woods. Too much teaching and leading other people: crack open a book in a quiet place to learn something new for yourself. Too much self-critique: do things that encourage self-love. Too much connecting: time for a bit of digital detox. And, of course, they can all overlap and interconnect. Some need to counterbalance this way, some that. If you’ve been in a downtown workplace completing work on a smartphone (too much work, connection, and solitude), you should get out and go for a hike with some friends (out in the woods, digital detox, socialization).

On an average day, it’s easy to get caught up in one thing after the next. You drop off your significant other. Work gives you a handful of surprises to resolve. You realize it’s 3 hours past lunchtime so you stop at a sandwich chain or a convenience store. Life just kind of happens to you, and you set the alarm to get up and do it again tomorrow. But when you consider where you’re at on the different scales, you can start making a day or a week happen with some design. You start living with some intentionality, the way that will help you feel balanced and well. Finding rhythm gives you a gameplan, a beat, a flow. It gives you a guide for the thing or kinds of things you should do next—and after that, and after that.

This means that most things we might do on a regular day aren’t inherently bad, but they might be bad for you in that particular moment because of where you’re at on the scale. They’re not a counterbalance right now: they’re a chaos catalyst. If you had a cheeseburger and soda for lunch, and then have fried chicken and a few beers for dinner, you’re going to put your digestion and energy out of whack. You want to think about something lighter for dinner (can’t go wrong with some pho). But if you’ve been eating light all week, maybe it’s a good night to treat yourself to a bit of comfort food. Fried chicken and beer isn’t evil—it’s just indulgent—and you might be self-sabotaging if you’re already well into the comfort food side of the scale instead of the health-conscious one.

Nobody’s going to be a flawless balancer. If we all were perfectly in the middle of each of life’s scales, unicorns and rainbows would probably spontaneously appear. But they don’t, and we’re not. It’s OK. Remember, there’s a self-critical/self-love scale to try to keep balanced too.

If we’re at least trying to find rhythm there’s a good chance that we actually will a lot of the time, and we’re going to have some real well-being and contentment because of it. That’s a lot better than busying ourselves into the meaningless chaos we were hoping to avoid.