We sometimes get the nagging feeling that we are not paying enough attention to a particular area of our lives. Something is out of balance.
Maybe you are not getting enough exercise. Or you are not spending enough time with close friends. Perhaps you are stuck careerwise.
To solve this, we must first get an overview. What areas of life should we concern ourselves with? Also, how many different areas can we realistically juggle?
Learn about the most important areas of life, why not all of them matter equally, and how you can learn to live with a certain level of disbalance.
- Areas of Life — The List
- Why Balance Is Unachievable
- Making a Choice
Areas of Life — The List
Here is a list of the different areas of life that you can concern yourself with.
1. Physical Health
Physical health is the basis for all other areas of life. Without physical health, you have nothing.
This category contains at least 10 subcategories:
- Sleep, i.e., how well-rested you feel
- Food, i.e., what “fuel” you supply your body with
- Freedom from chronic diseases, e.g., diabetes
- Your bodyfat-to-muscle ratio, i.e., how fit you look
- Strength, i.e., your ability to move heavy objects
- Flexibility, i.e., the range of motion you have in your joints
- Aerobic endurance, as needed for long-distance running
- Anaerobic endurance, as needed for explosive efforts like sprinting
- Balance, as needed for traversing a beam
- Movement patterns, e.g., martial arts moves
Physical health is having a good mix of these 10 qualities.
2. Mental Health
Mental health refers to the absence of mental illnesses like depression or anxiety disorders.
For the most part, mental health is the sum of other areas in your life working out. If you are physically healthy, work a fulfilling career, and have loving relationships, you will most likely enjoy a high level of mental health.
But there are also some activities to improve your mental health directly. You can do therapy, start journaling, or learn to meditate.
Mindset is the lens through which you view life, your way of interpreting the data.
For example, one person might get fired, blame their boss, and consequently develop an alcohol problem.
Another person might get fired and realize they didn’t provide enough value to the company. So, they commit to expanding their skill sets.
Same event, but opposite reactions. The difference is mindset.
This category is about how you pay the bills.
You have two options — you can be employed or self-employed.
Employment comes with less responsibility and more stability.
Self-employment comes with more risk but with higher rewards. Also, you have more of a say in what your work should be about.
Managing your money is just as important as making it.
You could be making seven figures a year and snort it all up your nose. Or you could be making five figures but save wisely, and be much better off.
- Cutting your costs
- Getting out of debt
- Saving a certain percentage of your income
- Having a 401(k)
- Investing your money
This category is about the relationships with our parents, siblings, children, grandparents, etc.
These tend to be our closest people, for two reasons.
First, we share a genetic bond with them, which means we are highly invested in their survival.
Second, we either spent our formative years with them or, in the case of our children, supervised theirs. This intensifies the bond.
7. Sexual Relationships
These are the people we have sex with. It could be someone you picked up at a bar or it could be your spouse of thirty years (congrats if you are still having sex!).
Sexual relationships often lead to strong emotional bonds, hence why they are euphemistically called “romantic” relationships. But their defining aspect is sex.
Friends are people we like to spend time with, whom we are neither related to nor have sexual relations with.
We resonate with them because we share certain values, experiences, or a sense of humor. It is an emotional kinship of sorts.
Community is your extended network of people, usually related to your geographical location.
With community, you have less of a choice than with friends. You can choose the town you want to live in but you cannot choose your next-door neighbors.
Yet, these people constitute an important area in our lives, as we are surrounded by them every day.
This category includes any activity we do for the pure joy of it.
There is a spectrum here.
First, there are passive pastimes, like watching Netflix. They require little effort, and there is no goal attached to them. They are an end in themselves.
Then there are semi-directional pastimes, e.g., going bowling with your friends. These require some effort. They are also somewhat more goal-oriented. It’s a game and someone is going to win. But ultimately, you are there to have a good time.
Finally, there are hobbies that still make us feel good, but require a high level of effort. If you are a competitive CrossFit athlete, your investment in your hobby rivals your job. Also, your joy from the activity is dependent on your success.
11. Emotional Growth
Learning to handle our emotions should be a central life project. The more we understand our impulses, the fewer bad decisions we will make.
For example, instead of giving in to jealousy, I can learn to acknowledge my response. I can talk to my partner about it like an adult, instead of making a scene.
To get better at this, you must expose yourself to emotionally challenging situations. Just like any other skill, you must train for it.
12. Intellectual Growth
Our conscious mind is what sets us apart from all other creatures on this planet.
There are two subcategories here:
- Analytical intelligence, i.e., intelligence that is aimed at identifying and applying patterns. Math and physics fall into this box.
- Creative intelligence, i.e., the capacity to come up with something new. Music and painting come to mind.
These two areas can overlap. For example, a physicist like Einstein also had a great deal of creative intelligence. Similarly, a musician like Bach also had a great analytical mind.
To make true use of our possibilities, we need to keep developing both of these facilities. You could do so by learning to code or practicing an instrument.
13. Spiritual Growth
With spirituality, there are three subcategories.
First, there is religion, i.e., worshipping a higher being as part of an organized cult. For example, if you consider yourself Christian, you might attend church or partake in Bible studies.
Then there is the new age movement with its buffet of spiritual options from meditation to energy healing.
The third option is to identify as an atheist or an agnostic. Rejecting spirituality is still a spirituality-related choice.
This category is about where you spend your time. As our physical environment directly influences our well-being, it constitutes a central aspect of our lives.
Common expressions of this are decorating your home, taking care of your garden, or cleaning your car.
Many people take this area of life for granted, but its importance becomes obvious when you lose your home, e.g., due to a fire. Suddenly, you feel uprooted. Similarly, old people get upset if they must leave their familiar environment for a nursing home.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have modern-day nomads who keep moving around while working from their laptops. They are also highly concerned with their physical environment. But they crave that constant change of scenery.
In recent years, ecology has evolved as a central area of our lives.
With man-made climate change, none of us can afford to ignore this category any longer. Even if you don’t get hit by a tsunami or a drought, your children in all likelihood will.
Most people’s lives in the West are devoid of adventure. But we still crave it, as evidenced by the multibillion-dollar movie and game industries; if we can’t have adventures in real life, we must at least have them virtually.
But not everybody is relying on virtual kicks; some people still seek out risk. This might take the form of sexual adventures, extreme sports, entrepreneurship, or traveling.
In a hectic world, all of us must manage our time. This is due to the various commitments that come with modern life — our 9 to 5s, our family commitments, and our digital lives.
Time becomes a commodity, something to be divided up and accounted for.
Why Balance Is Unachievable
The aforementioned areas of life are a popular theme in self-help literature. They are often visualized as a pyramid, where one area builds onto another.
You are then being told that these “X areas of life,” all have to be in balance. Master them all, and you will enjoy happiness. But neglect one of them, and you will suffer.
That is not how it works.
It is impossible to “master” all of these areas. Show me the astrophysicist who is also a UFC champion while dating a model and having reached enlightenment. This person does not exist.
Even if you dial down your expectations for each area of life, you will fail.
The problem is there are too many. If you count all the categories I listed above (including subcategories), you end up with well over 30 different areas in your life.
Assuming you sleep for 8 hours and then are busy with your day job for another 8 hours, and assuming you had no other obligations, that would leave you with approximately 15 minutes per area of life.
Does constantly switching tasks to spend a few minutes on each area of life each day sound like a happy life to you?
But it’s not even so much about time, as it is about energy distribution. Splitting your limited reservoir of attention over 30+ areas of life will achieve nothing. You won’t reach critical mass anywhere.
There is no balance to be achieved here. Something will always be out of whack. The sooner we admit this to ourselves, the sooner we can start looking for a solution.
Making a Choice
If we cannot take care of dozens of different areas in our life that means we must prioritize. We must choose a few areas of life and get comfortable with the fact that we won’t get around to the rest.
How do you make that choice?
The Macro Level
The first thing to realize is that not everything matters equally. Some things are more essential than others.
The thought experiment I propose is this. Imagine someone putting a gun to your head and forcing you to choose only five areas of life. Only five for the rest of your life — everything else is off the table.
I guarantee 95% of people would choose the following five:
- Sexual relationships
Without health, you have nothing; if you get diagnosed with terminal cancer, you are done. And all of us need to pay the bills, i.e., have a stream of income. Few people would forgo sex for the rest of their lives. Even fewer people could go without some form of social warmth, aka family and friends.
So, these five form the bare minimum. Realistically, most people can then add one or two more areas to their lives before they max out. That’s it. Everything else should be ignored, or you will do none of the areas in your life justice.
The Micro Level
Even if you just pursue a handful of different areas, it still matters how much energy you exactly allocate to each of these areas. You could do the bare minimum in one area and then have more resources available for another area.
Let’s take health as an example. You might choose to do cardio for 30 minutes each day, avoid all fast food, and sleep eight hours a night. That’s a very rudimentary health regiment.
By only doing the bare minimum in the health department, you now have more energy to invest in your career, as you are gunning for a promotion.
So, even with the same few areas of life, you could come up with indefinite configurations. Whenever you subtract something from one area, you can add that energy somewhere else.
Vice versa, if you increase your efforts in one area, something else has to give.
All your areas of life are interdependent. It’s a self-regulating system.
So, to summarize. Pay attention to the number of areas you commit to. We are probably talking about the 5 classics, plus one or two “jokers.”
Then think about how you want to distribute your finite energy among these few areas of life. Can you get away with doing the bare minimum in one, so you have more resources for another one?
By acknowledging these realities, you will accomplish much more than by trying to juggle everything.