M: “Wise One, have you ever hated the thing you love?”*
Before you start, let me clarify this. First, I thought the word “those” in the title should be “the things” (no, not THOSE things 🤭!).
But on my second thought, since the former appears to be a better “bait”, I decided to leave it there. The title should have been “Too Much of a Good Thing could be Too Much & What to Do about It”.
I had a dream, not noble nor great like the one that Martin Luther King had. My dream was to play Witcher 3 game on PC, when it was released 2 years ago. Playing computer game has always been my passion since I was a child.
And to make my dream come true, I even invested about 3,300 USD to get a top-of-the-line Alienware laptop, a significant amount compared to my income back then.
Actually, $1,500 could play the game just fine. But you know, when it comes to things that you love, “fine” is a shameful compromise. You want only the best.
So, I got the laptop, installed the game, gathered as much time as I could, got myself ready, and enjoyed Geralt’s adventures.
Only for a while!
As best as I could remember, after about a month or so, I lost my desire to play. Although I hadn’t finished the game, I no longer felt that much enthusiastic. Sure, it’s still fun to play. But, besides, I started to feel guilty about playing the game excessively.
I’d fallen into the trap of having too much of a good thing. The same thing might have happened to you. Let me play another scene.
You go shopping. And after turning into a corner, you smell of XYZ, your favorite food. The store is nearby, and you happen to feel hungry (Oh boy! How come such coincidence happens that often!). And so, it’s the nth time, which you’ve lost count, that you bought so much more food than you could eat. You sit there, scold yourself for being too piggy while struggling to finish whatever left, because
1. Mom told you that it’s bad to throw away food, and
2. This one’s your favorite.
Hang on a second. Did you just say that it’s your favorite food? No, I lied about that. It’s my favorite food WHEN I’m hungry.
Sometime, somehow or other, we all are victims of such trap, “desire too much of a good thing”, to quote William Shakespeare.
There’re many meanings regarding what is considered to be “good”, but I’m not gonna start a philosophical debate here. My definition is simple, “good” in this sense refers to something desirable. Now whether such desirable things are beneficial or harmful, that’s another question of our intelligence. So,
You’ve landed that dream job.
You’ve planned lots of things to do and places to visit for the next vacation in that favorite country.
You’ve just discovered your life purpose, and that you have a passion for writing (sounds trouble to me!).
You’ve just quit your day job (I did!), and dreamed of having all the time you can get to do the ONE thing that you love. Why? Because “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”, a cliche that I’ve “heard” many people, too many that I care to remember, who said that it’s the one thing that made many OTHER people successful (sorry for the sarcasm!).
It’s tough luck trying to enjoy 16-hours days on your dream job, or to blissfully rush around to checkmark your to-play list during your holiday.
High hopes are often accompanied by great despairs!
I’ve found out that, unfortunately, no matter how much fun that I have, staying on top of my love is still hard labor to me. And after 8 hours, I’m exhausted.
I’ve learned the lesson. Sometimes, having too much of a good thing is too much.
These days, I try to practice Socrates’s advice:
Everything in moderation. Nothing in excess
My translation: Don’t overindulge in things that we desire.
Again, whether the things that we desire add to our well-being, or satisfy our vices, it is another question. So, please, don’t twist my words for this.
A common misunderstanding of this wise quote is to take it to be that we can have everything, as long as it is in moderation. No! If the thing is a poison, should you have it in moderation? Of course no! Only a fool would do that! You said?
Yeah right. But you’re wising off on the wrong man, let me show you many others, who had done, are doing, and will be doing so. In fact, there’s one you might be familiar with, Rumi The Fool! If you suffer an ingrained addiction, you should have first-hand experience that any amount is NEVER okay.
So, I think it’s worthwhile to remind you of Oscar Wilde, who said: “Everything in moderation…including moderation”. Take the middle way, practice being moderate in all things.
By moderation, for me, it means 65%, or 2/3, of what would normally give me full satisfaction. Where do I get such idea? From economics, the “law of diminishing return”, which states that:
“…in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant (“ceteris paribus”), will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns. The law of diminishing returns does not imply that adding more of a factor will decrease the total production…” (wiki)
Suppose I’m bored to death, the law states that I’d get a lot more fun (my return) during my first 30’ of playing Witcher game (my investment) than the next 30’. Keep playing, and my satisfaction goes up slower and slower (hence lower incremental return on time invested), until exhaustion and guilt set in.
So I’d be better off stopping the game after one hour to get the best value from my time. Note that I don’t necessarily need to be fully satisfied, as reaching that level requires much more time due to the diminishing return.
Besides, I’d rather leave my need unfulfilled to retain my interest, thus ensure high return on my time investment in the next session. Thus,
Stop when you’re 2/3 of the way
Below is the strategy I use to apply this idea in daily life:
A. For Basic Needs
If it’s a need (or a vice, I should say), stop at 2/3 before your need is fulfilled. Now I know that there’re exceptions, for example, sleep.
One problem with “full” or “2/3” is that they are subjective measurements. And due to my tendency to crave for more with regard to the things I want, I wouldn’t trust myself when I say “My need hasn’t been fully satisfied, I need to have more”.
So, I use this question to know whether it’s time to stop an activity:
“Am I still feeling blue/hungry/thirsty/drowsy/lonely?”
I learned this question from Dan Buettner (1), who promotes the idea of stop eating when we are 80% full, or “hara hachi bu”.
With regard to eating, Gemma Sampson (2), a dietitian specializing in performance nutrition for endurance sports, advises to consume your meal slowly, so that your brain has time to register how full your stomach is. That means for those who have a habit of having lunch at your desk, you need to consciously plan a reasonable amount of time.
Now, how much is 65%? It depends. “Know thyself”. If you do eat your meal slowly, after a while, you will get a good idea of the amount.
Back to the topic, set a timer (use your phone; or, if you wear Apple Watch or a smartwatch, it’s super convenient to use the timer there by moving the app to the watch home screen) of 25 minutes.
When the time’s up, ask yourself the question “Am I still feeling blue/hungry/thirsty/drowsy/lonely?”. If you honestly need more, set a new timer for another 25 minutes or less and repeat the process.
B. For Things that Contribute to Well-being
For those things that are beneficial to us, no matter whether you like them or not, such as working, exercising, moving out of comfort zone, developing good habits, spending time with family/friends, etc., use a different question.
When your 25 minutes is up, ask yourself:
“Am I still comfortable continuing this?”
If the answer is “Kind of”, consider it’s time to stop. Even if you’re confident you can do more, stop yourself when you’re just above comfortable. Move out of your comfort zone, yet not too far. Don’t stretch yourself too much.
Now, how do you know when you’re merely above comfortable level? It’s a subjective question that involves trials-and-errors.
However, if an activity requires continuing for a long time, like working, instead of stopping, you take a 5 minutes break, and repeat the process.
Follow this strategy, and you will enjoy those things you love, without one day finding yourself, like I used to be, hating the loves of your life.
And what’s more? You can apply this philosophy in sex as well, don’t overdo it.
Uh, I mean the philosophy only, not the “2/3” formula, save me the trouble of having to explain to your partner afterward.
If you benefit from this post, share it with your loved ones, so that they benefit, too. When somebody shares, everybody wins!
and until our paths cross again, enjoy your journey!
* W: “Yes, whenever I’m mistaken it to be the only thing that I have”.
(1) Buettner, D. (2011). Enjoy Food and Lose Weight with One Simple Phrase. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thrive/201101/enjoy-food-and-lose-weight-one-simple-phrase
(2) Sampson, G. (2014). What does everything in moderation really mean?. Retrieved from http://dietitianwithoutborders.com/what-does-everything-in-moderation-really-mean/