Moderation is freedom because it increases our behavioral flexibility. It broadens the range of actions we can take in a given situation. It allows us to change our behavior flexibly based on what we truly want to do. Moderation is freedom because it puts our Will in charge of our life.
Think about it. A former alcohol addict who cannot allow himself to touch a drink ever again in his life may be perfectly abstinent. But he is not perfectly free. Not as free as someone who has never had issues with alcohol: who can choose to have a drink when he wants to and stay in total control. His willpower and moderation skills give him behavioral flexibility and thus freedom.
When we have the self-discipline to moderate our behavior, we are constrained not by addiction or obsession, nor by abstinence or laziness. When we have the self-discipline to control our behavior, we are free.
Moderate consumption is the golden mean between addiction (too much) and abstinence (too little); balanced productivity is the golden mean between obsession (too much) and laziness (too little). Freedom is found in the middle, not at the extremes.
Many people take pride in always going for the extreme. All or nothing. This is often a sign of poor self-control skills. The extreme is usually the easier option because it requires less attention management. Exerting willpower, however, means doing what is hard. (Willpower Condensed, p. 45)
For example, when I reflect on my media consumption (books, podcasts, YouTube, etc.), I sometimes feel like going all-in or all-out. But then I remind myself that neither extreme would improve the quality of my life. Neither gluttony nor total restraint would make me happy. Only moderation will.
The same is true for drugs like caffeine. As part of my current mindfulness challenge, I have radically decreased my caffeine consumption: no more coffee, seldom green tea, and nothing at all during the past six days. I felt a slump in energy at the beginning, but then I was fine without the stimulant. However, I did not notice a surge of happiness or freedom. While my work motivation throughout the day might have slightly increased, it took a lot of fun out of my strength workouts. Over the next weeks, I will try to find the optimal balance between coffee highs and stimulant-free motivation elevation. Now, do you see what gives me the freedom to experiment with and optimize my body like that? Self-controlled moderation.
Ever since my sexual abstinence challenge, I have also been conducting self-experiments to find the optimal balance between having sex, masturbating, and being austere. Too much casual sex costs too much time, too frequent masturbation saps the pleasure I get from it, and too long chastity costs too much temptation-battling energy. The challenge here, actually, is not controlling and moderating myself, but knowing my True Will, that is, identifying my individual golden mean between the extremes.
Finally, work. Obsessing about work is something I am absolutely guilty of. I painfully experience what a workaholic I am when I try to do a simple breathing meditation for 45 minutes and fail miserably at not thinking about work, even though I have been practicing meditation for years. This, however, is an area where I am unwilling to pursue greater balance. I do take care of my body and soul with my mindfulness practice, strength training, and jiu-jitsu; so my lack of moderation is not too extreme. But if I have no time to socialize, be entertained, or talk to anyone for two weeks straight, as is often the case, so be it. This is not ideal, but it is what my current mission demands. I see it as an exercise in moderating moderation.
However, knowing that moderation is freedom, I do my best to implant this one question into my default decision making process: will doing this increase my behavioral flexibility, or will it constrain my natural freedom?
I invite you to do the same, to consider the virtue of moderation like that, and to tell me in the comments below about how it has affected your life.