Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.
Besides courage and justice, moderation has always been at the pinnacle of moral virtue. You will find this in every ancient religious or philosophical text. And yet we live in a culture that worships excess. We marvel at obsessive athletes, praise self-destructive artists, and draw inspiration from successful workaholics. Aren’t Kim Kardashian and Dan Bilzerian symbols of excess, too? I don’t really know them, but that’s what I’ve heard. They seem to be mad famous. And it makes sense, for excess makes people stand out, and standing out breeds fame.
Furthermore, what do we associate with moderation nowadays? Boredom, stuffiness, lack of enthusiasm, passionlessness, mediocrity? And then there are even those like William Blake, who wrote, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” So were they all wrong, our wisest forebears and moral leaders of the centuries? Was Aristotle wrong when he defined the good as the middle of two extremes?
Consider that William Blake went on to say, “You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” And this is exactly why moderation is not just a matter of discipline, but also a matter of wisdom! A man can truly moderate himself only if he knows what is moderate, that is, if he is wise enough to see the middle, the mean between excess and deficiency. That wisdom, however, he can only gain when he has experienced the extremes. Without that experience, he lacks perspective, lacks wisdom, and lacks knowledge of what is truly moderate. Having never lived and thought and felt and acted in both excess and deficiency, all his willpower to moderate himself will be in vain—and his discipline blind and confused. Nor will he be able to appreciate the good of a balanced soul and life.
For everyone who isn’t a sage (yet), the principle of everything in moderation, including moderation sounds like a good way to go because it promotes both discipline and perspective. At least, that is the way I go, and I am happy with it. In case you are interested, this is how I practice “everything in moderation, including moderation” in my own life:
- Phases. Whenever I learn a new skill (e.g., strength training, meal planning, pickup, science, martial arts, meditation, speaking, writing), I try to become obsessed initially—make it a phase in my life with total focus on that one thing—to see what good it bears. Then, if I find it to be worthwhile, I moderate my practice of that skill in order to balance it with my other pursuits in life.
- Diet. I strictly control my caloric intake, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my bodymind when I eat in excess (cheat day) or nothing at all (fasting day).*
- Work. I balance intense work sessions and mind-cooling recovery every day, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my productivity when I work in excess (20-hour workdays) or nothing at all (day off).
- Alcohol. I rarely drink and if I do, I only have maybe two or three shots of whiskey, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my social behavior when I drink in excess (get wasted) or nothing at all (party sober). (Note how there are two types of moderation: tempering intensity and tempering frequency.)
- Training. I work out or train martial arts no more than 2 hours a day, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my progress when I train in excess (2-3 times a day) or not at all (recovery day).
- Caffeine. I purposefully plan my coffee and tea consumption, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my performance when I take large doses (>400 milligrams) or nothing at all (reset tolerance).
- Reading. I allocate about one hour of my day to read, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my creativity when I read an entire afternoon or not at all.
- Emotions. I temper my emotional reactions, but sometimes I experiment with how it affects my soul when I go berserk (yell and get up in people’s faces or kill the heavy bag) or do not react at all (emotion suppression).
- Discipline. I balance hardcore willpower exertion with letting go and enjoying myself, but sometimes I experiment with how it effects my life quality when I rigorously control myself without cutting myself any slack whatsoever.
The key here is intentional experimentation. Whenever I move toward an extreme, I have chosen to do so in a state of control and mindcoolness. I never let emotions or other people push me into excess. For, as always, the only thing that matters for a man is that the does his True Will. Depending on what one truly wants, moderation may look different for different people. Conversely, by experiencing extremes and learning to see the golden mean, a man can clarify his True Will.
* A few words on eating in moderation: Eating sugar in moderation means to have a piece of fruit, or two, but having some cookies or whatever junk food every day is already excess in terms of healthy nutrition. Conversely, eating greens in moderation means to have large servings of it, for a single leaf of salad is not moderate, but deficient nutrition. Finally, moderation doesn’t mar the joy of eating; in fact, it heightens it over time by sharpening the senses, including the sense of gratitude.
- How Moderation Gives Us Freedom
- The Four Cardinal Virtues and How to Practice Them
- Is Self-Control Natural? On the Dilemma of Discipline Vs. Spontaneity