A model for balancing pushing myself with enjoying life

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you work hard to improve your life — studying hard, working long hours, being patient with a significant other, etc?

If you’re always pushing, when do you get to enjoy life? But if you’re always enjoying, do you ever improve?

Do you wonder if you’re slacking too much or working too hard? Do you wonder how to balance both aspects of your life?

Today’s model shows how I think about how I balance pushing, trying, and improving with enjoying, relaxing and stopping to smell the roses.

A model for balancing pushing myself with enjoying life: If my emotional reward stays constant I’m doing alright.

Here’s how I think of how I improve

Overall personal growth over time I can’t say exactly how I quantify the vertical axis. Something about how good I consider my life. I’m sure you understand. The graph shows that I improve for a while, then plateau for while, then improve, then plateau, and so on. I’ve smoothed the graph for simplicity because sometimes I have spikes when I feel awesome or terrible, but they don’t usually last that long.

While I’m improving I push, I work, and I try. It takes effort. While I plateau I’m not pushing. I’m relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor.

The black line on this graph shows how much I learn over the same time.

How much I learn over timeThe gray line repeated from the previous graph just shows how my learning overlaps with my periods of trying versus my periods of relaxing. You can see while I’m trying and pushing I learn. When I’m relaxing I don’t learn. (I’m simplifying. I do learn some when I’m relaxing, certainly in different ways. I’m just illustrating schematically).

The black line on this graph shows how much fun I have over the same time.

Fun rate in my lifeYou can see while I’m relaxing I’m having fun. When I’m learning I don’t have fun. (Again, I’m simplifying. I do have fun while trying. It’s just schematic).

So you see that by alternating between the behavior of pushing and relaxing I alternate between learning and enjoying.

Now let’s look at my overall emotional reward. Note that I feel reward when my environment, beliefs, and behavior are in sync, which happens both when I learn and when I have fun.

Overall rewardThis graph shows my overall reward stays constant. I like to live my life that way. Whatever I’m doing — pushing, relaxing, trying, not trying, etc — I keep a constant level of emotional reward. Generally I don’t mind which activity I use to create the reward. If I get tired or bored of one I switch to another.

Also, I try to increase the overall reward, but I showed it flat here for simplicity.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when wondering if I’ve pushed too hard for too long or haven’t pushed enough and have slacked too long.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces wondering if I’m spending my time too much in one area or another with enjoying however I’m spending my time. I know that I’ll switch to the other soon enough.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to finding reward equally in pushing and relaxing.

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