Seeking Extremes and Finding Balance

'It's all because of doing things by halves,' [Zorba] would often say to me, and 'saying things by halves, being good by halves, that the world is in the mess it's in today. Do things properly by God! One good knock for each nail and you'll win through! God hates a half-devil ten times more than an arch-devil!'

— Alexis Zorba, Zorba The Greek

There is a middle way between the extremes of indulgence and self-denial, free from sorrow and suffering. This is the way to peace and liberation in this very life.

Finding the Middle Way

We start out with two general approaches, one that is all-or-nothing and one that seeks a balance between extremes. These two approaches show up almost everywhere in any sort of pursuit, and the best way forward almost always requires one or the other.

For example, when taking antibiotics, it’s better to either not take them at all or take the whole course. Only taking a partial course leads the buildup of antibiotic resistance. On the other hand, when deciding what to eat, it is almost always better to strike a balance between food groups than to eat all meat one day and all vegetables on another.

This list for each goes on and on. The important thing to recognize when you’re faced with any sort of situation is whether you should take the all-or-nothing approach or the balanced approach.

All or Nothing

All or nothing is a bit of misnomer. This approach is more about avoiding the middle zone (doing things “by halves”, as Zorba would say) than choosing between 0% and 100%.

Generally, you should take the all-or-nothing approach when:

  • There is a threshold after which all the benefits are realized (e.g. quitting now vs waiting several years bonus for guaranteed pension)
  • There is an inflection point after which benefits accelerate faster than downsides, either due to acceleration of benefits or diminishing downsides (e.g. robbing a bank for $20k and getting 7 years vs embezzling $1MM and getting 10 years)

Some examples:

  • Stopping or speeding up when faced with a yellow light
  • Taking a course of antibiotics
  • Pacing when running or doing work (Workload and Rate of Perceived Exertion)
  • Extreme Sports (need to 100% commit or don’t BASE jump at all)

Balance

Generally, you should take the balanced approach when:

  • There are diminishing returns for all categories involved (e.g. eating only vegetables, eating only meat, eating only fruit, etc)
  • There exists interaction between the categories where the sum of the whole becomes greater than the parts (e.g. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so eating foods with Vitamin D and eating fatty foods is better than doing either in isolation)

Some examples:

  • Balancing work and life
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Points of view (cults have no balance here)
  • Middle functions in MBTI (video)

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