I sat down to write down some of my yearly goals a week ago, and before my hand could channel my thoughts, I had a list of five: travel to countries, go to (and speak at) conferences, read more books, write more articles, find your passion. Fortunately, a brilliant article on journaling that I re-read recently came to mind as I did this exercise. I realized — while they were all great goals — they didn’t come from a place of balance.
What do I mean?
Air, Earth, Fire, and Water: there is no life without any of them. You need them all, and you need them in balance. Too much fire and you will burn down a neighborhood, too little fire and you are entrapped in cold. They are as necessary as they are complementary: Fire needs water to be quenched and the earth needs the wind to move it.
These four together are called the Classical Elements and are embedded in the ancient histories of almost all civilizations.
They were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances. Ancient cultures in Persia, Greece, Babylonia, Japan, Tibet, and India had similar lists, sometimes referring in local languages to “air” as “wind” and the fifth element as “void”.
Of course, we now know that the atom is so much more convoluted than four simple elements, comprising of over a hundred chemical elements itself. Regardless of the science, these elements — once correlated with certain characteristics — are a proven way to establish balance in your life.
Let’s try to attach characteristics to each of the elements (this is based on research and personal experience):
Air: Air represents wisdom. It is the element that gives you your sense of peace, lets you feel connected to something bigger than yourself, and brings clarity. Example activities include taking a stroll in a quiet neighborhood, reading books, meditating, etc.
Fire: Fire represents action and movement. It is the element that makes you feel productive, energized, and keeps you moving. Example activities include going to the gym, climbing a mountain, preparing for and giving a speech, etc.
Earth: Earth represents structure. It is the element that makes you feel comfortable, restores structure in life, and ensures stability. Example activities include following a daily routine, taking rest, taking care of self, etc.
Water: Water represents emotion. It is the element that makes you feel connected to yourself and to the community around you. It helps build relationships. Example activities include talking to your loved ones, introspection, helping others, etc.
Note: It’s important to note that any of these in excess will lead to unpleasant situations: over-analyzation (air), burnout (fire), emotional overwhelm (water), and lethargy (earth).
Elements to Goals
So, going back to my introduction, I realized that my goals were not balanced at all. I wanted to stick to fire and air, by writing down goals that involved action and drive or creativity and thinking. Having recorded my daily habits for over a year, I knew the importance of having a balance in my every day life. When I have a long day sitting at the office, I have the need to stretch my legs and go for a run. When I spend an evening at a bombastic event filled with people and music, I just want to go home, sit in a quiet place, and close my eyes.
We are all physiologically trained to reach this momentary sense of balance every day. Isn’t it only sensible to incorporate this into my yearly goals as well? So I took out a few post-it notes and began scribbling away.
I told myself to limit each quadrant to ≥ 2 and ≤ 3 goals. That way, I will be oriented towards thinking holistically. As you would expect, I filled in the area under fire and air in a jiffy. The other two took me a while: how can I improve my sense of connectedness with people? How can I take care of myself better? What is something — if done moderately — that makes me comfortable? These are hard questions, but enough time and staring at a post-it will prompt you to eventually get there.
Finally, I had the list ready. Not only did I write these down on a post-it, I went the extra crazy mile to transcribe them into a document and laminate the same.
Now, it hangs colorfully on my bedroom wall.
Is This Required?
You must think: is this really necessary? Can’t I just stick to going over my goals in my head? Or, what if I prefer not to have any goals and go where life takes me?
No, it’s not necessary. But, let me explain why this is helpful before you go.
Neural connections: A study conducted by a Professor of Psychology at the Dominican University reported the following:
More than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than half way there), compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.
Some have argued that this is because of the way your brain is structured: the right hemisphere being more imaginative and the left more literal. Writing down a goal lets your imaginative side talk to the more logical and literal side to establish a connection.
External visual > internal visual: Have you encountered situations where you hear someone go on and on about a topic, yet you barely comprehend it until they show you an image of how it works? It’s natural. We tend to process visual data 60,000 times faster than simple text, or imagination.
Looking at your goals on a nicely laminated paper every day will be more helpful for you than extracting it from inside your head every time.
Social feedback: Finally, most importantly, there is the social aspect (as there is to everything). When you write down the goals and post it on a social platform, you are making a silent promise to yourself, and to those around you. Multiple studies have proven the importance of external validation already.
And, you will obtain a motivation boost seeing encouraging comments from people.
So take a few minutes to mull over your goals for the year: are they too confined to a single quadrant? or to only two quadrants? If yes, then re-think it once more until you achieve that balance. Going through this process will help you align your thinking to take care of yourself and the people around you to live a happier life.
Of course, none of the above matter if you don’t remind yourself of your goals for the rest of the year, and practice this balance on a daily basis. I hope you do, and I hope this helps you along the way.
I’m a Product Manager and Writer, and I love experimenting with new techniques to improve my habits and happiness every day. If you like my writing, consider signing up for my bi-monthly newsletter. No spam, I promise. 🙂