True personal development is all about balance. If you focus on one aspect of your life to the exclusion of the others then no matter how much you improve in that one area, neglecting those other areas will only lead to overall digression. To ensure a more balanced approach, each key area of your life must be addressed.
For example, before I start my day I usually set aside about 15 min early in the morning where I plan out the day ahead. A key component of that early-morning activity is taken up in what I call “balanced planning”, where I ask myself the following four questions:
- “What is the most important thing that I can do today to improve myself physically?”
- “What is the most important thing that I can do today to improve myself mentally?”
- “What is the most important thing that I can do today to improve myself socially/emotionally?”
- “What is the most important thing that I can do today to improve myself spiritually?”
These questions encapsulate the four key areas of our makeup: our physical self, our mental self, our spiritual self, and our emotional/social self. They are not mutually exclusive. Neglecting any of these four areas of your life leads to imbalance — ultimately pouring over and affecting all the other areas.
What’s great about these questions is that they focus on what’s ‘most important’ in that specific area of your life. They help to narrow it down to four manageable tasks that over time lead to tremendous growth.
So what are some of the ‘most important things’ you could be working on? Let’s explore some examples in each area:
The physical refers to our physical bodies. This includes your general state of health, your fitness level, your diet, the ability to mitigate stress and so on. Your body is essentially the instrument of the other three key areas: the mind (the mental self), the heart (the social/emotional self) and the spirit (the spiritual self).
When you neglect the physical dimension of your life, not only do you lose your health but, as I said before, it affects the other three areas as well. Mentally you lose focus, creativity, endurance, toughness, learning capacity and retention. Emotionally/socially you become slave to your passions and appetites. Also, your commitment to, compassion for, and love towards others wanes because of the lack of love, commitment and compassion for your own self. Spiritually, it affects your desire to contribute, serve, and sacrifice; your conscience becomes dulled and you lose focus of what’s important and meaningful.
So what is the ‘most important’ thing that you could be doing to improve yourself physically? Well, that’s specific to each person. Generally speaking though, we improve ourselves physically through exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate rest and renewal. But the specifics of how you go about doing this is entirely up to you.
Here are some examples:
- refrain from eating junk food for this one day
- go for a 20-min jog
- make an appointment to go see your doctor
- schedule a time in the day for rest, relaxation, and stress management
Whatever it is, just keep in mind that this is your most important thing. Just by taking a quiet moment to reflect on your current physical state, you will instinctively know what the most important thing regarding your health is.
Our mental makeup has to do with our capacity to analyze, reason, think abstractly, use language, as well as learning about the what, where, when, why, and how of things. It represents the knowledge and skills that we gain through study and examination and is absolutely crucial in the knowledge-era that we live in.
If you neglect the mental dimension of your life, like the physical, it will detrimentally affect all the other areas. For example, not understanding the role of proper nutrition or the importance of correct form and frequency when exercising, can lead to premature ageing, over-training, or injury. In the social/emotional realm your relationships become affected because you’re directed by your prejudices, labels, and stereotypes instead of truth. Spiritually, because you ignore the persistent promptings of your conscience to learn and grow, your conscience first numbs, then dulls, and finally silences — causing a loss of meaning and vision in life.
What are some ‘most important’ things in the mental realm? Well, any type of learning that pushes you outside of your current level of performance or thinking, causing an expansion of skills, talent, and ability would be a candidate of a most important thing that you could do to improve yourself mentally. This could be related to your vocation or any hat you might wear — like a parent. Or it could be something entirely new for you like learning a foreign language.
Here are some other examples:
- attending courses at a local community college
- keeping up with the latest trade journals related to your profession
- expand your knowledge of other cultures, religions, and traditions
- carry a notebook with you to write down a list of questions that come to your mind as you go about your day. Research the answers when you get home.
The key is to aim for constant and never-ending growth. By adopting the attitude of one who is continually improving, learning, and growing, you will have the ability to adapt to the constant changes that life throws at you and as a result, you’ll be able to contribute in any area of life.
That social/emotional part of you has to do with your relationship with others and yourself. It allows you the ability to be self-aware, motivated, and disciplined, as well as the social aspects of interacting with and understanding (empathizing with) others. You must consistently nourish the relationships with yourself and others if you wish to direct and control your own life as well as have the ability to influence and lead others.
How does neglecting this dimension of your life affect all the others? Lack of self-discipline can lead to extremes — such as in eating and drinking affecting your physically. Studies have also shown that unhealthy relationships can impact the body and weaken the immune system. Internal anxiety or inner turmoil can lead to your mind becoming unfocused and distracted — affecting your ability to think rationally or creatively. Your spirit also becomes effected to the point where you begin to feel helpless, hopeless, victimized, and in the extreme, suicidal.
Some important things in the social/emotional realm might be:
- developing discipline by making and keeping promises to yourself and others
- learning to speak in public
- regularly taking a personal inventory
- practicing true listening with others
- setting and achieving goals
The spiritual side of ourselves is the central and most fundamental of all the four aspects of our lives because it becomes the source of guidance for the other three. It represents that intangible quality of yourself that seeks meaning and purpose. It is that part of you that is connected to and seeks out something greater than yourself. Whether that be God, the universe, infinite intelligence or however you may describe it. It is the driving force behind our conscience which allows us to discern true principles and discover truth.
Like the other four, neglecting the spiritual dimension affects all the others. Physically you can notice someone who is spiritually weak. They lack a certain ‘brightness’ in their eyes and countenance. Not living according to one’s conscience leads your mind to become filled with guilt and rationalization. Socially/emotionally people lose the ability to understand and empathize with others. Their compassion diminishes and egotism takes over.
Here are some important things that you can do to improve the Spiritual part of you:
- reading the wisdom literature of the past such as the Bible, the Koran, the works by Plato, Socrates, Thoreau and so on
- giving service to others
- random acts of kindness
- read inspirational biographies of people who inspire you
When it comes down to it, many of us are so unhappy with life because we hold an inaccurate picture of who we are. We may succeed financially, or have tremendous health, or have great relationships and so on but because we neglect the other important areas of our life we lack a sense of wholeness. However, humans, by nature, are 4-dimensional. They’re made up of the body (the physical), the mind (the mental), the heart (the social/emotional) and the spirit (the spiritual). Neglecting any of these four areas of your life leads to imbalance which contributes to unhappiness and ultimately will pour over and effect those areas where we do feel confident.
The whole concept is towards a whole and complete person. Focus too much on one at the behest of another and it leads to imbalance. With that, let these four questions be your daily dose of â€˜whole’-istic medicine.