04 Mind and Body Contemplations

The Sweet Spot Between Self-Improvement and Action

Applying our learning is its true value.

Applying our learning is its true value.

Many of us are improving our emotions, intellect, body or spirituality through meditation, yoga, reading, workshops, retreats, prayer, gymming, diets and so on. But what if one is doing so much of these that it outweighs the good being done for others and society? How much time should we spend on self-improvement?

Those who have newly started on it need more time. Yet, we all need to take care that it does not become the focus of our lives, its be-all and end-all, an excuse for not doing and living real life. Our value is in being productive for our family, friends and society. Some do it naturally and some by working on themselves, but usefulness is the real reward, not isolated perfection. And without acting, we lose the learning essential for self-actualization.

We need a balancing point between exercising our productivity and increasing our potentiality. 

This needs the optimal amount of work on oneself and no more. After that, the goodness generated needs to be a part of outward, normal life.

Someone may have studied this and worked out the right equilibrium point, but I have not come across it. If you haven’t either, here is my provisional rule-of-thumb for the daily to spend on self-improvement/self-actualization activities.

  • Age 18–30: 30m to 1 hour (family is probably thin, the brain is in the best condition to produce)
  • Age 30–40: 1 to 1.5 hours (establish the family and career but start thinking of long-term mental and physical health, for self and family)
  • Age 40–50: 1 to 2 hours (maximize self-actualization, use experience gained, set up for the second half of life)
  • Age 50-Retirement: 1 to 1.5 hours (enjoy the fruits of work and self-actualization, spend more time with friends, family and colleagues)
  • After Retirement: 2 to 3 hours (there is time to kill, better spend more of it in soothing activities and enjoying life instead of hypochondria, grouchiness and loneliness; ideally, continue being useful but it is okay to drop a few dimensions of utility)

We can divide the rest of the 14–15 waking hours between our main productive occupation, its support and recreation. So include professional learning, sports, entertainment, charitable work, family and friends time in this. We could say these are ‘life’.’ In contrast, the self-improvement is ‘time out’ from life, i.e., activities that are reflective, mindful and inwardly-directed, even those done in groups.

This is a rough guide. The idea is — balance your balancing.

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