How Understanding Chaos and Order as a Continuum Helps Build a Balanced and Meaningful Life

Filed under: Personal Growth

Life operates on a series of continuums. A well-balanced life has you living away from the extremes of any one continuum.  Chaos versus order is just one continuum. But we’ll touch on several others in this article, and if you really think about it, this can change your life.

That’s because, just like the frog doesn’t realize it is being incrementally boiled, we may not realize just how far we have migrated towards an extreme without pausing for intentional reflection.  

But first, what the heck do we mean by “continuum"? We thought about giving you a weird physics analogy, but this may be easier.  Think of a seesaw (teeter totter) where two children may bounce back and forth at a playground as your eyes travel these letters.  We tend to be attracted to the extremes yet we are often most comfortable when we rest in balance. 

Balance may sound boring but have you actually tried to do this on a seesaw?  It is quite challenging alone, never mind with a friend! 

So as you read through these categories, we encourage you to set aside your regular beliefs and simply wonder what balance might look, sound, and feel like for you along each of these continuua.  If at the end you decide balance is not for you, that’s fine!  Just take the time to give it a chance now.  Who knows, maybe this could be a pivot point for you that realigns your life.

Chaos and Order

To start this journey, we first need to understand just what we should be taking a look at. In this case, the balance between chaos and order. We’ll likely get some difference of opinion here, but let’s break it down to a simple example. 

Everyone wants to feel better, right? At least that’s the one common goal we always think about when it comes to personal growth.

The helicopter. 

We’ve seen helicopters in movies as they dart about in the sky. They perform daring rescues and close-in pursuits. They’re a marvelous symbol of human ingenuity. They are also the perfect example of what we can accomplish when order and chaos find balance. 

On the surface, a helicopter is an ordered machine. Its propellers go in a certain direction and it’s design is aerodynamic. It needs to use its fuel efficiently and its controls need to have an ordered pattern to them. Yet if that were all a helicopter was, then it would never achieve its purpose.

You see, a helicopter is only just barely kept in a state of order. In reality, there is so little keeping it in the air, flying in a straight line. It possesses an uncanny level of chaos. That’s what makes it so maneuverable, so easy to swing about the sky as if it were born there and not in some terrestrial factory. 

A helicopter rules the skies because it has seamlessly blended chaos and order into a single balanced tool, as all things should, and can, be. 

Now helicopters are all well and good, but, as much as some of us would like to be, we aren’t helicopters. We might ask ourselves, “How can I find balance in my life?” 

The answer, while large in scope, is simple enough.

In order to live a happy and fulfilling life, we must discover and design a balance that keeps our life both meaningful and engaging.  

Without balance, imagine what life might be like.  If you operate with pure chaos, your have no plan. You have no direction.  You are fully reactive and never proactive. Your life is a constant state of stress and unknown.  You have massive uncertainty.

What about pure order?  That’s called B-O-R-I-N-G.  Where is the adventure if you have every second of every day planned on a “to do list”. Heck, you can’t even sit down to watch a Maple Leafs hockey game without expecting some chaos - the unknown of what’s going to happen.  That is, unless it’s the playoffs, in which case they’re guaranteed to lose.  

Yeah, sorry Toronto. We went there.

But let’s move onto something more important.  If we’re not going to live with total chaos or total order, how exactly do we experience balance? 

Identifying When You Are Experiencing Balance

Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky developed a model called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) that is very useful in both creating and spotting these optimal moments of balance.

Lev Vygotsky Zone Of Proximal Development

This model is used around the world in classrooms and that doesn’t devalue its use for you now!  

The inner green circle can be thought of as your safety zone.  The things you have done.  The things you know.  

The orange circle is when you step outside of your comfort zone, the moments when you are unsure of your footing.  This is the ONLY zone where you can expect progress.  As you can see, this risk zone is a continuum in and of itself.  You could have one foot on safety while the other is reaching into risk or you could be at the very periphery of your chance to take a risk and still experience growth. 

Are you wondering what is beyond your reach in the pink circle?  You will know when you are in the pink circle when you are experiencing the fight or flight reflex.  When you have to metaphorically (or literally!) head for the door or at least find the balcony. 

When you are able to identify the moments, you have an incredible opportunity to ask yourself  a powerful question; what resource can I access that will allow me to return to the ZPD so that I may experience the benefits of progress?  

As Tony Robbins says, progress = happiness!

The Giving vs Receiving Continuum

Unless we live in a hermetically sealed box then we as human beings are in a constant state of giving and receiving. That’s because we’re interacting with others.  We give, and we take.  And please don’t think of “take” as a bad thing.  When someone offers you something, they are giving, and you are allowing them to give by doing the taking.

A husband may give his wife a kiss on the cheek, and she might clasp his shoulder in a mighty muscular squeeze. This exchange works for this couple.

Now consider an alternate reality where one partner does not return the affection. Let’s say ten kisses on the cheek go by with no reciprocation. We might think to ourselves, “Hey, mate, that’s a bit odd, but it’s just a kiss on the cheek, and I can give those all day.”

Oh, my naive souls. 

Our brains like to trick us with trivialities. If we make something small enough then it will last forever.  A father may advise his daughter, “Small bites and it will last longer, sweetheart.” Only we both know she’s taking from the chocolate bar and giving nothing back.

Unrequited affection works in the same way. In giving those kisses, we deplete ourselves. Without reciprocity, then that same affection which once lit the inferno of our kisses will fade away. The kisses will fade too and all that remains will be a lifeless shell of what once was. 

Take a look at your life. What do you give away of yourself and what do others give you? Think about your time, energy, money, or anything else you give to others. Are the exchanges equal? Look back to the ZPD and decide if you would like to make any adjustments.

Towards vs Away as a Continuum

All of us have goals in life. They might be single one stop events or multi universe plans for domination. These are things we’re moving towards.

Regardless of scope, each and every goal we will ever conceive, fictional or otherwise, will have an end point, the point that says “Well done, dude. Kick your shoes off and put your feet up, the next round is on the house.”

That target state is simple enough, and we can spend a lot of energy dealing with the chaos that fights us on our path to greatness. Hey, there’s that chaos sneaking in again, while we fight to create order!

We also have things we’re avoiding … things we’re moving away from.  We teach people to ask themselves (or their clients) the magic question, which is “What do you want?”

You’d be surprised by how often people answer by explaining all of the things they don’t want.  

I don’t want to feel so stressed. I don’t want to argue with my kids so much. I don’t want to lie awake all night with insomnia.

It’s amazing how many people define their lives by what they don’t want.  Unfortunately that list is infinite.  We don’t want to mine for tin on the planet Jupiter.  We don’t want to build bonfires in our bedroom, and we don’t want a dozen root canals even if they are free, and performed by Elon Musk himself.

There must be a balance of things we don’t want … that we move away from, and things that we do want, and move towards.

If we live on the “away from” end of the spectrum, we have no rudder. We are aimless and going nowhere fast.

And if we are fully working “towards” something, we may not spend enough time to think about what baggage we’re hanging onto for no good reason.

Narrow vs Wide. 

A photographer knows when to use the wide angle lens versus the zoom.  If they aimed to capture the milky way and didn’t know how to pick the right lens and setup the equipment properly, it is safe to say they would not be published in Astronomy Picture of the Day!

It’s a nice metaphor in many ways. If we frame our lives around a bunch of micro-analyzed moments, it’s like having the zoom lens on max. We never see the big picture, and it might be hard to figure out what you’re moving towards!

Similarly, if we spend our life with the wide-angle lens permanently welded to our faces, we are never going to nail the details. We’ll have a great big picture view while failing to master anything in particular.

Ask yourself, where do I put my focus? Do I spread it around like cheap peanut butter or do I hoard it somewhere dark never to be seen?

Instant vs Delayed Gratification 

Ah, our modern problem. In a world where the entire library of human experience rests at my fingertips (1,760,000,000 results in 0.54 seconds), then why would we ever wait for anything ever again? 

Happiness, for starters.

You see, if we can have everything in half a second, then we miss out on the experience. Many of us have gone to college, gotten degrees or gone through training programs. We’ve become educated through institutions or through apprenticeships. But do I need to spend two years learning to woodwork when that guy on YouTube can show me, step by step, in a seven-minute clip?

That instant gratification doesn’t lead to mastery.  

Hunter S Thomson may have put it best:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

That’s life, a ride. 

Nothing stops us from taking a plane through our lives, from breezing over the mountains and streams, over the river and through the woods and so far past grandma’s house that we will never smell her cookies again. That’s the crux of it. If we slip past the chaos of life, if we opt for an orderly withdrawal from being alive, then we will miss all the good parts because, much as it can suck, we cannot have the good without the bad.

Another way to say this: Instant gratification is like short term planning while delayed gratification is long term planning.  There’s room for both in life. But if you focus mostly on one, at the expense of the other, you’re missing out.

Give your day a quick review. Where have we found ourselves taking the easy way, avoiding experience for expedience? 

Yes vs No

What happens when something is asked of you? You say yes, or you say no. Two simple words, yet they form the foundation for basic human communication. We could imagine yes and no to be the two base angles upon the fulcrum of life balance.

Put simply, if we become a yes person, always agreeing and being all servile, then we’ll lose control over our lives. We’ll be someone else’s doormat, uncertain of just when and where we will be stepped on. Some might even call this “spineless”, and it will cost us a loss of respect as we’re unable to push back against unreasonable demands.

But saying no all the time isn’t any better. The person who constantly rejects requests and ideas lives a boring and closed-off life. Where is the adventure and excitement? Where is the willingness to contribute? Where is the growth? Where is the love and connection? 

Yes and no must be in balance. If you live at one end of this continuum, the lines, once so elegant and faithful, so in balance, have become a ragged mess. They no longer connect, and much like that triangle, our lives will fail to connect as well. 

We can go right back to giving and receiving. Yes and no are the quintessential aspects of such a practice and if we abuse either, then we’ll be left on that barren plain, the high place and the low made the same, and in the consideration of our daily lives everything that travels on that plain will be apparent and boring.

Keep a notebook on you. Go through your daily rituals, your interactions and keep a list of the requests made of you. Note down how many yeses and how many nos. The answer might surprise you.

Now what?

In order to live a happy and fulfilling life, we must discover and design a balance that keeps our life both meaningful and engaging. 

Why don’t you rate yourself along a continuum for the examples discussed in this blog post. Are you more to one side than the other? Or does life feel perfectly balanced (whatever that means to you)? Use the sliding scale to your benefit and pick whichever continuum feels the most out of balance to make a change!

Draw these scales on a piece of paper, or if you want, print them out and mark with an X the place along the line where you think you are now. Then use these scales to decide what part of your life you want to change next.

Giving/Receiving Scale

Towards/Away Scale

Narrow/Wide Scale

Instant/Delayed Gratification Scale

Yes/No Scale

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