“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemingway


On Balance

There are two basic qualities that separate the best-in-the-business in any field from those chasing the best.  That these two qualities have little to do with IQ or social strata goes a long way toward explaining the phenomena that “straight A students secure a consistent paycheck, while C students change the world”.

The first of these qualities is balance; the ability to feather potent drives and abilities with enough “clutch and brake” such that the vehicle in total (i.,e., YOU) doesn’t crash-and-burn.  That it’s a ubiquitous trait among the uber successful means that it’s usually overlooked and rarely discussed.  Or if it is mentioned, it’s merely glossed over.  And too, the idea of “balance” isn’t exactly sexy, so it’s a tough marketing sell.

And to make matters worse, the “hard work” portion of that balance equation would fall into the same, “nope, not sexy enough to highlight” category.  So two of the three parts of the all important balance equation, no one wants to hear about.

Conversely, entire (and extremely profitable) industries have been built around the very sexy “rest and recovery” side of the equation.  Go figure.

So balance — at least in the eyes of the masses, and in popular theory — is easy enough to pull off, via excess on the “rest and recovery” side.  But muddle + hedonism is not balance, it’s simply a recipe for consistent underachievement.

Ergo, the truly successful occupy rarified space.  And the rest look at them and wonder, “why not me?”.

And just to make things a bit more interesting yet, each “vehicle” (to continue with that analogy) carries with it an innate durability; some being more fragile, some less so.  That some vehicles are rocket ships and others model Ts means that the man at the helm must understand, thoroughly, the limits of the machinery under his control.  That’s the only way to wring the most performance from it.

Which, to circle back around, puts us in a precarious position as helmsmen of our own destinies.  It is human nature to be wired for excess in all things.  Moderation (balance) doesn’t come without consistent and diligent effort.  It doesn’t “just happen”.

Balance, though, constitutes the very bedrock of success.  Success being the delta between your natural abilities and circumstance versus what you’ve done with them.  Anyone can win with a royal flush.  It takes skill to beat the house with a pair of jacks.

Consider the following with respect to balance:

  • confidence (as opposed to an overly-inflated ego)
  • the ability to self-start (as opposed to burning the candle at both ends).
  • the “there is no failure, only feedback” attitude (versus being demoralized by failure, near misses, and “bad luck”)
  • seeing the “we” in things versus the “I” alone (the universal versus ego)

That those bulleted qualities seem to ooze from those who are successful in any endeavor is hardly a unique observation on my part.  What might be unique though is the way in which I visualize that merger of ability, machinery and balance: I see it as striving to be the Chuck Yeager of my skillset and circumstance.


It’s not hard to imagine that General Yeager would have been indifferent to the vehicle at his disposal.  His nature was to wring the most out of whatever he piloted, regardless of the circumstance.  Time travel him back to the days of the gladiator, he’d have managed the fastest, most nimble of chariots.

The point here is that while the optimal combination and intensity of those qualities will be different for each individual, rest assured there is an optimal throttle / clutch / brake combination.  And it’s the duty of the pilot (YOU) to find that combination in yourself.  Then, be true to it.

Leave some in the well.  And the well, my friend, is infinite.

But topping my list of qualities of the successful is the ability to leave each day at a high point.  In other words, it’s confidence in the knowledge that the well is infinite, and trusting in the fact that it will be there for you to tap again tomorrow.

In economics we might call this the abundance mentality (as opposed to the scarcity mindset).

Now, trust (or faith) is, of course, the metaphysical take on the “infinite well”.  Shifting a bit more scientific, we might define this in terms of letting the subconscious do its thing.  And by leaving on a high point, you give the subconscious abundant fodder to chew on going into the following session.

Hemingway, for example, was famous for leaving the day’s writing session mid sentence.  Secure in the knowledge that he could pick back up tomorrow where he left off.  And, in fact, with more verve and vitality.

That’s trust in an abundant universe; as opposed to the “I’m on a roll and gotta get it in before it’s gone” attitude.  The scarcity mentality.

And this works in a physical sense as well.  Maybe for different reasons (maybe not?).  But all the best athletes and coaches I’ve ever known have prescribed to some variant of old school bodybuilder Lee Haney’s dictate to “stimulate, don’t annihilate”.  In fact, managing that process is what my Five Ts protocol is all about.

A close corollary of this is ending a practice session on a win.  It’s as time tested as any great coaching philosophy.  Give the subconscious a positive to chew on going into the next practice.  Why would you ever do otherwise?

Tip:  I never end a training session on a missed lift.  Never.  But “gimmes” don’t count, either.  Your subconscious will call you out on that.  The lift (or set) has to be meaningful; the win has to be fought hard for, or it’s meaningless.

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To be sure there is a wealth of scientific physiological precedent to support the “balance” model in health and physical performance.  But I think we drastically undervalue the more “woo” contribution of the “infinite well”, here.

Strive for balance.  Trust in the infinite well.  If your success philosophy is rooted here, nothing can stop you.

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world ~


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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.


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