Finding the Balance between Effort and Surrender

Wisdom turns up in unexpected places. Who said, “Life exists somewhere between effort and surrender”?

The legendary and still active 44-year-old quarterback in the National Football League, Tom Brady, might be the most recent.

Many discovered this before him, including Danielle Orner:

Life is a balance between what we can control and what we cannot. I am learning to live between effort and surrender.
I imagine the Buddhists came up with something similar long ago.

How does this apply to therapy?
 


The most distressed of my patients — the joyless ones — inhabited one end or the other. Those who took the effort to an extreme sometimes achieved material or professional success but almost always encountered repeated frustration to obtain it.

Their singular focus also entailed costs for marriage and family.

A number of these, usually men, tackled life as if on the playing field where the domination of the opposition demanded mastery. They viewed problems as a series of obstacles to be overcome to the point of relentlessness. Such individuals were formidable but not easy to live with.

Openness, they believed, revealed weakness.
 
Serenity lay beyond their reach, leading to treatment.
The ones who specialized in surrender gave in to fear out of a lack of confidence and a punishing history. The human beings they encountered fell into the category of potential deliverers of harm, a kind of enemy army. Intimacy and emotional risk lived in the same category.

The safest way of surviving, as they believed, was to trust no one. Pets frequently provided warmth people didn’t.
 
In each of these cases, the counselor’s job is to ask the patient the cost of their favored strategy. If they identify the price, treatment goes forward. A bumpier path lies ahead if the individual has not reflected on the downside.

More than a few continue to defend their preferred choice. They will, perhaps, encounter more emotional pain or disappointment before choosing to make necessary alterations in their style of living. They might require reflection upon why they decided to be the person they are. However, a clear decision might not have occurred since none of us know our motives in every detail.

Many of my clients found their approach to life as children or teens. The solution appeared as the best available choice for the circumstances of the time, place, and people who surrounded them. I’m speaking of parents, relatives, schoolmates, and teachers. Keeping your head down and avoiding attention developed into a necessity for survival.

Time and experience reveal less satisfaction in the course of their lives. To the extent they become aware of the limitations growing out of their existing style, a search begins to remedy their discontent.

The world had changed around them, and the behavioral choices of decades past came to provide less profit and more loss. It was as if the new tires they put on their human vehicle years ago became threadbare.

With enough pain, the motivation to seek a better way ahead emerges.
 
 
But what of the balance between effort and surrender? That idyllic place is a moving target. Always.

I once asked Rick Taft, who managed investments for a living, whether he believed the stock market would rise or fall. “It will fluctuate,” he said.
 
This is true for stocks and most everything else. Just as the weather changes, we retain no promise of health, happiness, wealth, or much else. But if we can stop depending on a smooth life course, we have taken the first step toward emotional balance.
 
Without a single, permanent, satisfying spot between effort and surrender, what then? Here are ten suggestions:
  • Take opportunities where and when they arise. Doors open, but not always more than once.
  • Recognize the only unchanging experience in life is change. You cannot freeze the planet or our bodies in place, as the climate reminds us. Learn to become a tightrope walker on a windy day.
  • You do not have to take every opportunity, but take more than are comfortable if your nature is hesitant. Pull back instead if those instincts tend to push you to jump without looking.
  • Life will unsettle you, as it does to all of us. Resolve to reach for joy in small things, lest the inevitable unfairness of some days wrecks your disposition.
  • No one thinks about you as much as you believe. Others spend too much time with a miniature version of themselves buzzing around their brains. The focus outside of themselves emerges less often, except in moments of outsized feelings like love, hate, and fear. Therefore, don’t worry endlessly about looking foolish and making mistakes, lest you recall embarrassment long after the crowd has moved on.
  • You’ll grow more if you do more and find some exhilaration in daunting moments, balanced or not.
  • Learn to meditate, beginning in a calm and quiet circumstance when possible. Daily practice centered on your breath (as the top video suggests) reduces your chance of being swept away by a stiff breeze or worse.
  • No one figures out their life. Few of us fully display our pain and confusion. Do not be fooled by appearances.
  • If you can find a tender and consoling hand, reach for it. If you see a needy soul, extend your own to them.
  • Smile and laugh. Most of our worries don’t become a reality, and among those that turn out as we feared, a remedy might be found with time and effort.

We live in transit — in a perpetual transition, no matter its static appearance. A man in a train moving at a steady pace has no sense of forward motion except when he looks out the window. An observer outside the train, however, wouldn’t be in doubt about the fellow’s progress.

With the above in mind, think of life as a series of alternatives. The midpoint between them should not always be your target:

    • Sleeping — waking.
    • Seriousness — laughter.
    • Learning — teaching.
    • Following — leading.
    • Being for yourself — being for others.
    • Head — heart.
    • Action — contemplation.
    • With people — alone.
    • Reading — writing.
    • Contemplation — spontaneity.
    • Being in the moment — being conscious of yourself.
    • Looking back — looking forward.
    • Listening — speaking.
    • Getting — spending.
    • Indoors — outdoors.
    • Accumulation of material things — reaching for experiences.
    • Assertion — passivity.
    • Diving in — waiting.

Are you disappointed I have not offered you a simple answer to this puzzle?

Sorry, I am too busy working it out for myself, searching for each day’s new balance!

———-

Beneath the top video are the following images, in order:

  1. An 1891 poster from Wikimedia Commons of Félicia Mallet by Jules Chéret.
  2. Tears of Blood  by Oswaldo Guayasami.
  3. An incredible view of Lake Misurina, Italy, from History Daily.
  4. The Example of One Choice Question, a screenshot simulation from the TV show Are You Smarter Than the Primary School Students? Taiwanese version. The picture’s author is 竹筍弟弟 (talk) from Wikimedia Commons.

    9 thoughts on “Finding the Balance between Effort and Surrender

    1. Dr. Stein, thanks for this informative and insightful post. During my lifetime, I’ve fluctuated between the two extremes of effort and surrender. Maintaining balance on this roller-coaster called life is a daily challenge. I continue to work on those ten suggestions you so kindly share. I’ve recently surrendered the chance of placing my eBook with Apple Stores. The effort of doing so demanded too much of my attention.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Writing a book is a punishing process, so I’ve heard. Yours is still waiting patiently here to be read by me. Your success is remarkable even with the disappointments. Continued good luck, Rosaliene!

      Liked by 2 people

    3. As usual.. we’ll written and insightful. Particularly at this time in my life.

      Like

      • Yes, Laura, the day is short. You might remember that Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and a man who tried to practice a Stoic way of life, wanted to be reminded every day that he would die. He wished for this reminder so that he would live more fully. Here’s to your life of capturing beauty through the photographer’s art. I hope you long continue.

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Wait! You mean I’m never going to figure it all out????? Ha! That’s a hard lesson to learn.

      I noticed that in the video Tom Brady talks about discipline and determination and the value of that combo. If one looks at the facts of my life, they might assume I am both disciplined and determined and they would be right (although I never really thought of myself in that language). Funny thing is, I have recently realized that that combo can also backfire. The combo can put you in a tight box that leaves little room for rest, for levity, for ease. I suppose it’s because I am beyond the mid point in life but I am now starting to consider the value of LESS discipline and determination. I’m going to try that out for awhile.

      Thanks for your thoughtful piece. I hope October is unfolding gently for you and that it includes some delightful surprises.

      Like

    5. Thank you for your good wishes and thoughtful comment, JT. As to your decision, it sounds like a new adaptation and one you have thought through. Good luck during your tryout! I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have an upside for you!

      Like

    6. “No one thinks about you as much as you believe.” Oh, I hope this is true, as I tend to worry about judgment from others.

      Dr. Stein, I have started delving into Bach because my therapist references him in therapy sometimes, and I became curious. I searched on my own and after discussing my investigation with him, he emailed me some links to listen to. There is a cantata that I particularly loved from the first note and I am pasting a link. You must be familiar with this cantata and the singer, and I found this to be the most beautiful song. https://youtu.be/XopQG0Gjgmo

      I now have a new favorite cantata…it is amazing…. https://youtu.be/Hfkq-S7Vis8

      Liked by 1 person

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