Happiness, Focus, Obsession, Twenty Televisions and The Broken Myth Of Balance

Wall of TVs
image: JuleP67

The secret to happiness is a balanced life, right?

Achieving that perfect combination – the rewarding career, the wonderful loving family, the fulfilling hobbies and passions (equal parts replenishing and thrilling, relaxing and invigorating) and of course a large house full of pretty stuff. That’s the route to happiness, isn’t it?

Despite my original training as a “Life Coach”, which had at its core this pursuit of the perfect work/life balance, as I’ve read about, written about, worked with, coached, and been inspired and taught by more and more amazing creative artists over the years, I’ve realised that this is an impossible dream. News Flash, eh?

The plump red cherry on the top of this sweet little cake of enlightenment that’s slowly been baking within me, came in the form of a comment from my good friend Courtney Carver.

You know how some people have a habit of taking something you’ve been pondering and wrestling with for weeks, months, even years, and are able to encapsulate it in a single line of simple, searing truth?

Well Courtney does that pretty often. On this occasion she said:

“Balance does not exist when you have too much to balance.”

Something went off in me that was not so much a lightbulb, but more akin to a gigantic mile high lighthouse that can be seen from space.

This phrase, this idea, helped me finally realise that it’s ok to not try to do absolutely everything, and have all parts of life in order at the same time.

Yes of course we want to strive to be the best partner, parent, friend, employee, employer, artist we can be. It’s natural.

But if we try to do it all at once, there’s only going to be one outcome – a burned out, exhausted wreck of a person who constantly lives as if they’re tiptoeing backwards along a razor tightrope of anxiety, never able to give their best to anything they do, because they’re trying to give their best to EVERYthing they do. All at the same time.

We’re human.

We have limits.

Limited time, limited energy, limited focus.

Coach training, culture training, tells us we can have it all.

But when you focus on the important things – the REALLY important things to you, not the list of 39 important things you must have in your life in order to be happy and fulfilled that you got from a magazine you never even realised you’d been subscribed to for the last two, three, four decades – you see that you CAN have it all. All that matters to YOU.

By accepting our limitations, by embracing our glorious, beautiful, imperfect, unique selves, we can get on with being them to the full.

Suddenly, instead of blindly stumbling, we can start to soar. Strap on the rocket packs and hold on to your pants, we’re going into orbit.

Put yourself in this scenario:

You’ve been sat in circular room with a 20 TV screens lining the entire circumference of the walls. Each one is connected to a video game of some kind, the 20 different controllers laying there on the floor, as each screen blinks “GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN.” insistently in your face.

Your mission? Play every game and get the best score of your life. At the same time.

Can you imagine how frantic you’d be, and how fruitless an exercise it would be?

How crazily you’d be darting from game to game, with another different controller on another different screen, trying to do something at least halfway useful before dropping it and racing to the next one?

You wouldn’t get anywhere far with any of the games, you certainly wouldn’t be able to get your best ever score.

Some games wouldn’t even get started, and that “GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN. GAME OVER. PLAY AGAIN.” would be seared on your retinas as an indelible mark of your utter failing that you weren’t successfully killing it on these 20 games at once.

Sounds a ridiculous task to even attempt doesn’t it?

But this is how we often try to live our lives…

What if, instead, you had just five screens, and removed the other 15?

What if, with those five remaining, you switched four of them off, and sat down just with one.

What if you then focused on that single screen, that single game?

The likelihood is that pretty soon you’d be seeing “CONGRATULATIONS! NEW HIGH SCORE!” on the screen. A huge grin would be spread across your face, your confidence would be bubbling over and a hundred little yeses would exploding like tiny fireworks inside your heart.

When you feel that sense of accomplishment – even just that sense alone that you have focused on one single thing, given it your best and now are glowing in the reward of that commitment – it makes it so obvious that this is the true route to happiness.

Remember, you still have four more screens. You can go and play them at other times, one at a time, and enjoy those games to the full too. Just because they’re switched off now, it doesn’t mean you won’t switch them on again, and very regularly.

Let’s bring this whole idea out of that hypothetical circular room and back to you and your creative life.

Here’s the reality:

You cannot simultaneously work on 20 different projects. You’d be that frazzled burned out wreck of an artist we spoke of earlier. ANY and EVERY one of us would be exactly the same. It’s not humanly possible to have unlimited time and energy.

But what of you decided on three or four projects to work on for the next month or two? Then what if you just worked on one of those projects at a time, every day, giving them your full attention, commitment and abundant, unique creativity?

I’m not even saying all day everyday. Just 15 or 30 minutes each day would be a fantastic start.

Courtney’s comment is worth repeating here, (especially as it’s been the inspiration for this whole impassioned post!) :

“Balance does not exist when you have too much to balance.”

Instead of seeking a balance that does not, and cannot, exist in your life as it is now, try this:

1. Pick just two or three or four projects.

2. Work on just one at a time, regularly. As in every day.

3. Reap the rewards of being an artist who is immersed in their most important work and giving it their all, every day.

Ask any artist about the way they feel when they’re in that full creative flow and their eyes mist over, they talk of being beautifully lost in a place far from here where time does not exist and all they need to think of, all they need to do with their entire minds, hearts and bodies, is keep letting that glorious creativity pour through them.

I’ve no doubt it’s somewhere you’ve visited yourself.

This is happiness, an artist’s happiness. It comes from that intense, almost obsessive focus. On one thing. Not watching 20 screens at once.

The way to find it more and more often is just like we’ve talked about. Pick fewer games, let go of the rest, and focus everything you have on one at a time. There is no other way.

Go, the rocket pack’s ready!


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15 thoughts on “Happiness, Focus, Obsession, Twenty Televisions and The Broken Myth Of Balance”

  1. Great article Dan – full of truth. All too often we try to juggle 101 things in our lives, and beat ourselves up because we’re not doing them all perfectly. We then look for balance BUT forget that balancing 101 things is nigh on impossible – when instead, as you say, we should be simplifying and then focusing on what’s important.



    1. Thanks for your comments Steve, you managed to rewrite the core essence of my article in about 800 less words… πŸ˜‰ Totally true what you say. Appreciate you stopping by. πŸ™‚


  2. Totally agree, Dan. Lately the main focus of my weekly planning session is to see how many things I can REMOVE from my to do list and put into SomedayMaybe instead!


  3. Hi Dan,

    Great article, thanks for the reminder to not multi task all the time. It drains us of our creativity and our ability to focus our minds and our efforts on completing tasks.

    Having grown up with an emphasis on doing multiple things at once, I find it hard to start and finish one thing at a time. But I am getting there. I just managed to complete a big task – my first ebook- that I set myself to do by focusing time and effort on it. Actually feels quite satisfying and rewarding.


    1. Thanks David, and congratulations on finishing your book. Does feel good to look at something you made from start to finish doesn’t it? πŸ™‚


  4. Excellent article, Dan! And thanks to Courtney for her very wise words of wisdom! Her statement puts a very clear image in my mind that will really stick with me:

    I have a small “Savannah Bird Girl” statue (from the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). Whenever I look at her, she always reminds me of a scale (probably the Libra in me!). After reading your article, I imagined her holding so many things on her “plates” that the items were towering over her head ready to topple over!

    I think I’ll move my statue into my art space and use it as a gentle reminder!

    Jean πŸ™‚

    (off to finish Lotus’s journal now!! That’s where my focus is!)


    1. That’s a powerful image Jean, Libra with balancing (or not!) scales…

      Look forward to seeing your work in Lotus’s journal when it reaches her. πŸ™‚


  5. I think that what we are really after is the satisfaction of giving attention to and making progress with something. And as you say, this is easier with a smaller number of things.

    Something else: It also looks like we all have different limits. The number of things that we can work on effectively seems to vary. Accepting this has helped me take the plunge and prioritize.

    Thanks for the honest post!


    1. That’s a good point about having different numbers of things we can work on. Although in this post I’m suggesting picking only two or three, and working on just one at a time, I think we can train ourselves to improve out focus and concentration. If we’ve gone for years in this situation of having 20 TVs on, although it’s very ineffective, it’s what we’re used to. So it may take a while to retain ourselves to work on just one thing at a time, the space around us might at first seem intimidating, and for a while it will seem different, maybe even unnatural. But it remains the best way to be at our most creative – focus on one thing, channel all our energy in one direction.

      Thanks for your comments Albert.


  6. Great article, Dan! I worked in a private school for the last 5 years – multi-tasking is not the word for it! Being constantly interrupted, having work added on all the time, needing to stop and let a student print from my computer… while I managed to hold it all together and accomplish work, it did fracture my focus. Now that I’ve left that job and rejuvenated my own business and work from home, I find that I have difficulty focusing on one thing for any length of time. Over the course of the last month, I’ve slowly been able to focus for longer periods of time.

    Not a problem I have when creating!


  7. This post spoke to my heart. Time to refocus and put down a few game controllers. I can’t wait to be back in that creative place you describe so well, the mist in the eyes and a headful of my characters dialogue.

    Sometimes it’s tough being an capable entrepreneur but I will remember this good advice and also a saying a dear friend used to say “just because you can do it, and do it well, doesn’t mean that you should.”

    I look forward to reading more great posts


    1. Thank you Kate, glad you related to the post and took something from it. A big reason we create is to get lost in those incredible worlds within us, and we can only really do that if we focus on one adventure at a time… πŸ™‚


  8. Wonderful post and an insight that lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders–of course we can’t balance the 72 plates in the air! Maybe I’ll just try one today. Thanks Dan.


    1. Exactly, and like you say, maybe just trying one for day and seeing how much of a difference it makes will encourage you to try just one at a time more on other days too. Thanks for stopping by Margaret.


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