What does balance mean in modern life? We are confronted by the concept of balance on a regular basis, and often it is around some concept of health and wellbeing “work-life balance” or “a balanced diet” diet, for example.

The term balance creates images in our minds of a balanced set of scales, and the impression of a finely tuned state of equilibrium. When sporting performers are described as having good balance, it denotes a type of grace and poise, of effortlessness.

This creates the illusion of control, of everything neatly compartmentalised and functioning smoothly. That we can optimise our lives and maintain a mythical state of balance. In practice though, not only is this impossible, but it is also undesirable for performance in the long term.

Why? Because life is complex, and we cannot foresee exactly what is around the corner, let alone control what the outcome will be. The more finely we are balanced, the easier we are to dislodge.

The reality of remaining in balance is not of a highly controlled situation, but one in which constant micro adjustments are made as external forces act on the system. Think of the tightrope walker, wobbling slightly from side to side as they progress along the high wire.

When we accept that we live complex existences, we must appreciate that we will have to bend and flex with the interdependent forces from other components of the system (family, friends, career, health etc etc). And, because these components will be behaving inter-dependently from one another, they will exert different levels of pressure on our lives at different times.

So, to remain in a semblance of balance with our lives, what we mustn’t do is try to control what is happening (we can’t), but rather adjust our position and then our response when the pressures change.

Human homeostasis is similar. When an external pressure is exerted on the body (say a cold wind) the body responds with countermeasures to maintain homeostasis (shivering, goosebumps, reducing surface area).

I conceptualise the way to thrive in complex environments as waves. Not necessarily the kind we surf, but of radio waves.

To maintain consistency in our performance, we are constantly adjusting backwards and forward, positively and negatively to external forces or pressures acting upon us.

The more we try and control and remain close to that central line, by reducing our exposure to these oscillations, the more we expose ourselves to the unforeseen external pressure or forces that we cannot cope with, that tip us out of balance.

Instead, we should seek out and embrace these oscillations, adjusting and flowing with them, if we can do this then hopefully our average level between these peaks and troughs will remain steady.

In elite sporting performance I think of the adjustments made between training and rest to give us performance. The greater the load of training or playing, the greater we need to adjust and recover.

If we get caught up in always trying to remain in balance, we make it more dangerous for ourselves. The more we obsess over optimising our lives, the narrower our focus, the less we sample and explore. The less we sample and explore, the smaller our oscillations and experiences and the easier we are to tip out of balance.

Earlier I mentioned that these waves weren’t necessarily like those we surf, if we can learn to metaphorically surf these waves, we will be healthier, happier and higher performing in our complex 21st century lives.