In Praise of Moderation

» Posted by on Dec 21, 2012 | 19 comments

In Praise of Moderation

To paraphrase Billy Joel, sometimes we go to extremes.

Have you ever said to someone you’d like them to do a little less of a certain behaviour, with the result that they never ever do it again?  You might ask your partner if they could be a little more succinct when telling you what happened today at work because, while you want to know what happened, you also have to get the kids to bed soon…only to have them refuse to tell you anything that’s happening at work ever again! Or you’ve asked someone to turn off the television when they aren’t watching it because the constant noise is distracting you, so they do…and don’t turn it on again for the next two weeks.

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I’m sure we’ve all been on both ends of this. Where is the moderation? I have recently discovered I shut down a whole side of my personality for years in the need to rebel against my parents’ conventional approach to life: dress modestly, get a job in an office, don’t stand out, don’t deviate from the norm. Instead I got married very young, wore hippie clothes, grew my hair till it was wild and unmanageable, and joined an extremist pentecostal church.

After leaving the church ten years later, I also left my marriage, travelled overseas for two years, then returned to Australia to work my way through university. Leaving school and getting a stable job, husband and mortgage could have put me ahead of the game by age 30, but instead I was living below the breadline in sharehouses, trying to make ends meet while I studied to make sure I never again had to take another office job or wear a suit.

Some of this has paid off, but a little moderation might have made my path more effective. I so actively avoided dressing up, having neat hair, getting a mortgage, working 9 to 5 and having a stable relationship to the point where I was cutting off my nose to spite my face.  

photo courtesy

Each year I attend a music festival where all the hippies come out to play. We all wear our tie-dyed bohemian garb, wind beads into our hair and emanate peace and flower power as the music plays and the rain turns the grounds into mud. Every year I would wonder where these people went for the rest of the year – why did I never come across them in my daily life? These were my tribe, my soul brothers and sisters, why couldn’t I find them outside the festival gates?

The answer, when it finally came, shocked me. These people practised their hippiedom in moderation. These multicoloured peace-loving folk were the very same people who wore suits to their downtown offices and worked 9 to 5 to pay their mortgages. I had always thought I would be betraying myself and selling out if I did any of these things, but as they say, the truth shall set you free. 

Eventually I did buy myself a little townhouse by the bay and decided being a mortgagee wasn’t so bad after all. I cut my hair short, and discovered that not only did it suit me better, it was a whole lot less time consuming and easier to manage. And I discovered I actually like dressing up occasionally, it makes me feel all grown-up and gives me a self-esteem boost to know I look my best. Who knew?

There is a time to throw moderation to the wind – when you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about for example, or when avoiding something harmful. But overall we need balance and moderation gives us this. We have more options to choose from and more avenues to explore when we aren’t going to the extremes.

Most situations are not an either/or choice. Someone who is struggling with being too passive may feel that their attempts at assertiveness are coming over as aggression, when they are really just moving into the middle of the continuum – they are becoming more moderate.  There are more choices than a) putting others’ needs ahead of our own or b) putting our own needs ahead of others. There’s the bit in the middle that gets overlooked, the part where we can choose to honour the needs of others while still honouring our own.


Passive ———————————————– Assertive——————————————Aggressive

[extreme ] ————————————– [moderate behaviour ] ——————————– [extreme]


Here are three suggestions for applying moderation to enhance your life:

Suggestion 1:

Start describing yourself differently, for instance, instead of calling myself a hippie, I now think of myself of someone who has a hippie streak. This gives me the space to see myself in other ways as well, rather than pigeon-holing myself into that one category only and preventing me from making other choices when I want to.

Suggestion 2:

Start thinking in the grey area, rather than all or nothing / black or white thinking. For example instead of thinking ‘if I’m not perfect at something I must be a failure at it’, you could think to yourself: ‘Like everyone I’m great at some things, and not so good at other things, and I can work on those things if they’re important to me’.

Another example is ‘if I’m taking some time out to rest and look after myself, I’m being lazy and selfish’, rather than: ‘I’m taking some time out for self-care which is a mature and responsible thing to do because it will make me more productive and efficient in the long-term’.

Suggestion 3:

Being moderate doesn’t mean sitting on the fence or agreeing with everyone to avoid conflict. Moderation actually allows us to obtain a number of viewpoints, all of which have some truth in them. If we are extremely attached to one viewpoint, we can miss important points being made by someone with a different viewpoint. Try listening out for these alternatives and staying open to them.


I hope this will empower you to express more of who you are rather than closing parts of yourself down. As Julia Child said:

Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health. 


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  1. I love this article! I’m going to sit with this information and really reflect on areas of my life where I have gone to extremes and see where I could use some healthy moderation :) Thank you!

    • Thanks Jill, love to hear what you come up with!

  2. Really well said. I see things where I can focus on my own stubborn reactions to things. Thanks.

    • Hi Arwen, yes sometimes it does come down to stubborness :)

  3. Love this Leanne and it so resonates with me too…… your suggestions…..I’ve been told that I ‘should’ go deep into ONE thing bc I’ll never be the master of anything…..but I just love too many things so I now call myself ‘eclectic’ and love it! Life’s too short not, for me anyway, not to experience many things :). Thanks!

    • Gina, there’s a book called Refuse To Choose which I loved for the very reason you mentioned – there are so many things I want to do and life is too short to stick to just a few!

      • Thx Leanne……I’ll check it out :)

  4. Hi Leanne,

    Thank you for sharing.

    I’ve lived my life ‘out there’ and still do. I find myself much happier leaving moderation behind and challenging myself to reach, reach, reach to new levels.

    The heck to moderation. I want to live life to the fullest, absolutely out loud. I don’t every want to hold myself back.

    What if Steve Jobs had decided to hold himself back?

    Think of any musician whose music you love–what if they had decided to hold themselves back?

    My thought for you, today.

    • Hi Vickie
      Like I said above, there is a time for throwing moderation to the wind. My point was that there are many times when being extreme holds us back and limits us too. This is when moderation can set us free and give us a whole range of new options we don’t have if we stick only to the extremes.

      What if Steve Jobs decided he had to put everything he had into designing personal computers and nothing else? He would never have gone into computer graphics and founded Pixar after being dumped from Apple.

      The whole essence of my business is about encouraging people to reach for new levels and live their fullest life so I am not likely to ever suggest that people hold themselves back. This is not what the post was saying.

  5. Hi Leanne,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As i said in Goddess Circle I really enjoyed it. I just wanted to add, that i love the words that you use – they articulate the subtlety, complexity, and multi-facetedness of human beings trying to “create” their life and story. I always feel that my humanity and story is understood when I read your posts, not pigeon-holed into a black and white box. You have such inspiring and practical advice. I love Julia Child, I am also writing a story called “Julia comes to Tea” inspired by Julie and Julia. I can’t wait to read your next post, I’m addicted to them:) Love Clare

    • Hi Clare, I still haven’t seen Julie and Julia yet, I must do it over the break! Thank you again for your encouragement and support. I love your writing as well and can’t wait to see your books come together :)

  6. Thanks for the reminders to get away from the black-and-white thinking and see the many facets of our lives! Your three suggestions remind me a lot of what I’ve read so far in Kristen Neff’s book Self-Compassion (which also reminds me that I need to get back to that book after far too long away from it!).

    • Hi Nancy, I will have a look at that book if I can find it – it sounds like something that would fit with my word for 2013 (self-care) :)

  7. Leanne, how beautifully you write about softening our hard edges. I have had so many labels—both self- and other-imposed—that can, and have, turned into little boxes, little jails of self-definition. Let’s loosen up a few of those right now, inspired by you.

    • I am not a fashion risk. I am someone who sometimes wears unusual clothes.
    • I am not a loser because I’m single. I’m unattached, unmoored (as Kurt Vonnegut put it), and I am blessed by a bounty of loving and cherished friends and family of choice and of blood.
    • I am not too old to have value. I’m seasoned, I’m wise, and I have plenty to offer to my tribe.

    Happy holidays, and heaps of blessings,

    • Thank you for the lovely feedback Sue – reading through your statements I think I’ll have to borrow just about all of them for myself, well done with reworking all of that!

  8. Great post about moderation. I have experienced feeling shut down for a variety of reasons, most false beliefs that really don’t serve me well, including a “need” for things to be black or white and having difficulty with anything gray. It’s so liberating to just be who we are and do what works vs. feeling like it has to be black or white.

    • That’s great to hear Michele, a good way to start the new year – exploring the gray areas :)

  9. This really resonated with me too! I tend to have an all or nothing attitude about a lot of things, sometimes it serves me well and other times not so much, okay, mostly not so much, but I’m learning! Thanks for sharing! I wrote a blog post today about what wonderful things I was reading and included this! Have a wonderful New Year!

    • Hi Dominee, thanks so much for sharing my blog with others. As you can see there are so many of us with this all or nothing thinking – maybe this is the year we give ourselves a break in the areas where it would be helpful to let go our all or nothing rules :)