We're told that the holiest spot in ancient Greece, the Oracle at Delphi, had two inscriptions of advice chiseled into marble to welcome all visitors, who typically came for advice. They were:
Nothing in Excess.
The longer I live, the more I come to appreciate the depth and practicality of these two recommendations. Ironically, knowing yourself may be the hardest thing in the world. And why? Nothing is closer to you than your own self. But it's protected by layers of obliviousness and self-deception. Getting to really know yourself is like peeling back the layers of an onion. And it might bring tears. But nothing is more important for living a good, successful, and happy life.
As hard as self knowledge has been for me, avoiding excess has been even tougher. I'll eat too much, drink too much, work too much, exercise too much, and talk too much. I may even blog too much. But that's me. I'm lucky I lived through my twenties, with all the stupid excessive things I did. And I'm just coming off two months' worth of muscle strains from taking a perfectly good exercise in the gym, and doing an insane amount of it in an excessively short time.
Aristotle nailed it. Excellence is always somehow about identifying the too little and the too much and equally avoiding them both. Virtue, as he said, or strength, in a more modern idiom, is about finding what's just right.
And the two recommendations at the Oracle are of course connected. You don't know yourself unless you understand your limits and what counts for you in any domain as "excess." And you can't avoid excess unless you truly know yourself, what motivates you, what prompts you, and when you're most likely to make bad decisions that cross the line.
So here we are millennia later, and I can't think of much better advice than what was carved out of that marble so long ago. Maybe these ancient admonitions could be the basis for some 2015 New Year's Resolutions. Maybe they'd be good guides for the days to come. But, knowing myself as I do, I have to avoid implementing them ... excessively.