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3 steps for achieving sophrosyne



I'm a bit of a word nerd, and when I came across this image on Pinterest last week it really got me thinking about this word I'd never heard before (a word that doesn't really even translate into English): sophrosyne. According to the photo on Pinterest, it's "a healthy state of mind, characterized by self-control, moderation, and a deep awareness of one's true self, resulting in true happiness." On Wikipedia, I found it described as "a Greek philosophical term etymologically meaning healthy-mindedness and from there self-control or moderation guided by knowledge and balance."  

Usually when I pin something, I don't think too much about it, but for some reason, I found myself coming back to the pin again and again, contemplating the meaning of the word. For me, it seems to mean the adoption of moderation leading to a greater state of well-being. It means knowing when your needs are met and choosing enough over excess

I hate to admit it, but moderation is not my strong suit. If I enjoy something—whether it be a person, an activity, a color (orange!), a food, a TV show, etc.—I want it constantly and I want to know all I can about it. I become a little...well...obsessive. This obsessiveness has been made so much easier by the ever-expanding internet, where I can search endlessly for anything and everything relating to my latest interest. This isn't such a big deal in some cases (such as my recent infatuation with the TV show The Big Bang Theory), but in others (such as alcohol consumption), my inability to moderate has been a problem (to say the least!).

In the past, after failing miserably at moderating, I came to the understanding that I'm an abstainer; I have to completely stop doing something if I don't want to do it excessively. (Hooray for 3.5 years sober!) As St. Augustine so wisely said, "To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation." I always related so much to that quote, thinking moderation was just not in my nature, but learning about the concept sophrosyne has made me think a bit differently about what moderation might mean, and how embracing it might lead to a more positive, more present life. 

Rather than focusing on moderation as an absence of full-on indulgence in something, sophrosyne seems to consider moderation as the act of knowing one's true needs, recognizing when those have been met, and choosing not move forward in excess in order to achieve a better sense of well-being and happiness. While that might sound a bit complex, the more I think about it, the more I realize it's actually quite simple: avoid excess, achieve balance. Simple as it sounds in writing, it's not always easy for me to achieve in reality (which is why I often go the abstinence route when needed!), but after spending some time contemplating this concept, I think it's really worth embracing, and here are some of the best ways I've thought of to start incorporating sophrosyne into my life:  



Most important is knowing what needs moderation. Most of us have a few things we tend to over-indulge in, either because we love them so much or because they provide us with some sort of emotional outlet. While it's okay to do these things (unless they are detrimental to your well-being or the well-being of others), it's not okay to do them in excess, to the point where you feel as if you are no longer in control or you feel negative emotions associated with your choices. We all could do with a little moderation in life (unless you're one of the lucky ones who is already super good at moderating, lucky duck!), but it's important to first pinpoint the areas that really need moderation. For example, I could really do with moderating my sugar intake (I love sweets!), turning off the TV a little more often, and putting a little distance between me and Pinterest. Knowing where I really need to moderate is key to getting started on actually moderating things. For me, this seems a bit overwhelming (I could stand to moderate a lot of things!) so I'm choosing to focus on one thing at a time, with the hope that the more I master moderation in one area, the more easily it will be to master in other areas. 



This is where I feel I've struggled in the past. Instead of choosing to turn off the TV for a few hours, I've thought to myself, I have to turn the TV off every night starting at 6pm. Setting these extreme moderation limitations for myself made me a lot less likely to do it (also, I tend to be a bit of a rule-breaker so if I set rules for myself, I have a really hard time not wanting to break them). Instead of thinking, I'm going to moderate my TV watching every single day for the rest of my life, I think it helps to think more specifically about individual choices, such as moderating my TV watching today. For some reason, I tend to act like whatever I'm obsessing over is going to disappear the moment I stop engaging with it, so I try to absorb as much as I can for as long as I can. But this isn't reality. In reality, the TV's still going to be there tomorrow. The candy I want to eat a whole bag of is still going to be in the cabinet tomorrow. There's no need to obsessively do everything immediately. Instead thinking everything should be done/eaten/watched/etc. today, moderation is about making wise choices in the moment without fretting about what will happen in the future. 



Part of the problem I have had with moderation in the past has to do with the way I think about it. I've always thought of it as a bad thing, something you do because you have to, not because you want to. Having always been the type to enjoy excess, it's a bit of a foreign concept to think that people actually choose—and enjoy choosing!—moderation. Of course, the more I think about sophrosyne and using moderation as a tool to create a more positive, more present life, the more I realize that moderation doesn't have to be a negative thing. It doesn't have to be about giving up something. It can be about gaining something—wisdom, patience, time. A shift in thinking can be so transformative and I've really started to shift the way I think about moderation, realizing that it doesn't have to be a negative experience. Yes, at times it might be a challenge, but ultimately I think embracing moderation helps to create better knowledge of oneself, which can only lead to better, more fulfilling experiences (which I think is what sophrosyne is all about!). 


On the surface, sophrosyne might seem as if it's simply another word for moderation, for avoiding extremes, but it's much more than that. It's about understanding yourself, knowing when you've had enough (something that can actually be hard to know sometimes), and maintaining a sense of balance between extremes. Achieving sophrosyne means striving for a life of balance and well-being, knowing the difference between need and want, and making choices that will strengthen your understanding of self. That's quite a lot packed into one little word, but it's a word worth learning, a concept worth considering. I know it won't be easy for me to embrace it, but I think it's just the kind of thing that helps to create a more positively present life. 



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Interesting post--I think the concept of sophrosyne sounds wonderfully peaceful and strong. I totally understand the concept of becoming obsessed with something, too. (We could be sisters with the candy/Big Bang Theory/Pinterest temptations!) I am a moderator by nature (rather than an abstainer) and your points will help me do it more cheerfully.

Great word Dani! Love the St. Augustine quote too.

The best part is how you summed it up as "avoid excess, achieve balance".

That says it all, in four words. Great stuff!

Kathy - That's so funny that you like the same things I do! I love that! You're fortunate to be a moderator. I wish I could be better at it, but it's definitely tough for me. Glad this post was still relevant to you even as a moderator!

Kyle - Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! Those four words are really important and I'm so glad you highlighted them in your comment.

I really like this idea! I consider myself a better abstainer than moderator too, but the idea of training for moderation that this word implies is good stuff. :)

This totally resonated with me Dani! I definitely have 'all or nothing' tendencies and the idea of embracing moderation for today, without getting obsessed about what happens tomorrow or the days after that really helps me to get perspective and build strength from within. Thanks for sharing x

i think you are inside my head!! great great stuff here :)

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