Hara hachi bu for the mind

Hara hachi bu is the Confucian teaching that instructs you to stop eating when you feel 80% full.

When eating, your belly may be full but it takes time for your brain to register it. You’re accounting for the fact that your body isn’t always as smart as it needs to be; by the time you feel full, you’ve already had too much.

A similar rule could be used to manage stress.

Yerkes Dodson lawA popular graph showing the relationship between stress and performance is based on the Yerkes-Dodson law – which essentially says that a little stress is no bad thing. Performance increases with psychological arousal – but only to a point. Too much arousal, too much stress, and you crash out.

I know because this has happened to me, and it may have happened to you. Earlier this year I’d spent a prolonged period in a state of heightened anxiety, not realising that it was poisoning me, and finally, I became too ill to function.

Looking back I have been able to identify a lot of the signs that I had ignored that a crash was coming. I now watch for these, or anything else unusual. I often take a moment to see what’s going on, how I feel, how I’ve reacted to something, calmly and quietly. Check in, and maybe see what’s causing a problem or whether I need to make a change, to talk to someone, to resolve something.

A lot of people would call this mindfulness. It’s as much a technique as a state of being. Just as hara hachi bu teaches you to listen to your belly and know when to stop, you also need to listen to your mind – and know when to slow down. Do it before you think you need to. If in doubt, do it now.

I highly recommend Oliver Burkeman’s book ‘The Antidote’.

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