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Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

Right Amount, Right Time, Right Place: Three Pillars of Practical Wisdom

Want to live better? Want to be more effective? Make better decisions? Getting three critical things right will help. I call these three things, Right Amount, Right Time, and Right Place.

Right Amount: The Inverted U

In a recent post I explained the merits of a “less is more” approach to living, using, of all things, orange PEZ. The insight is, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

  • Pepper is good. Too much pepper is bad.
  • Relatives are good. Too much time with relatives is bad.
  • Leisure is good. Too much leisure is bad.
  • Social media is good. Too much social media is bad.

For so many of the good in life there’s a cutoff point where a greater quantity of good is worse, not better. There’s an inverted-U relationship between goodness and quantity, and the goal should be to find the peak of the U, that place the graph describes as “maximum good.”

Is it possible that we’re overloading the good and missing out on goodness as a result? The answer is, most certainly. Wisdom is discerning the peak of the U.

Right Time: The Beauty of Making Moments Count

Maximizing good isn’t just about quantity. It’s about time as well. There’s a timing to life, and when we miss the timing, we’re less effective.

Right now as I write this, it’s spring in the Seattle area. In fact yesterday’s sunny almost-sixty weather felt like the first day of spring to me, because we’ve been having such terrible weather up here in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a window of opportunity for planting tomatoes, or flowers, and if I tried to make up time by planting a couple months ago, I would have messed things up. There are seasons of opportunity in life, and the better we understand the timing factor, the better we’ll cultivate goodness in our lives.

Solomon, wise king of the ancient world, wrote that

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.1

He offers a list of examples that include a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, and a time to be silent and a time to speak. Then he describes the beauty of timing, modeled on the timing of the seasons and cycles of creation itself. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

The standout phrase for me is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Whenever my wife Sandra and I suddenly find ourselves in a tense conversation that could lead to a fight, I remind myself, This is not a teachable moment. This is not the time to bring up other issues. This is not time for payback. This isn’t even the time to resolve our issue. Let’s both cool down, then come back to it and solve the problem. Right now just listen and be patient.  

This is true of parents and children, bosses and employees, co-workers with co-workers. All our relationships are better when we know the time to speak and the time to be silent.

Sometimes I don’t take my own advice about timing and regret it. But as the years roll along I’m getting better at timing.

Right Place: It’s All About Location, Location, Location

There’s a couple at the mall food court making out, just a table over from several families. Passionate love is good. But passionate love in a food court in front of a bunch of people? Not good. That’s why everyone is thinking, Get a room.

For people who think PDA is okay, let’s kick it to the extreme and talk about public sex. If that same couple decided they wanted to fully express their love for each other in the food court, the place would erupt in anger and disgust and they’d be arrested. The point is, there’s a place for sex, and this place isn’t it. 

I think of sex like I think of fire: profound, hot and powerful. It’s a source of great pleasure and great grief. It can create and it can destroy. That’s why it is critical that sexual expression be in the right location. Think of literal fire. Fire belongs in the fireplace. That’s where it is safe and good. But imagine piling up wood in the middle of the living room and setting it alight. It’s just a few feet over, but that few feet is the difference between life and death. Location matters.

  • There’s a place for tough conversations. Thanksgiving dinner isn’t that place. Wait til later to settle your beef with grandma.
  • There’s a place for parental discipline. Aisle seven in the supermarket isn’t that place. Parents should move the issue to the restroom in back.
  • There’s a place for complaining about how bad things are and how tough the day was. Social media isn’t that place. Complain to a close friend who cares about you and can talk it out. Or maybe take a walk and complain at the trees.

There’s a right place for things. The better we get that, the better we’ll live.

When we get the quantity right, the timing right, and the location right, we’re setting up a solid foundation for a better life.

1Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

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