What My Search for the Perfect Coffee Taught Me About Finding Balance

by Ilene Marcus

I had the chance to visit the original Starbucks on Pike Place in Seattle. It looks nothing like the chain I have come to rely upon. Yet the formula is the same. My drip coffee is filled to the brim. I have to pour out coffee to make “room.” (Yes, I’m one of those – a little coffee in my cream, please.)

Even if the barista asks me if I want room for milk, I still must pour some out. With there being no drains on the Starbucks milk bar, the extra steaming hot coffee must go into the garbage. What’s that like for the barista? (Hint: the smart ones tweak it and double or triple bag.)

Isn’t too much coffee a good thing? No. No, it’s not. It actually ruins my coffee. Did I say ruin? Yes. Yes, I did. That first steaming cup is not steaming at all when I put in too much cream. The whole cup is off.

If you’re a coffee drinker, you know what I mean; otherwise, replace with salad. Too much dressing, it’s soggy; too little, and it’s bland. Rightly dressed, each taste blends into a satisfying whole. That’s what we are after. The perfect sip. The perfect bite.

It’s all about the ratio. Making the synergy work. This is analogous to life, although you already knew where I was going with this. Crafting the perfect day. Or how to get rid of small annoyances so they don’t ruin your day.

The ratio matters. It sets the framework for triumph, for little wins that make you feel better about your choices, your opportunities, your decisions – and yes, your meals. It’s the difference between a smooth and a bumpy ride.

Apply this lesson to your daily routine, and you’ll get that good cup of coffee and the perfect salad, smooth and balanced, with a little kick in the ass!

Make Your Own Menu

Only you know what’s truly right for you. It doesn’t matter what experts say. What matters is how you really like your coffee; how much dressing you like on your salad; if you need to exercise in the am or pm, or not at all. For me, now that I work for myself, it means lingering in bed!

Lingering has always triggered personal guilt in me. The voice in my head said, “Got to get up and out.” Now, my morning routine includes brewing my own coffee and writing. Lingering was never on my menu before, but now it’s front and center. Lingering makes my day happy.

Beware though, linger too long and the whole day gets backed-up. I’ve got to stay just long enough to feel content – and not too comfy to waste the day away. Lingering is the right amount of cream in my coffee.

Maintain the Temperature

Once we find the right mix, maintaining it is harder than you think. All those pesky prior commitments, the voices in my head… It’s okay, we all have them.

My mother’s voice and my internal judgements, telling me “should” or “must,” need to be kept at bay. Maintaining the course takes core strength and fortitude. I have to actively work to keep what I need a priority.

I often feel un-lucky if I don’t get it right the first time. The truth is, even when I know what I want and I’ve done it before, it doesn’t mean it will come out right. I actively work at making it happen.

Every day, the coffee is a little different, stronger or hotter or richer. I must take stock every time I put the cream in to make sure it’s the temperature I like. Once my coffee is diluted, it starts a chain reaction.

The flavor is not always robust and the color is not always that rich caramel I crave. So I focus on getting the right temperature. What worked yesterday may not work today. Don’t get annoyed, follow step 3 – just tweak it!

Tweak It!

Every day is a new chance to adjust my life to what I want it to be. No matter how many times a circumstance has presented itself, there is always room to tweak it. The trick to make tweaking work can be found in the Alexander Technique.

It has to do with incorporating the original mindful action of adjusting your breathing by slightly adjusting your body position. Small actions, such as moving your head a smidge, or gazing downward, have a large impact on overall functioning.

This is exactly what we are looking for in our tweaks. Very small conscious steps. To further my coffee analogy, I have to pour the cream very slowly, instead of dumping it in and hoping for the right amount.

Tweaks can be surprising. Tweaks may not come in the form you expect and may not be immediately obvious. If you have an appointment, leaving five minutes later can change the whole dynamic and get you there in time, instead of rushing and trying to leave earlier.

What’s Next

Understand the basics that keep your day humming. When you find yourself getting annoyed, make sure you have your own rules about what is right. Plan for those little annoyances instead of having them rule your mood and your day.

Use tweaking as an experiment and see just how little action you can take to make something work better. Then do it again to maintain the balance. Check out my book about how to Manage Those Annoying People that ruin your ratio.

Do you feel like your life is in balance right now? Do you have a good sense of what you like and dislike? How do you tweak your day to day life experiences to achieve balance? Please join the discussion below!

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