Finding Life Balance Using the Four Forces of Flight

Do you feel like the weight of responsibility is keeping you grounded? Or the sheer drag of life is forcing on the brakes? 

Do you find it hard to muster the requisite lift and thrust to overcome these forces in life?

Of course, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those days where everything has felt like one big drag, where the simple act of getting out of bed has felt like this herculean task.

To be honest, that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling recently. It got me thinking about this idea of life balance and how, exactly, one is supposed to find it? 

Then something struck me. I thought, “Of course! Balance isn’t something you find. It is something you have to maintain – like a tightrope walker!”

Three ideas immediately sprung to mind:

  1. Don’t carry too much weight.
  2. Go at a steady pace.
  3. Don’t stop moving.

Then, as soon as I wrote these thoughts down, I had another brain wave. 

It occurred to me that the same laws govern an aeroplane in flight. Then it occurred to me that the laws of aerodynamics might be able to teach us how to maintain balance in our own lives. 

The Four Forces of Flight

To give you a quick lesson in aerodynamics, an aeroplane flies because of something known as the four forces of flight. Those four forces are thrust, lift, drag and weight.

Of course thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight.

Now, if lift and thrust are greater than weight and drag, your aeroplane will climb. If they are less, it will descend. If they are balanced well, then, Bob’s your uncle. 

Here’s an excellent diagram:

Created on Canva

So, you ask, what on earth do these forces have to do with me?

Well, everything.

Let me explain.

The Four Forces of Living

To rename the four forces of flight, we can say that the four forces of living are Health, Purpose, Life & Responsibility. 

Just like an aeroplane, these forces counteract one another. Health (Thrust) counteracts Life (Drag), whereas Purpose (Lift) counteracts Responsibility (Weight).

Instead of an aeroplane, of course, it’s you that’s stuck in the middle.

Here’s another excellent diagram:

Created on Canva

Now, we can say that we’re out of balance when the forces of life and responsibility are much greater than the other two.

This usually happens for one of two reasons.

The first comes from trying to avoid drag and weight altogether, preventing you from getting airborne in the first place (or out of bed). At the other end of the balance scales are those who carry far more than they’re capable of, causing them to stall.

From experience, I believe the latter is a far better place to be. The way I see it, having too much on your plate is a good thing. It means your life is already filled with purpose and meaning. 

That’s half the battle.

Once you’re off the ground (which is the hardest part) balance becomes a question of priorities. Understanding exactly what we should pay attention to and what we should let go of.

So, let’s tackle this question from the ground up.

Increasing Thrust

As already stated, to climb, lift and thrust must be greater than drag and weight. But which should come first? Lift or thrust?

This is an important question. 

Theoretically, with enough thrust, you can climb without generating any lift  —  like a rocket-ship! It’s impossible to get off the ground without it. That isn’t true of lift. Lift needs thrust to get off the ground.

So it is with you. 

There is nothing more vital than your health. It has to be at the top of your value hierarchy. You cannot look after others without first looking after yourself. It’s not selfish to prioritise your health. If anything, it’s selfish not to prioritise it. 

4 things to think about.

Sleep (8 hours is good)

Diet (Eat your vegetables)

Exercise (Move)

Mental health (Talk to someone)

Excellent advice I’m sure you’ll agree.

Let’s move on.

Generating Lift

While looking after your health is most important, the truth is most of us aren’t rocket-ships (except for my children). We need lift as well. This is where an understanding of your personal values is important. Once again, I think it helps to start from the ground up.

Here’s a 5 step guide I came up with at 40’000ft.

  1. Remain Grounded

Wherever you are in life, it’s essential to remain grounded. After all, we only ever live in the here and now. To constantly wish you had arrived at your destination is to miss the part we call life – that would be a far greater tragedy than not making your destination.

The question is how?

In a word, acceptance. I like to think of radical acceptance in terms of 3 things:

  • Present moment awareness (Hello mindfulness)
  • Universal compassion (Yes, that includes yourself)
  • Gratitude (This is something you must practice)

Got it? Good.

Now that your feet are firmly planted on the ground, you can start to think about pitching skyward.

  1. Build a Moral Compass

This is something you should prioritise long before you start setting goals. I suggest you design your own moral compass by listing out a set of values that mean the most to you, and then listing those in order of personal significance.

I then suggest you think about the identity you want to form based on your set of particular values. Following that, you want to build habits that reinforce this identity. (for example, a loving father and husband who makes time for his family every day, a person who prioritises his own health by meditating and exercising every day, a person who writes every day).

Once you’ve done that, you can start thinking about the destination by setting some short and long-term goals. Just keep in mind that it’s far more important to embody the person you wish to be today than it is to achieve anything in the long run.

After all, shit happens, and rarely if ever, in this life, do we end up at the destination we had in mind.

  1. Remove Unnecessary Baggage

Often the problem many of us have is carrying around baggage we really shouldn’t. Usually, that baggage is other people’s bullshit that has found its way into our minds. Once again, being clear about your values is essential.

A few more ideas. 

Getting a handle on your smartphone addiction can be a big help (I’m working on it). Living a simple life. Forming close relationships instead of lots of superficial ones. Surrounding yourself with the people you love and trust. 

Maybe don’t let a drunk, abusive passenger onto your aeroplane. 

Just a thought.

  1. Change Your Perspective. 

The weight of responsibility is a hefty burden for many. Some of us are made to suck lemons through no fault of our own. Still, I do believe the way we look at our responsibilities is crucial. Often the difference between responsibility and purpose is a matter of perspective.

A powerful way to change your perspective is by giving meaning to your pain. If your battle is with mental health, then use that as motivation to help others suffering in the same way. This really will turn your demons into angels.

  1. Make Time for the Things You Love

Last one before I bring this bird home. 

As part of harmonious life, it’s very important to make time for the things you love. Whether that’s reading, playing video games, or socialising… Don’t neglect fun. Don’t neglect joy. Don’t neglect being silly and spontaneous. Don’t neglect your sense of adventure. Try new restaurants, dance in the rain, fart, and laugh about it.

Occasionally say fuck it and just go with the flow. You definitely need that.

Maintaining Level Flight.

Here’s where I contradict myself.

Balance is something you have to maintain, yes. Unlike a tightrope walker however, it isn’t something you should be struggling to maintain. It shouldn’t feel like everything has a survival level threat attached to it. If it does, that’s a probably a sign you need to let go of the controls.

When you do encounter turbulence you’re not meant to fight it. You’re meant to take a seat and ride it out, then, ever so gently, guide yourself back to your desired level and track. 

If you really do feel like you’re stalling, there is only one thing for it. You must push the nose down to regain lift. Don’t, whatever you do, keep pitching up in desperation. Heed the warning signs and come back down to earth. 

Beyond that, the truth is, balance is a state of mind. One that is firmly grounded in the present moment. It is about going with the flow and dissolving the boundaries separating work from play, purpose from responsibility and even, life from death.

It’s important to have a destination in mind, but it’s essential we don’t get hung up on it. As cliche as it is to say, life is about the journey. Take care of yourself today. Tackle your most pressing responsibilities today. Get rid of any unnecessary baggage. After that, learn to go with the flow and enjoy it.

If you can, then you really will fly free. 

(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious what your thoughts are on this idea of life balance. Is it something you can find? Or is it something you have to maintain? What tips or tricks do have? Let us know in the comments in the below.)


You can find AP2’s personal blog here at:

You can also find him on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

46 thoughts on “Finding Life Balance Using the Four Forces of Flight

  1. This post deserves a standing ovation. You hit the nail on the head. The four forces of flight and living couldn’t have been more wise or appropriate. Though we often talk about balancing our lives and constantly moving ahead, we neglect the factors that need to be worked upon to achieve this equilibrium effect. Health and purpose are so important. The former is essential for the latter to matter. And life and responsibility are always trying to slow things down. But since neither can be eliminated, must work on what keeps us propelling ahead. I think we can always work upon these forces and try to make them the best we can. Nothing is ever served upon a silver platter, so must find what suits us best. Positive effort is the mantra that needs to be recited blindly.
    Thanks for sharing this and making the coming weekend look a little better.
    Much peace and joy to you. Keep flying high! 🙂

    1. Thanks Terveen – I feel a standing ovation might be a bit much. 😂 I am pleased you liked the idea. Yes, balance is very much an issue of priorities. Health has to come first – both mental and physical – then living a life accorrding to our values. I find we often get hung up on acheievnig goals. My feeling is the fundamentals need to be sorted out first. Peace and joy to you too! 🙂🙏

  2. Brilliant analogy and writing! This post is excellent map to navigating whatever life brings and a great way to get re-oriented when we are lost. My dad was a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years and tried to make his sermons as portable – meaning that like suitcases, people could take them with them. You have done a great job here with that! Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much. I’m pleased you found some value in the post. Naviagating life is a tircky buisness. Being clear about our values is essential. I like this idea of making post/words/sermons portable. I suspect your father was a very good pastor. Wishing a wonderful weekend. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. 🙂🙏

  3. I love your analogy very much. May I add to your excellent piece by pointing out that in maintaining your moral compass you may have to give up many things that denote ‘success’ in the real world? You see, morality often requires us to risk popularity and a large crowd following us. Why do I say this? Why, I was once a lawyer and discovered that even in a profession defending ‘right’ over ‘wrong’, morality is often ignored. For me, personally, morality is key. But I digress, because you speak of balance. I wonder if it is easier to fly than to balance your forces. I really would be interested to know if it works out. Following this closely.

    1. Thank you Sue. You may! That’s a very good point. I was thinking, while I wrote this piece, about the idea of perfectionism and how we can’t find balance so long as we’re chasing it (could be another blog post). So long as you prioritise some things you have to be comfortable letting other things go.

      I agree that morality is key. We need a personal code to live by. Otherwise we might end up flying to the wrong destination!

      Wishng you a wonderful weekend ahead. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. 🙏🙂

  4. So this was particularly relevant having just re-read “Howard’s End” which among so many other wonderful teaching moments and theses, weaves into the story the idea of “proportion” — keeping things in proportion. Great post – thank you. Hard but your ideas and “ways and means” are spot on and will help me find a better balance. Thank you, Jane

    1. Thank you Jane. Keeping things in proportion. I like that – so that no one thing dominates our life to such an extent we lose balance. Yes mainting balance is a tirkcy act. But one we musn’t give up on. I’m pleased you found some value in the post. Thank you taking the time to read and comment. Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂🙏

  5. A wonderful extended metaphor, AP! Finding balance is an ongoing challenge for me and many other people too, I think. You cover the topic very well.

    One thing I have been thinking about is habit. Habit frees up mind space for more interesting things, and I rely heavily on habit. As I grow older, though, I find that relying on habit bites me sometimes. For example, I take supplements and medications with meals. If I go out to lunch or skip supper, I may forget to take my medications. Oh, well, it worked for many years, anyway! 🙂 I am building in a few fail-safes to compensate. 🙂

    Take care! <3

    1. Thank you Cheryl. Balance is a life long act. We must consider how much energy we have before taking on more responsibilities. We can only do so much. One’s health has to come first. That’s an interesting point about habit formation working against you. We need those cues and rewards for habits to work effectively. Forget the cue we tend to forget the habit. Fail-safes are a good idea!

      Wishing you a wonderful weekend Cheryl. As always, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. 🙏

    1. I know the feeling. I frequently have my head stick in the clouds. The trick is to fly around the clouds, not in them! Thank you for taking the time to comment 🙏

  6. What a fantastic idea for a post! This is super cool 🙂

    Congratulations on another excellent blog, I hope you have a lovely weekend! I’ll reblog this on my page for all of my readers to see!

  7. I agree with your four forces of flight metaphor and I think having balance in the everyday life is the key though it seems easy to say. I go by this mantra ‘Life is to live with uncertainty and move on’ and could relate to your points. Thank you for this amazing insights.

    1. Much easier to talk the talk then walk it. That’s why I’m a writer 😂. Learning to live with uncertainty is critical. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Wishing you well 🙏

    1. I wrote it because I was struggling myself. Came up with the idea and thought it might help to gain some clarity. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment 🙏

    1. Thank you Debi. It pleases me to hear my article helped someone. That’s why I write. Wishing you the very best, AP2. 🙏

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