“Everything in moderation.” That’s one of the many mottoes of the modern age. It contains important wisdom, but when misapplied, it can become particularly counterproductive.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with things like playing video games. Or eating a little junk food. Or skipping a workout. Or having a couple drinks.

These are indulgences that we’re often willing to make deals with, for the sake of fun, or gratification, or comfort. In return, we sacrifice a little time, or a little money, or something else relatively small.

And normally, we make these small compromises with the understanding—implicit or explicit—that our sacrifices will not be too great. “It’s okay if I play a little, it’s not going to take up too much time.” “Having a few donuts every now and then isn’t going to make a big difference.” “I can take extra rest days without falling out of shape.”

And as long as things stay properly moderated—as long as they don’t start snowballing out of control, and don’t have unexpected, disproportionate consequences—then everything is fine. Some people play video games every day and still maintain excellence in their spiritual walk, family life, and business. Some folks eat a pretty decent amount of junk food and stay in excellent physical condition. Some people rarely work out, and yet remain strong and healthy.

That’s not the case for everyone though. Life’s not fair, and when different people do the same things, they often get somewhat different results. Beyond that, some people simply have trouble moderating certain actions, period.

In such cases, our little indulgences end up having greater consequences than we anticipated. Perhaps greater consequences than we would have accepted if we knew about them in the first place.

What if you treated your “deals” with these indulgences the same way you would treat any other deal? What if you decided that there were non-negotiable items that simply were not on the table? And that if your indulgences took more than they were allowed to, the deal would be off and they would be duly removed from your life?

You could decide, “Okay, I’ll play video games. But it’s not allowed to cause me to fall behind on my projects, or make me feel like spending less time with my family. If this happens, the deal is off.”

With these terms in place, you’re more prepared to take decisive action if the activity starts to encroach on your non-negotiables. In the meantime, you don’t have to worry so much about how much is too much, or whether you’re keeping things balanced, because you’ve clearly defined the line that shall not be crossed. This is both easier and more effective than trying to measure some vague idea of “moderation”.

And this isn’t a strange concept. It’s the same thing you would do in any other deal. Let’s say you’re making an agreement with a phone service provider. You won’t sign a contract that says you’ll be charged “a moderately reasonable price.” You want to know the numbers! So you get the exact cost, and then if they try to take something you didn’t agree to, you (hopefully) will cease doing business with them.

It should be the same with our habits, hobbies, and so on. By all means, let’s have some fun. Make deals. But draw the line somewhere. Keep some things off the table. Set non-negotiables.

As long as things stay balanced and moderated, enjoy them freely, without guilt or worry.

And if these indulgences take more than you agreed to, cut them out without a second thought.

-Ezekiel