Reflecting on Four Burners Theory

I’ve been constantly thinking about the Four Burners Theory since James Clear released an article about it 7 days ago. The gist of the theory is that everyone has to juggle with four burners in life, namely family, friends, health and work. The dilemma that everyone has to face is that if you want to be successful you need to turn one burner off, and if you want to be really successful you need to turn two burners off.

The reason why I kept thinking about the Four Burners Theory was because it coincided with a recent period of feeling lost, where I was and still am in a middle of a period of reflection upon where I am in life and where I want to go in life.

So where am I in life? Actions speak louder than words, and so when I look at how my days are scheduled, I see a pattern emerging already on what my current habits implicitly prioritize:

[Weekdays] – 8 hours of sleep (Health), 1 hour of walking + calisthenics (Health), 30 minutes of filtering menus for the most healthy food option (Health), 75 minutes of eating healthy food (Health), 9 hours of work (Work), 1 hour reading / thinking about investing (Work), 3 hours 45 minutes of doing random things (Neutral)

[Weekends] – 8 hours of sleep (Health), 1 hour of walking + calisthenics (Health), 30 minutes of filtering menus for the most healthy food option (Health), 75 minutes of eating healthy food (Health), 3 hours reading / thinking about investing (Work), 2 hours chatting with mum (Family), 60 minutes chatting with friends (Friends)

So what do we have? 45% of my time spent on health, 33% of my time spent on work, 18% of my time spent on random things, 3% of my time spent on family and 1% of my time spent on friends.

Time Spent
I must say I’m surprised for the family and friends part. For someone who always publicly espoused that relationships are important to me (heck I even did a Europe trip just to exclusively meet friends), I look very like a hypocrite. Even if I merged family time with friends (I consider my mum to be a very close friend), that still only makes up a meager 4% of my spent time.

And I think that’s why I’m in a period of feeling lost. The recent combination of being friend zoned and getting promoted within a very short time frame made me really question my priorities.

Maybe it’s the pent up sadness / frustration that came from being friend zoned by someone you explicitly told you liked and whom reciprocated and was willing to try out but eventually found out that being in a relationship wasn’t for her that’s still affecting how I feel, but I can just sense how hollow I felt ever since even though I don’t really feel it since I’m very good at subconsciously disguising my emotions even to myself.

And that hollowness is telling me that something’s wrong, and that what’s wrong is my priorities aren’t aligned with what I want.

I think what it boils down is that I have no intention to be very successful in two aspects of life (which I am implicitly doing by spending 78% of my time on work and health), but rather be successful in three aspects of life (work, health and friends). And I am failing miserably on the latter.

One reason why I’m failing miserably is that I’m looking for heart to heart friendships in the wrong places. The workplace is a horrible place to find such relationships due to the need for professionalism and the huge amounts of conflict of interests between colleagues. Going to interest groups in hasn’t been satisfying so far as they usually just end up being very small talk oriented. Overall my experience since university graduation is that it’s been very hard to get to know new friends which might develop into more heart to heart friendships.

Another reason why I’m failing miserably is that I seem to attract people who don’t like spending too much time together all the time. I mean sure that means that I can keep the friendships of a lot of people while I spend personal time with myself. But the downside is that I’m just never close to any particular friend. And come to think of it, I’ve never had any close friends in a conventional sense since I’m never always thinking of someone when I make plans or want to find someone to talk to.

Which leads to the other reason why I’m failing miserably. I’ve become very reclusive. I don’t know if it’s because the amount of time spent being by myself when outside of work, but whenever there’s a problem (emotionally, financially, physically etc.), my first reaction is never to ask for help or reach out – my first reaction is to deal with it myself. And the thing is, I’m usually able to solve it almost all the time. Even for the friend zone incident, sure it hurt like hell and I sure would like to cry those negative emotions out and get it over with, but I never sought out anyone for a crying shoulder or attentive ear, I just dealt with it just like how I deal with any other adversity I’ve faced since university graduation – with Stoic calm. I just acknowledge that the negative emotions are there but I’m able to keep my composure and keep my performance level or decision making at the same level. And this to a certain extent makes me less human as I just rarely share with others how I really feel, and thus it’s hard to expect anyone to reciprocate and share with you how they really feel too, so I just end up not having close heart to heart relationships.

So for all the success I’m having so far in my career, it’s as I expected, not fulfilling. I always knew I didn’t want career to be my only focus in life, but ironically it has been. For someone who keeps defending himself as not a workaholic but an unwilling person who’s working workaholic hours, I sure do act like one.

So I don’t know. I’m stuck. It’s not the first time where I kind of feel lost and sad about being lonely. The only difference is I would really break down and cry during high school or university while now I’m just calmly typing up this article and being very callous to my emotions.


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