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There’s No Single Way To Optimise Life, but There Is Nagomi

This past week I reflected on the knots and spiral of my life.

Not that there are too many knots or even a large spiral to reflect on just yet, but I enjoy the practice of doing so regularly.

I think of this life as a long piece of string that begins when I began and winds into a new curve with every significant milestone I reach. I like to call the troubled parts of my life ‘knots’ because long pieces of string tend to have those. Every time I undo a knot, the piece of string is better able to spiral onwards and upwards — leaving behind the imprint of that particular knot, of course.

During such reflections, I often look up concepts from philosophy to help me identify and understand the source of the knots. This past week I learned about nagomi.

Now, before I get into what nagomi is and why I think it’s cool, it’s worth making an important distinction. The best path to life is the one that best aligns with your character.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” — Lao Tzu

And while our first responses to life’s events may be the ones we learned from those around us, our acquired character — our subsequent responses essentially — can be changed over time to become our first response to life.

There is no single path to emotional and physical well-being. But there are helpful systems to live better. And that’s where nagomi comes in.

What is nagomi?

Nagomi = finding balance, living it organically, and changing with the times, thus creating harmony throughout life.

On this particular journey of reflection, I came across Ken Mogi while Googling “interesting Japanese philosophies.” Mogi is a neuroscientist who writes about Japanese philosophies for Western audiences, and his latest book is about nagomi.

This isn’t just for life’s major events. This philosophy is dynamic because it’s small enough for daily life and vast enough for an entire culture. It's about bringing together things that seem separate until they become a “unified whole.” A life composed of all our million moments of joy, grief, anger, and peace. Practicing nagomi allows us to mindfully absorb everything we are a part of and build our lives with it. At least, that's how I see it.

The ways we think affect the ways we do; and the ways we live. The culture I want to create and nurture in this life is one where I look to “long life” philosophies for lifelong health.

What I’ve done so far:

Since 2019 I’ve taken time to think about what I value and what I don’t want to anymore. It certainly helps that I’ve lived away from everything and everyone I’ve known as a child during this time of reflection because I can assess my needs more objectively. For example, I can now:

  • better understand my physical and emotional cravings, cues, and cycles.

  • identify philosophies that help anchor my habits to my goals without distraction or questions I can’t answer just yet.

  • practice the behaviours that become habits that become my personality that becomes my character that becomes my fate.

  • cut out the thoughts and systems of thinking that don’t serve my lifelong well-being when necessary.

What prompted me to consider this?

My wise partner says it gets challenging to keep your brain “squishy” once you hit your 30s and 40s because you become set in your ways, i.e., rigid in mind. This mental rigidity becomes increasingly hard to overcome when faced with age-old challenges and new-age opportunities. For example, it’s easier to continue along the path of least resistance than actively making a daily effort to shift your perspective and entertain new thoughts or even do things differently. We’ve all been there. It’s one of those times when the spiral starts moving down instead of up and out.

And that’s exactly when it’s time to mix it up.

Take those seemingly separate elements in your life and see how they could fit together. When they do, yay! You found a way to balance your elements in a sustainable, agreeable way. You just levelled up in nagomi!

And when they don’t, it’s okay. You can try again with another element of your life.

The point of nagomi is about harmony in life. And any functional adult will agree that it’s a daily, if not an hourly, balancing act. I think it is an act that will become both easier and more complex over time.

Personally, my often extreme emotional response to life events and frustrating people have been my downfall. In the past, I actively anchored my joy and self-esteem to someone else’s ideas about my life path and got more and more upset as that hurtful comment sank into my life, taking my worth down with it.

So my first response to anything new was either over-zealous commitment or unfounded distrust and anger. It was not healthy. There was no room for that new thing to grow organically. I felt the urgent need to control everything, including others’ responses to my decisions. My brain started feeling less squishy.

Ways to practice nagomi

I didn’t like what my rigid ways were doing to my body. I was on the verge of tears all the time and felt like even the most gentle criticism could break me. So, forced by the visceral consequences of my continually self-induced stress and anxiety, I decided to accept the costs of change.

  • The change: I have the privilege of a healthy and able body. I figured it would be good to keep that going. → The cost: I would have to exercise alone. I truly hated being alone or seen as a beginner, and now I had to get comfortable with it.

  • The change: Long lives don’t need to be unhealthy. Physical and emotional wellness go hand in hand; there is no one without the other. → The cost: I would have to remove myself from environments that harmed my capacity to change. These environments were directly linked to my identity, and removing myself from them left lasting scars. Still, I would never willingly go back to those environments again.

  • The change: There’s no one way to optimise living a healthy life, but there is nagomi. → The cost: I would have to let go of trying to convince myself (or others) that minimalism, for example, is the best way to live. It seems silly that this life way of life made perfect sense to me and not to others, and I judged them for it unnecessarily.

  • The change: I want to make healthy living the easiest possible choice. I want my well-being to be the unavoidable choice in my mind and, therefore, my life. → The cost: I accept that slow, healthy living takes time. And the results of that living take even longer to show.

This is but the first step in learning about and practicing this philosophy. I'm excited to see where it takes me in the coming years.


This is what I learned about myself this week, and I'm grateful I get to share it with you all. If you practice nagomi, I'd love to hear about how you bring sustainable balance into your life.

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