Stay Sane with the Personal Craziness Index


To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

NOTE: This post is adapted from my new book The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World. I’m posting it here because it’s the key to staying balanced when the road gets rocky. 

To stay sane in an insane world, we need to keep doing the things that keep us balanced.

The final piece of the resilience puzzle is to build balance-enhancing attitudes and practices into our daily lives, so they are as much a part of our routines as breathing. Then we keep watch to make sure we’re staying on track. Click To Tweet

But if we don’t keep up with our new activities, we run the risk of drifting back to our old, less resilient ways.

UnBalancer loves when that happens!

So we need a method for regularly checking in with ourselves to make sure we’re continuing to use all the shiny new tools and techniques we worked so hard to acquire.


To help stay on track, I recommend using a monitoring tool called the Personal Craziness Index (PCI).

The PCI was first presented by author and psychologist Patrick J. Carnes in his groundbreaking book on addiction recovery, A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps: The Classic Guide for All People in the Process of Recovery. But it turns out that the PCI has uses beyond maintaining sobriety, and one of them is to monitor resilience.

The PCI is a universal tracking tool that can be used by anyone to monitor and maintain balance. It relies on the fact that we respond to aspects of our lives differently when we’re in balance and when we’re not. Click To Tweet

The PCI is a build-it-yourself tool. In each of 10 major life areas, the PCI lists three indicators of how we act when we are in balance. Then we track the seven most significant ones every day.

The best ones to track are those you can easily see you are doing or not doing. Below, you can see an example of a completed PCI, with the tracked activities in bold and marked with an asterisk (*).

When I first heard about the PCI, I used it with addict clients as a relapse-prevention tool. But then I wondered how it would work with other problems.

So, I conducted an Experiment on myself: Would this tool prevent the low-level depression I often experienced when I was overworked, or when winter’s darkness set in?

My own PCI was much like the example above. My Experiment turned out to be successful in keeping depression at bay, even in the depths of winter.

Since then, I’ve used the PCI with many clients with a wide variety of issues that unbalance them. For those who not only complete the PCI but also track it daily, it has become an essential tool in maintaining their personal sanity.


Without tracking, the PCI is of limited use. With it, it’s as valuable as a GPS for staying the course.

When we start to slip into unbalanced behaviors, chances are we’re headed for a major tilt in the near future unless we take corrective actions. What’s nice about PCI tracking is that, in addition to alerting us that corrective actions are needed, the course corrections themselves are built into the tool.

Most of the time, all we have to do to restore balance is resume any balancing activities we’ve stopped doing, and stop any unbalancing activities that snuck back in. Click To Tweet

To select the most significant PCI items to track, think about which behaviors are most clearly different when you’re in balance and when you’re not. Then track those items every day.

Here’s what a few days of PCI tracking looks like for the sample PCI:

NOTE: You can download an editable PCI template and a tracking spreadsheet from the Transformations Press resources page:

For instance, suppose that in the “Health/Hygiene” category, we wrote that when we’re feeling balanced, we go to the gym three times a week, cook our own meals, and sleep at least seven hours per night. Although each of these actions alone may seem unimportant, as indicators that our internal balancer is humming along smoothly they are invaluable.

Now let’s say that for you, cooking your own meals is the clearest indicator in the “Health/Hygiene” category—you almost always cook when you’re doing well, and you almost always pick up takeout or eat out when you’re not. That’s an indicator you’ll want to track.

In the other categories, let’s say (as in this example) we’ve identified washing dishes, paying bills on time, limiting work to 40 hours per week, reading every night, morning walks, and daily meditation as things we do when we’re balanced and things we tend not to do when we’re not.

If we notice we’re picking up junk food, or letting dishes pile up in the sink, or waiting till the last minute to pay bills, or skipping our reading, walks, or meditation, our PCI lets us know that we’re also more vulnerable to imminent imbalance.

Detecting mild imbalance before we get pulled under is much easier than restoring balance after we’ve been toppled. Click To Tweet

If we’re off on only one or two indicators, we’ve given up only a little ground, and out-maneuvering UnBalancer is easy: We will ourselves to go back to cooking. We wash the dishes. We pay bills on time, or resume the reading, walks, or meditation—or whatever we’ve been tracking on our individual PCI. As we resume doing these things, our PCI rises and the downward slide reverses.

In 12-step recovery programs, the phrase “fake it till you make it” expresses the idea of using our will to assume new, more self-actualizing attitudes and behaviors. The PCI helps us “fake it till we make it” when the amount of willpower that’s required to keep personal craziness at bay is still small. Then we can go forward unhindered, UnBalancer thwarted once again.

Using the PCI

Let’s revisit burnout as an application of how the PCI can help Balancer prevent disaster.

In Chapter 3 of The Art of Balance, “ReBalancer to the Rescue,” I described how the winter of 2014/2015 broke Boston’s all-time seasonal snowfall record, unbalanced many of my former clients, and, ultimately, unbalanced me, too.

Every week for 14 weeks, former clients contacted me about getting back into therapy. That winter and spring, I accepted them all, overwhelming my schedule and my personal balance. The result: burnout.

UnBalancer won that round, and it took me a long time to recover.

But let’s look ahead and imagine another terrible winter occurs a couple of years down the road. Only this time, I use the PCI.

  1. I notice I’m squeezing more clients into my day than is healthy for me.
  2. I notice that I’m starting to put off self-care.
  3. I detect the early warning signs of imbalance because I see that my PCI has dropped.
  4. I make some course corrections. I take mini-breaks, make sure I get adequate sleep and nutrition, and I allow myself to say, “Sorry, I can’t see you right now” when my schedule is full.
  5. I resume my usual self-care activities.
  6. Burnout is prevented, balance restored.

Thanks to the PCI, instead of the sleep-deprived, overcaffeinated, exhausted therapist I could have become, I’m able to maintain my previous level of balance. Yes, some clients have to wait a few weeks and others find new therapists, but overall, everyone gets the care they need—including me!

What to do:

1. Create Your Personal Craziness Index. Use the PCI to track the things you do that keep you sane. The downloadable template provided below has 10 suggested categories for the Personal Craziness Index. If some of these categories don’t fit your situation, substitute others that do. Under each category, write three indicators that you are in a good place. List the things you do that keep you in positive territory, or things you don’t do that also demonstrate that you’re functioning well. For example, under “Health/Hygiene,” you might list “exercise 3x per week” as something you do to stay fit, or “don’t eat junk food” as a reminder to avoid unhealthy eating.

NOTE: You can download an editable PCI template and a tracking spreadsheet from the Transformations Press resources page:

2. Track seven indicators. Choose the seven indicators, from any of these 10 categories, that most clearly show you’re maintaining your defenses against personal craziness.At the end of each day, tally up how you did. Give yourself a score from 0 to 7, where “7” is “I’m doing all the positive things / not doing any of the negative things” and “0” is “I’m not doing any of the positive things / doing all of the negative things.” Keep a daily log.

NOTE: You get a “0” for days you don’t bother to check!

3. If your score dips below seven, reverse the trend. If your numbers start dropping, reverse the trend by resuming the positives on your PCI and avoiding the negatives. When your Personal Craziness Index is restored, your personal craziness will likewise diminish, restoring your personal sanity—and your balance.

4. IMPORTANT: As conditions change, re-do the PCI to make sure it clearly tracks the most significant differences between when you are in balance and when UnBalancer is having its way with you.

P.S. Learn more self-care practices, and a six-step plan for staying in balance, in The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane WorldOr check out the free ebook The Art of Balance Cheat Sheet to get an overview of the six-step system. Click here to download a PDF or here to get the Kindle version.

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