Complexity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Today’s world glorifies complex problems, complex schedules, and complex algorithms. And all too often, we apply the same glorification to complexity in our personal lives:
“If my life is complex, then it’s important.”
“If my life is complex, then it’s interesting.”
“Complexity is a sign of intelligence.”
The truth, however, is that complexity hurts individuals, organizations, and even society as a whole, in more ways than one. That’s why it’s important to dissolve complexity and make room for something else.
You have to receive simplicity.
What is simplicity?
When you look up definitions for simplicity, several different words will jump out at you: plain, natural, straightforward, uncomplicated.
But of all the words that can be used to define simplicity, there’s one that I find particularly meaningful: ease.
Simplicity is ease. It’s refusing to let the simple things you know to be true get bogged down by superfluous questions or by the criticism of others. It’s pursuing the simple solution—the one that comes to you first—instead of insisting there must be a “better” way.
There’s a story that’s often circulated about the space race between the American and Russian space programs.
The Americans were looking for a pen that could write in space, since all pens at the time relied on gravity, and would obviously not work in a zero-gravity environment. After spending hundreds of man hours and millions of dollars, they finally did it. Their new super-pen could write in space, underwater, upside down, and on any surface.
Meanwhile, the Russians used pencils.
Now, the validity of this story has since been proven false. (After all, easily-broken pencils were not ideal for space life, either.) However, it offers a powerful lesson that sometimes, the answer is unexpectedly, wonderfully, simple.
My brush with simplicity
In our post about dissolving complexity, I talked about my weight loss journey and how I refused to make it more complicated than it needed to be.
What does simplicity look like when it comes to losing weight?
Eat fewer calories than you burn. Period.
People that go to extreme (or even dangerous) lengths to lose weight—who track protein and carbs and sugars and nutrients like their lives depended on it, who drink water with lemon and cayenne pepper for three days straight, who try diet after diet trying to find the magic “something” that will work for them—they are making it more complicated than it needs to be.
Again: if you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn. Period.
Now, it might take some research to help you do this effectively. You might have to learn about what foods make you feel fuller, so you don’t snack so often. You might have to take into account food sensitivity. It might require you to rearrange your schedule so you can fit exercise in a few times a week.
But as long as you’re operating from that place of simplicity—more calories out, fewer calories in—even weight loss will have more “ease” to it.
It certainly did for me. My weight loss wasn’t about eating “right” or “wrong” foods, or joining a weight loss challenge, or anything like that. It was about simple math! And the simplicity helped me stick to it, even when it was hard.
Why is simplicity important?
For all the reasons that complexity is harmful, simplicity is important.
Complexity holds you back. Simplicity pushes you forward.
Action is easier when it’s simple, or when it’s based on a simple truth. Overcomplicating your plans is only going to keep you from starting. And until you start, you can’t finish.
Complexity strains relationships. Simplicity fosters them.
Can you imagine how your relationships would be different if they were based on the simple truths of love, respect, and trust? Let’s say your spouse forgot to put out the garbage cans one week. Complexity would tell you that there is some underlying reason for this. Maybe it means that your spouse doesn’t value your time, or that they refuse to do their part around the house. Or it could mean that they’re mad at you for something, and are trying to get back at you.
That’s what complexity wants you to think. Complex stories run in our minds all the time. But simplicity is going to offer the possibility that they just flat-out forgot. Now, which thought is going to serve your relationship better? (Hint: it’s not the complex one.)
Complexity creates stress. Simplicity invites peace.
An overly, unnecessarily complex life can lead to stress. Stress can manifest itself in many ways: anything from headaches to irritability to alcohol abuse can be signs that stress is taking its toll on you. Simplicity, on the other hand, brings peace. With simplicity, you move ahead, knowing that some course of action is better than no course of action. You trust yourself, embrace possibility, and prepare to handle whatever challenges may come your way. You’re at peace with your thoughts, your choices, and your life.
Where does simplicity come from?
Ever heard of Murphy’s Law? More of an adage than a formal law, it basically states: “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
This implies that the world, and each of our lives, is constantly moving toward a state of chaos.
And really, all you have to do is glance at the news headlines to realize that this is not at all far from the truth.
But if that’s true, then where does simplicity come from?
Simplicity is what’s left when you choose to dissolve chaos, but here’s the problem: once you choose to dissolve chaos, you must also choose to receive simplicity. Otherwise, life is going to keep pushing you back into complexity.
How do you receive simplicity?
If someone writes you a check, but you never cash it, it’s not going to do you any good.
Likewise, if you’ve worked to dissolve complexity, and simplicity is sitting right there in front of you, but you refuse to receive it, it’s isn’t going to help you improve your life.
How can you be sure that you’re allowing simplicity into your life when it presents itself to you?
Recognize (and live by) your simple truths.
What do you believe? It seems like a simple enough question, but many of us would likely struggle to distill our beliefs into statements we remember and use on a regular basis. That said, knowing the greater truths you live by—the simple things you believe that govern your life—would be immensely helpful when complexity tries to nudge its way back into your life.
A great example of this is Gretchen Rubin’s 12 Commandments of Happiness. This short list of helpful truths (things like “Act the way I want to feel” and “There is only love”) is meant for Gretchen personally, but the idea is something we could all benefit from. What “commandments” do you live by? Stop questioning them, and start living by them!
Trust your instincts.
Your instincts are powerful. In fact, more often than not, your instincts are likely directly tied to your simple truths. The things that you believe internally, at your core, are the things that are going to show up as your instinctual responses.
Even if our natural inclination is to question our instincts, it’s far simpler to trust those instincts and let them guide our actions. When you trust your instincts, you’re receiving simplicity, because you’re allowing what already is to simply be.
Being present is a powerful way to invite simplicity into your life. What if you could stop living in the past or the future, and start focusing on what’s right in front of you? What’s right in front of you is always going to be simpler than trying to interpret the past or trying to predict the future. But to be present, you have to slow down.
Meditation is something that can help with this. When your brain wants to focus on the complicated problems at work or at home, meditation invites you to let go of thought and focus on your breath. It’s all about letting go of complex thought (or any thought, really), embracing stillness, and accepting simplicity. Maybe that’s why meditation is linked to things like reduced stress, reduced fatigue, reduced blood pressure, and overall improved mood and quality of life.
Dissolving complexity and receiving simplicity need to go hand in hand if you want to live a happier, more meaningful, more peaceful life. Both can help you achieve your goals, strengthen your relationships, and become the person you really want to be.
Design.org has other tools to help you along the way. Start with our free assessment, which will help you narrow your focus and set a goal that will get you moving in the right direction. You’ll also learn more about our Egg framework, one of the most useful tools we’ve found for helping you progress on a personal level.
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