One of the most frustrating feelings for me is the feeling of spinning my wheels. It’s those times when I know I’m working hard and I know I’m exhausted, and yet, I feel like I have nothing to show for it. To me, those times feel overly complicated and wholly unproductive. And the way to pull myself out of it is to remember the power of simplicity, which leads to clarity and action.
Simplicity, clarity, and action are three powerful concepts that we often think of separately, but rarely together. However, I see them as inseparable. I believe the best way to create a life you love is through action; the best way to get to action is through clarity; and the best way to get to clarity is through simplicity.
Let me show you what I mean and give you some tips on how you can implement the power of simplicity, clarity, and action into your life.
What do you think of when you think of simplicity? I know when a lot of people think of a “simple” life, they think of a life that’s slow, without drama, and possibly even without adventure.
In my mind, however, simple doesn’t mean boring, traditional, or uncreative. Instead, it means “uncomplicated.”
The Oxford Language’s definition of simplicity is: “the quality or condition of being easy to understand or do.”
It doesn’t have anything to do with how exciting or unique something is; it has to do with ease.
Ease is within your control
But if simplicity is all about ease, how can that be within your control? Aren’t some things easy, and some things hard? And, when we think of it that way, aren’t there some hard things that are worth doing? In which case…is simplicity really a good thing?
Here’s the thing: hard things are worth doing; unnecessarily hard things are not.
In the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the main character is an eccentric inventor. One of the first songs in the film shows him in his home, preparing breakfast. He fires up a complicated machine, which uses all sorts of gears and pulleys, wheels and levers, cranks and tracks, to…crack and cook an egg.
Sure, the creativity is admirable, but the fact of the matter is, cracking and cooking an egg is not all that difficult. It’s not a process that needs to be overly complicated. In fact—as shown by the fact that we see Professor Potts’ contraption malfunction at least three times over the course of a single song—taking the simplicity out of the act of cooking an egg actually makes things worse.
What processes do we make unnecessarily complicated? What parts of our creative lives or work do we overthink? Are we able to determine when something is worth the extra effort, and when it isn’t?
How to invite simplicity
Unfortunately, our world seems to place a high value on complexity—it means you’re busy, important, valuable. So how can you overcome that mindset and instead invite and embrace simplicity? There are really just two simple steps.
- Identify what’s important. When you do something, make sure you’re doing it with a goal in mind. Why are you doing this project? What is this task supposed to accomplish? Boiling everything down to its purpose is important if you’re going to live a simpler life. Why? Because of what’s next.
- Eliminate everything else. It’s important to know what’s important, because then, you must get rid of everything that isn’t important. This is the superfluous work, the pointless effort, the tasks that leave you with that “spinning your wheels” feeling.
This is the concept of “addition by subtraction.” You make room for the most important things, you accomplish what you want to accomplish, and you add meaning to your life, all by taking away the things that steal your simplicity.
And the power of simplicity lies in its ability to add focus, purpose, and priority to your life.
Another thing that gets added when you embrace simplicity? Clarity.
The search for clarity is universal. As humans, we just want to know—we want to know what stocks to invest in, who we’re going to marry, whether or not a project is worthwhile. We want to feel confident in our decisions. I, for one, hate it when I’m in a space of indecision or constantly second guessing myself. I really enjoy the feeling of clarity.
The good news is that if you can invite simplicity into your life, you’ll also gain some measure of clarity. When things are simple, it’s easier to make decisions. Instead of overthinking everything and making things more complicated than they need to be, you’re able to embrace the simplicity and allow it to bring you clarity.
As someone who went on a weight loss journey recently, I can tell you that the path to weight loss is very often not simple or clear. The waters of weight loss are so muddied by various fad diets, supplements, and miracle cures that it’s impossible to know what to try, much less what will actually work for you.
The truth, however, is that the formula for weight loss is fairly simple: take in fewer calories than you burn. When I think of weight loss that way, rather than a mysterious code composed of macros and types of sugars, I have a clearer picture of what I should do. Taking a simplified approach helps me find clarity.
And with the power of clarity, I can more easily decide what it is I need to do next.
How to boost clarity
Simplicity invites clarity, but there are two big things you can do to grease that track and make things more clear, more often.
- Know yourself. When you know yourself, you know what works for you, and what doesn’t. You don’t have to examine every possibility or angle, because you’re able to eliminate some options right away, knowing that they won’t benefit you. Knowing yourself also allows you to identify and eliminate complexity in your life, which will lead to more clarity.
- Know what you know. Similar to “knowing yourself,” you should also deliberately identify the things you know and/or believe. One famous writer, Gretchen Rubin, created the “12 Commandments of Gretchen.” On her list are things like “Do it now,” “Be polite and be fair,” and “Lighten up.” These simple statements explain truths that she has already internalized and that she already believes in. When she is facing a question or problem, these commandments—the things she knows—help give her clarity so she can move forward. Likewise, knowing what you know can help give you clarity when things start to get murky.
When you can use simplicity to gain clarity, you can harness the power of clarity—power that leads to effective action.
Happiness may be a mental state, but action plays a big role in helping you create a happier life. Your thoughts drive your actions, but your actions also help shape your thoughts. Not only that, but your actions create habits that end up shaping your entire life.
But not all action is created equal. Spinning your wheels requires action, but it’s action that gets you nowhere. Effective action is driven by the purpose you find through simplicity and clarity.
Action is the middle step of our Egg framework—the construct we use when talking about progressing to a place where you can create a happier, more meaningful life. It’s significant that Action lies in the middle. On your journey toward happiness, action is not the beginning, and it’s also not the end.
It’s not the beginning, because you have to think before you act. You have to act with direction and purpose and, yes, clarity. It’s not the end, because a single action isn’t going to automatically give you all the happiness you’re looking for. You have to keep working at it.
All of that said, action is still a key part of the journey. Action is what allows you to turn your desires and dreams into reality. It’s how you can work to make your life, and the world around you, better. What could be more powerful than that?
Using simplicity and clarity to inspire action
Simplicity and clarity inspire action. Let’s take a look at my weight loss example to explore why.
By keeping my view of weight loss simple—a matter of taking in fewer calories than I burn—I gain clarity about what I need to do in order to lose weight. And then, I put that plan into action.
Without any one of those steps, I can’t accomplish what I want to accomplish. If I overcomplicate weight loss, I don’t have clarity about how to do it, and I don’t take the actions I would need to take to make it happen.
When you gain simplicity and clarity, don’t stop there. Use them to motivate you to action. Use your actions to create positive change in your life.
This is how you harness the power of action: by putting it to work in the right direction.
Ultimately, the power of simplicity, clarity, and action is their ability to help you “create happy.” When you keep things simple, things become clearer, and you’re able to move forward with purpose.
And when you move forward with purpose, you’re unstoppable.
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