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Why simple?

In my recent blog posts, you’ll have noticed the running theme of simplicity. You might be wondering why bother with simplicity. After all, if you’re bright and can handle complex thought, systems, and activities, you shouldn’t need things to be simple, because you can handle complexity, right?

The thing is, though, that even though you can handle complexity, you don’t need to allow everything in your life to be complicated. Complicated means that things aren’t optimum. You waste your time, effort and resources. In a complicated system, things can easily get overlooked, or duplicated, or simply lost. The mental energy required to navigate a complicated system is far higher than that necessary in a simple system.

Take, for example, the piling system – that good old alternative to the filing system where everything lives in piles. You know where everything is – the piles might be categories, or related to days. In fact, you might have a geological layering approach to your f/piling and you find things based on your memory of when you last used them, and look approximately that many days deep in your piles. Especially if you have strong associative thinking – being able to make connections between things – this kind of f/piling system may be your favourite.

Now the piling system might work very well for you. You know where things are, you can find them when you need them. But eventually, you hit the limits of piling. The mental energy you’re using up in keeping a look-up of your piling system going is probably quite significant. You have to remember things. This might be tens if not hundreds of pieces of paper: letters, bills, invoices, leaflets, sketches, receipts… What an endeavour! No problem if your memory is sharp, associative, even picture-based. In fact, you might be quite proud of your knowledge of everything’s locations, and your ability to locate things in what looks like a complicated mess to someone else’s eyes. But the mental energy involved in keeping this look-up in memory, available, and reliable, is pretty substantial. Imagine what you could be doing if you freed up that energy for other things!

Now perhaps one day, you can’t find what you’re after. It was here, you were sure, next to that thing, under this pile, over by that cupboard. But now it isn’t. Cue minutes – maybe even hours – of hunting. Or the window gets left open and your piles go everywhere! Or, heaven forbid, someone else needs to find something and goes through your piles, shuffling them about, in their quest to find that particular something. Now your mental map of your piles is a complete mess. A few things are still bundled together, but shuffled around randomly in your room. You start again at the beginning, building up your memory of where everything is.

Instead of the complicated f/piling system, you could develop the habit of a simple filing system. You could collect things by category – bills, letters, invoices, receipts, notes, sketches – and file them together. You could create folders that keep papers securely in date order. Or you can take everything online, scan it all (or outsource this) and file it in online folders in the cloud – then you have backups taken care of too.

Although it seems like a lot of work to go from a f/piling system to a filing system, once you’ve set up your new system – and made sure that it works for you through reviewing and tweaking it – you’ll have much less mental energy taken up by maintaining your look-up table. You’ll still know where everything is, but you don’t have to remember it yourself. And you might even enjoy the simple neatness that now surrounds you.

This f/piling example shows how two strengths of a gifted mind – excellent memory and associative thinking – can work against you as well as for you. While you can rely on your memory and associative thinking to keep your f/piling system running smoothly, you’re actually putting energy into something that you don’t need to. This is energy that you could be putting somewhere else – like creating your new product line, developing your research ideas, widening or deepening your business network. Or you might be using up energy that you don’t even have, because you’re overstretched and your f/piling system is adding to the stress. All because your fantastic memory and associative thinking allow you, in effect, to be lazy and not file or organise anything.

So why simple?

Because it makes you consider what’s important, where your want your energy to be going, and how you can do that.

Because it frees up your energy from previously complicated ways of doing things, and enables you to do more, or have more fun!

Because it brings welcome relief from the stresses of an already complex modern-day life.

And because it works.

When you start simplifying things in your outside world, things become simpler in your inside world too. You develop a habit of simplicity: simple doing, simple living, simple thinking. That doesn’t mean simplistic, but purely simple.

The mind’s creative tendency to connect this, to that, to the other, can work against you when you have non-simple ways of doing things. One thought about something to do will prompt another, and another, and another. A domino-effect of thoughts which leads to mental stress and reduced functioning.

This domino-effect is the basic process underneath anxiety. There’s an anxious feeling. The mind jumps in to explain the anxious feeling with an anxious or fearful thought. The first anxious thought leads to another. The associative mind pulls everything to it that fits the connection to anxiety, anxious feelings, and fear. Before you know it, your mind has run away in a complicated maze of anxious thoughts, feelings and fear. But gradually, as you develop an outer habit of simplicity, you can use this inside as well. You can check the anxious thoughts and feelings as they well up. You can keep your thinking simpler, and you notice more quickly when you’re adding extra thoughts and feelings to your original anxious feeling.

Getting the simplicity habit going means that you learn the habit of keeping things simple, inside, and out. Over time, you’ll notice more benefits to simplicity than just these: let me know what they are for you!

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