In design and engineering there is an acronym K.I.S.S – or, keep it simple, stupid – which states that most systems work better if they are simple. I came across it in web development where overcomplicating not just programming but design and user experience can have catastrophic effects for your end goal.
The more I find myself in difficult situations, or getting stressed out, the more I realise I just need to simplify what I am doing and, when I ignore that advice, how I end up in a pickle.
This is just an example but I can’t tell you how many times a similar situation has come about.
I love to make plans with people, we’re talking about doing something together, we are getting more and more psyched, for a climb for example. We agree that on a certain day we are going to get out and climb this awesome, once in a lifetime route – I exaggerate, but hey, it feels like it at the time.. – it all is going to be amazing.
Then, a few hours later, I am looking through my diary and see there is a conflict. Bugger, I’ve got an appointment on that same day and I really can’t cancel. Maybe I should cancel the climb? No, it’s ok, I reckon I can squeeze it in. Just in case, I’ll call the appointment and ask if we can push it back a little.
I start to juggle..
Awesome, they are fine and, actually rather helpfully they are ok to move to another day, so we reschedule. Great, we’re back on! But it is never that simple, the rescheduling now takes time out of another day I am meant to busy writing an article. Ok, I don’t need quite as much time for that, let’s push this back too. Except then I don’t leave myself enough time. Rushing to finish the article on time I’m not happy with it and have to ask for an extension to finish it up to the standard it should be.
This is a real problem as this is my job, I earn from it and now, the domino effect of my poor planning and organisation has made me look unprofessional and disorganised in front of several people, miss a deadline, and made me feel pretty bad about the whole situation. I end up feeling so guilty about it all that I don’t fully enjoy the climb that started all of this mess ending in a position where none of it felt worth it.
How would keeping it simple look
Fine, this all started with poor planning. Simply checking my diary during the initial conversation would have avoided all of this but, as I am having to accept, that is just me and it is a part of me that I love. I love making plans, I love getting excited about it all, and I love doing my best to make it work.
So, if I’m not going to avoid the catalyst, what can I do?
Well, this is where I feel I fall over more often than not, where I see the same patterns repeating themselves, and, most importantly, where I am most unhappy. This is where I want to change and where I want to create better strategies. These aren’t elaborate and complicated juggling strategies, I know. These are simple. Painfully simple, at times.
A clever Englishman from times gone by, William Occam posed that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. K.I.S.S is, in many ways, based on Occam’s Razor, with assumptions often needlessly muddying a path and unnecessarily complicating things.
As I look at my perpetually repeating situation, I can’t help but feeling that I run in the opposite direction. I consider myself a logical and methodical person. If so, how on Earth do I keep finding myself here again?
I like to do what, I believe, a lot of us try and do – I try and juggle things. I say to myself ‘sure, but if I just move that, that person won’t mind, and then when I do this, that will be ok, then this, and that, and this, and …
Well, you can see what is happening here.
I start making assumptions; assumptions about time, both mine and other people’s; assumptions about energy levels, assuming I will be fine after long days out; and, I start making assumptions about anything else that will allow me to reach the idyll I so desperately seek.
And then what happens?
It all falls to pieces. My perfect plan that, of course, should have gone off without a hitch, goes bang. And I get stressed, trying to fix it, still trying to juggle it all. And it all builds up. And builds. And then I break.
Throughout my adult life I believed there had been a number of times when I felt broken but there really has been just a few where I’ve really known what that word means, putting all other times into perspective. These are times where I’ve tried to juggle too much, where I just kept trying to fight through something, no matter what the cost, and I became lost at the end of it.
As I rebuild, today, parts of me that have been broken, I want to rebuild myself in a way that is better positioned to handle life than I was before. As much as I wish it wasn’t true, I know I am going to encounter difficult and tough situations again; none of us know what life is going to throw at us and none of us can predict the future. Sure, we can make assumptions but we all know where that can lead..
Being able to handle these changes, whether we invited them and decide on them ourselves or have them thrust upon us, is crucial to getting through life with our heads held high, proud of what we have done and achieved. Allowing ourselves to become stronger each time we falter, learning from the past, and using our experiences to make us better and more robust people.
I know that is what I want, at least.
Strategies to keeping it simple, stupid
Simplicity, avoiding complication, and moving as few assumptions as possible, I feel, is a great place to start. I want to stop trying to juggle life and just deal with it. Sure, it might be an embarrassing or awkward conversation backing out of a plan made 4 hours earlier but what is that on the grand scheme of things? It would avoid a lot of the stress, further embarrassment, and difficulties down the line.
I need to get better at dealing with problems properly when they arise and not avoiding them, juggling them, and, in short, just hoping they will go away.
I read a really great article recently by strength coach and all-round awesome person Dan John called Shark Habits. Without misrepresenting too much what he writes (go read the whole thing for yourself, it is well worth it!), in short, he proposes when you have something you can do whole, like a shark eating something in one bite, just f*cking do it. Keep it simple, stupid.
No thinking about it, no procrastinating, no juggling. Just do it.
I can’t help thinking the amount of times I have ended up in a pickle, the whole time descending into a hole, and in full knowledge that, first, if I had just dealt with it at the beginning in a clear and simple way I would not be here today, and second, that it is not too late to still do that.