Tag Archives: simplicity

Simple as Beautiful

Simplicity Quote
If there is something that has become abundantly clear to me over the past several year, it’s that complexity is ridiculously overrated. I see too many occasions where people seem to think that complex is somehow more interesting or of higher value because it is so magically intricate.

Pfft. Pure and unadulterated horse puckey.

Sorry for the foul language – sometime it’s the only way to properly express my disgust. I will try to clean it up as I move along.

The real challenge is maintaining simplicity in as much of one’s life as possible.  I mean, have you tried to apply this broadly in your life before?  It’s hard as hell, but when you even get a few slender sticking points of simplicity, it’s refreshing on a level that words never truly capture.

Well, except for one word: liberating.

Even if simplicity is hard to fully attain, I think the pursuit of it should be a goal for most people if for no other reason than the fact that life will add layers of complication to your existence without so much as a polite tap on the shoulder.  Why on earth would you do anything to make things even more challenging than they must be already?

I’ve often wondered if it’s because complexity or a life flooded with drama have the deceptive quality of seeming more special or unique to people.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the scientific method has caught up with a good means by which to measure any of that.

But then again… that’s probably a good thing… because I would rather stay simple.  Because on that point?  Good ol’ Hank W. Longfellow got it just right.

Complication Consternation

The ONE ThingI’m going to be honest with you, my friends – I mostly like the title of this blog post because of the alliteration. I can’t lie about that – I think alliteration is becoming one of my favorite things for no apparent reason. Somehow it just feels good rolling around in my brain. I felt the need to get that little gem out of the way before getting down to the business at hand of today’s post.

My last post on dinner with my Mom has been part of my overall thinking on how to get less complicated about life in general. It’s a trend for me the last few years and my success rate with it, while not perfect, is improving. Part of the reason I feel I am getting some traction on un-complicating things for myself is that I see people making things far too complicated, seemingly every day. The oft-quoted notion of analysis paralysis is prevalent everywhere I look.

I don’t think that’s surprising – life itself can throw a lot of variables at us and there are many things we cannot control. By delving deeply into everything in a non-stop fashion, perhaps we feel there is a certain level of control that returns… or at least that we improve our chances of getting things right. Whatever that means.

I am trying to detach from that way of thinking as best I can. Now, I surely enjoy reflecting and thinking, so I don’t want it to seem as if I only believe in all action, all the time. Perish the thought. Instead, I am against using over-analysis as a replacement for taking some damn action once in a while. The analysis paralysis problem is that it seems to get to an idea that if we just spend a little bit more time wrestling with the problem, gathering more data and re-framing the argument for the hundredth time, we will achieve perfection.

Since I believe the perfect is the enemy of the good, I don’t worry much about perfection.

This is a big part of why I am so thoroughly enjoying a book by Gary Keller, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. I could spend many hours describing it, the methods of Keller’s system and such, but suffice it to say, it really is about… well… one thing: creating success by winnowing down the focus of your energy and talents to the one thing that will either make things easier or every other action unnecessary.

Kind of bold, right?

But Keller’s point is compelling in that we often believe success is about adding more or doing more when often, it’s about focusing more and saying no more. Like, A LOT more – something I need to work on as a consummate people-pleaser.

So today I took up his advice to focus on something that is a big thing to me (this blog), did it at a high energy time (first thing this AM) and have creating this little morsel of goodness for your consumption. My hope is that it’s a tasty one, but that is yours to judge and not mine… especially since I think all of my stuff is worth a nibble or two.

With that, I leave you with a question: What would be the one thing you would focus on today to make things easier for yourself? That thing that you would protect and not let time thieves pilfer from your day?

Wants, Needs and The Quest for the New Shiny

iPhone 4SBig doings today in the world of tech as the overlords of Cupertino, California (Apple) rolled out the newest/shiniest/most-gotta-have-it device in their arsenal, the iPhone 4s. I will be the first to admit I am definitely a bit of a gadget/computer sort of nerd where all the newfangled gizmos and doohickeys fascinate me. And yes, I know that’s some heavy jargon to be using, but I just can’t help myself sometimes.

But for just a second… let’s get past the hype of the announcement that surrounds any release by Apple and the near-endless debate between the cult-like followers of Steve Jobs and those who hate anything Apple because… well… it’s Apple.

Instead, let’s focus a bit on something that I can barely believe my fingers are typing out this very moment… what in the world is really necessary?  I know, it’s borderline heresy as a gadget geek to focus on necessity versus “Dude… that’s just freakin’ cool as hell.”

What got me thinking about all of this was a post by Leo Babauta (of Zen Habits fame) on his refreshingly stripped down blog mnmlist.com, which if you have never seen, is devoid of nearly everything but text.  Heck, it’s hard to even tell Leo writes the thing since you have to search around a bit to figure that part out.  I should know… I just did that myself.  Leo wrote something today on the release of the iPhone 4s and it’s accompanying fanfare.

But it was one line, in particular, that stuck out at me more than most:

Five years ago, the iPhone didn’t exist. It wasn’t a need in your life. You were able to live perfectly without it. And now that it does exist, all of that is true.

There you have it. If I sat here thinking critically about the numbers of things I’ve purchased and truly thought about what I could live without… yikes. It’s not a short list.  True, I really enjoy my iPad 2 and use it all the time, but it’s not as if my life would have a gaping void within it absent it. I am not somehow a different human being for having that device… or my XBox… or my big screen TV… or… you get the idea.

As silly as it may sound to some, I think my gym equipment has allowed me to make fundamentally positive changes in my life in a way that the nearest replacement (belonging to a commercial gym and paying dues for the rest of my life) does not approximate. That feels like a pure win to me, even if it was not a cheap investment.

But overall, it’s rare for me to find many things… scratch that… material things that I simply could not go without if required. I learn this lesson most acutely a number of years ago when I looked at a credit card bill with a balanced that had carried over for a little while and thought, “Damn… I’m not even sure I can remember what I bought that I am still paying off.”  People, if you cannot even remember it, how critical could it be? That was one of my big financial epiphanies for certain… it’s bad enough to buy with credit… but FAR worse to still be paying for them when you can’t even remember what those things are.  Just… I mean… ugh.

This will remain part of my struggle going forward… fighting the allure of the shiny bauble of tomorrow. My self-awareness is good on this, but certainly not great. Hopefully it just gets a little better all the time.

In spite of the glossy finish, sharp lines, crisp details and seemingly unbeatable functionality found in any new gadget that is rolling our way down the consumer highway… if we let it pass by, we usually only “miss out” on something we never even knew we “needed” in the first place.

And that’s a curious place to be indeed.

January 1, 2011 – The Obligatory “Kick Off the Year Right” Post

Today is a funny kind of day, if you ask me… which I am going to assume that you did by virtue of reading this post.  Yeah, I am taking more than a little bit of license with that assumption, but seriously… I am whoop-ass incarnate and can pull that kind of thing off.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself from time to time.

Anyhoo, the last few days are the time of year when people all around the world taking time to look back on the previous year and look ahead with a bit of hope towards the new year, most often in the form of making resolutions, goals and promises about all of the glorious things they want to do differently.  The very notion of only reflecting and goal-setting once a year is anathema to a lot of people, but I don’t tend to get quite so fired up about the process.

First, I think it’s good almost any time we stop to think things over, so if there is a time of year where people decide to stop (even for a moment), I can get behind that.  Second, I think all of us are very influenced by the calendar anyway, whether in our work lives (where goals, deadlines and all sort of shenanigans are completely calendar-driven) or in our personal lives as well (bills come monthly, taxes are done once a year, etc.).  A continuation of that calendar-affected behavior seems fairly normal to me.  That being said… if you just pick a single day to think things over and never consider it again during the year or don’t tweak your goals to accommodate changes in life, well then that’s just plain silly.

Plus, I actually like doing some resolutions.  For reasons I have never been able to fully fathom, I tend to do well sticking to them, even when I don’t keep them in my face all year long.  Weird, I know.

This year I am approaching it a little differently by thinking about overarching themes for the year and then building more specific goals and actions to go along with those themes.  My big themes are as follows:

  • Happiness (yes, I know… can I be any more broad???)
  • Simplicity
  • Inner calm
  • Belief in the power of action

Photo on 2010-08-15 at 18.51.jpg

Happiness is really a big piece of what drives the other 3 themes, but my focus there is about doing what I can to find my own sense of happiness (i.e. from within as opposed to externally-driven) and doing my best to spread happiness to those closest to me.  This notion of my liberally sowing happiness akin to a self-help Johnny Appleseed is really about something I’ve noticed about myself that, truthfully, I really don’t like.  What is that?  Mostly the notion that I will tend to have less patience and be less polite (at times, mind you) to my own family than I would be to someone who is either a stranger or fairly removed from me.  That’s gotta stop… now.  And yes, this photo on the right is a perfect example of pure happiness… well, that and complete idiocy on my part.

In terms of actions I plan on taking this year to get at some of these items above?  I am still working out a more concrete list, but a few of them are:

  • Meditation
  • Reading more, watching TV less
  • Fighting and fighting hard against anything that even has a whiff of procrastination about it
  • Keeping up with my blogging/writing.  As a more concrete goal, I want to get an article published over at EliteFTS (if I can figure out something to write they would actually want to print).
  • For my training/lifting – not placing any kind of self-limitations on what is truly possible.

There are more specifics here, but I am going to avoid going into inordinate amounts of detail to bore you to utter tears… umm, that’s if I haven’t done so already.  I am one wordy sonofagun.  Stunner, I know.

If you are performing your own goal-setting right now, I’ve been fortunate enough to either run across some nice links or even have a semi-original thought of my own to assist you through the process:

  1. If you are looking to get in better shape or lose weight, DO NOT just join a gym if you do not belong already.  Seriously.  I am fortunate enough to lift in my own home gym as well as at a private training gym, but I’ve spent an enormous amount of time in commercial gyms and joining in early January is a huge mistake.  Why?  First, you will be lucky enough to join hordes of others doing the same thing, so the gym will be crowded beyond belief.  Super fun!  Second, I can remember being in the gym during this sad time of year, looking around and thinking with a sigh, “Man… 90% of these people will not be here in a month.”  And that’s just the truth.So what to do instead? Find a smaller private place with a qualified training (preferably one with a NSCA certification, especially the CSCS cert).  Will it be more expensive to follow this route?  Hell yes.  Will you actually have a really good shot of meeting your goal?  Umm, hell yes again… and isn’t that the point of having the goal in the first place?  I might even make an entire post about this later in the week to really hammer this one home.
  2. If you are in charge of managing, leading or supervisor other people, read this great post by Bob Sutton, Stanford professor and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and The No Asshole Rule.  It’s a short and excellent piece about what good bosses think.  My favorite is #1 – “I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.”  Pure truth.
  3. Look back before looking forward.  Felicia Day (the pipe dream of comic book and gaming geeks across the globe) put up a great post about… GASP!… learning from what 2010 taught her versus focusing too much on what she plans on doing in 2011.  And she learned a few nuggets that you can apply to just about anything in your own life.  Nice huh?  Plus it’s fun to read the comments from all the dudes have a full on nerdgasm from looking at her photo.

So to 2011, I give you my warmest welcome.  My arms, heart and mind are all open… now it’s just up to me to make it special.  God help me, I will.

Proactive Simplicity

Think of some of the best teachers you’ve ever had in your life.  Go ahead… I’ve got loads of time to wait… umm… especially since by the time you read this post, I’ll be all done with it and not literally sitting around waiting for your pondering self.  Win-win for everyone!  But in thinking about those people, what were some of their most notable qualities that made them such good teachers?  For me, I find it tends to boil down to two critical traits: a passion for teaching the subject and the ability to make the complicated simple.  Boom – there ya have it.

With that in mind, I found it interesting as I read some of the negative Amazon.com reviews for the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey to see what exactly people were complaining about.  The most common gripes were “It’s just common sense!” or “Typical self-help tripe!” and things of that nature.  To me, these can almost be a form of an endorsement for a book of this nature (i.e. self-help or a new way of viewing your own world).  Why?  Because it gets back a little bit to about what makes a good teacher – are you taking a concept and making it simpler or more accessible?  It’s certainly possible that the reviews could be spot on and you read the book only to find out that every page is full of regurgitated platitudes about doing good to others and being a better person.  That’s just an annoying read.

But guess what?  Not the case with this book (at least not for me).  In fact, the gripes people had I found fairly amusing because they focused on the high level themes of each section “Put first things first” and “Think win/win” without delving into the author’s thought process behind those notions. That’s just flat out missing the point, my friends.

For me, I found a nugget that hit very close to home and gave me more than a few minutes pause as I read the book last night in bed.  The first theme/habit of the book is “Be proactive.”  Pretty simple right?  If someone just told you that you needed to “be more proactive” and that was the extent of their advice, you might smile at them, give them a nod of acknowledgment and then walking away thinking “Thanks for that inspired pearl of wisdom, Plato.  No idea how I could have continued life as I know it without that one!”  Ahh, but there is much more to it than that in how Covey talks about it.  Covey’s all about values being one of the true shaping forces for being a better person and a more effective one.

So that’s why this passage I read last night struck me:

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.

Huh… never quite thought of it that way.  If you are a values/principles-driven person (and I try like heck to be exactly that), being proactive is not just a matter of going out and doing things without being asked to or having the circumstances thrust upon you forcing you to act.  It’s much more than that – it’s acting upon your values as opposed to being driven by your feelings and impulses and the circumstances around you since that is just reacting.

This strikes such a chord for me because it puts such great importance on not being reactive… because being reactive means I would be letting circumstances dictate what I do as opposed to my own set of carefully considered values.  When you look at being proactive in that light, it goes well beyond the rather banal notion of just telling someone “You know… you really should be proactive.”  It gets more to the heart of the WHY and the why is always the more powerful piece of the equation.  What would be the sense of taking the time to carefully construct where you find meaning in life only to ignore all of that and let the world dictate to you?  It’s the kind of thing that makes me re-check myself a bit because the cost to pay for wanting a values-driven life is eternal vigilence… and yes, I totally stole that Barry Goldwater line and tweaked it for myself.  I make no apologies.

So dismiss not the simple… especially if it is backed up by a depth that may not be readily apparent at a casual glance.  Those darn casual glances… always leaving the wrong impression.

Toby

Unlike this handsome fella – always leaves a good impression. (Not mine – just a houseguest until tomorrow).