I’ve been having a new website built. Nothing fancy, just some revised and clear information to help people know a little more about me and what I do. The change was driven much more by a need for simplicity than it was for finding more clients, because the clarity brought by simplification is more valuable than money.
It isn’t hard to make things complicated, but we seem oblivious to the difficulty it creates to such an extent that clearing the mess and confusion often takes far longer than it might. I had three websites, posted my blog in several different places and had all of the administrative burden that such a ridiculous and wasteful existence brings. We “layer up” complexity without acknowledging that removing the layers at some point is an even more critical task.
Why do some people wallpaper over the existing wallpaper in their homes, or paint over the paper, needing to add so many coats to stop the old pattern showing through that they may as well have stripped the wall in the first place. It’s because we want shortcuts believing that they will improve things, but they don’t always do that. The whole notion of “Life Hack” is such an odd one. Why try and shortcut the things which combine to make your very existence? What are you actually trying to save time for? We create simplicity in areas where it makes little difference but avoid doing so where it really counts.
I have certainly created increasing levels of simplicity in the past years and it has undoubtedly brought me a greater sense of peace and calm. If you feel overwhelmed or pushed down by a mountain of complexity here are some things I have learned about simplicity.
1. Things are rarely as terrible as I make them.
This goes for actual experiences and emotional ones. Much of the complexity in our existence is created by us in order to protect us from pain or to ensure that everything happens the way that we want it to. We take on too much to ensure people will still love us and we fail to “let go” believing that control keeps us safe when, in reality, it mostly grinds us down. Our ability to deal with life as it comes to us rather than trying to shape it on the go is central to contentment.
2. Simplicity requires vulnerability.
To increase simplicity we must leave ourselves more open. We must remove the barriers and armoury with which we surround ourselves and risk being seen as who we really are. It’s hard, exhausting and complicated to try and be the person that everyone else wants in every given situation. To be who you are every day is simplicity on a grand and beautiful scale.
3. Reduce you expectations.
Simplicity requires us to let go of “must” and “should”. If you or anyone you know struggles with anxiety or phobia central to the condition is a demand. “I must not be afraid”, “I must not feel anxious”, “I should be able to do this”, “I must be normal”. The more we demand the more anxious and afraid we become, unable to fulfil our unrealistic and unnecessary expectations. Core to contentment is a belief that we are “enough” as we are. That’s simplicity.
4. Focus on what feels good not what looks good.
When we feel low or sad the easiest place to look for succour is outside of ourselves. We buy stuff we don’t need or can’t afford, change our style or appearance in ways that are unnecessary, and fix things which aren’t broken. We leave loving partners for someone who looks more appealing because we have fallen out of love with ourself. Simplicity urges us and pleads with us to spend time introspectively, seeing the treasures and trinkets around us for what they are, fluff. Simplicity is the art of spending time alone with ourselves and being happy to do so regardless of what does or does not exist in the life we have built outside.
5. Connection is at the root of happiness.
You will never find someone truly happy without connection. Connection to family, connection to friends, connection to partners. All of these are part of what it is to build a healthy and balanced life. But connection to yourself is the most valuable connection there is. The only person who will be with you for every single one of your days is you. However wealthy you become, whatever status you achieve, it will never surpass the simplicity of feeling love for yourself as a human being.
6. Ask for help when you need it.
One of the wonderful things about being a therapist is that I can have regular therapy without questioning whether or not I “deserve it”. It goes with the territory. We underestimate the value of having someone truly interested and engaged with what troubles us and we miss an opportunity to create simplicity when we imagine that a problem must be dealt with alone to be dealt with properly.
I probably could have built my new website myself if I’d taken the time, but instead I was vulnerable enough to admit I needed help. I focused on reducing the complexity I had created and instead moved towards something not showy, but which is a true representation of me and my work. I used pictures I had taken of moments I have experienced in my life, giving something of myself, opening up in a way that might connect me better with people who work with me. That covers items 2 to 6 above, so what about 1?
As the site went live yesterday I was testing it and found all manner of malicious pop-ups appearing on my carefully curated pages. My heart sank. I’d been hacked. I shot an email to the web designer. “There are pop-ups appearing all over my site. IT’S TERRIBLE”. She calmly replied that she’d reinstall the files. It would take a few hours. It was’t terrible at all even though I had created a catastrophe in my head. The reality, as is so often the case, was much simpler.