Leonardo da Vinci is often credited with this lovely poetic verse. It’s too beautiful to simply cite one sentence, I had to give you the whole enchilada. However, that first line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” gets my neurons firing… what an incredible insight.
Albert Einstein put it this way: If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself. Alrighty Albert, let’s see you explain your theory of general relativity to a six-year-old…who.am I kidding I bet he could!
Or, better yet, let’s give the mic to Mr. Simplicity himself: William of Ockham. Who’s namesake is used for the staple of simplicity – Ockham’s Razor:
“Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
In other words, just roll with what we have access to. I’m not going to get all philosophical or scientific on you, let’s keep the application simple.
If I walk into my house and my dog doesn’t come running to the door, it would be silly to assume she must be dead. This hypothesis assumes too much. Instead, it’s likely that due to her older age and proficient laziness, she is just taking her sweet ass time to provide her greeting.
The first is an assumption based on fear, it’s not based on data but rather what I don’t want to happen. The latter is a hypothesis that is in accord with data because historically this is her track record, it’s what has the least assumptions. So, Why torture myself? This is how the KISS principle can eliminate unnecessary stress.
The KISS Principle (Recovery Slogan Or Design Rule?)
Simplicity is the backbone behind the KISS principle, as is evident with the name. Sometimes it’s stated as “keep it simple stupid,’ and other times it’s “keep it simple and straightforward,” and still yet other times, “keep it short and simple.”
In technical mumbo jumbo, is best thought of as: “a design rule that states that systems perform best when they have simple designs rather than complex ones.”
This was the version as first introduced by the United States Navy, and frankly, it takes Ockham’s razor and sharpens the hell out of it.
This is due to the fact that we are complex systems – it’s helpful to think of our psyche as operating by various systems.
Particularly, as evidenced by the fact that we frequently complicate things, for example, like a free lunch – just eat the damn meal.
Keeping It Simple Requires Understanding The Difference Between Information & Knowledge
In life recovery this principle is best applied to our interpretations of events and our communication to one another.
In this manner we can avoid such needless overthinking, self-induced stressors, and high levels of toxicity in our interpersonal lives.
I’m sure you can come up with numerous other areas of application as well – feel free to put them in the comments below.
As a species we perfected the ability to make quick decisions with limited information. It’s an adaptive mechanism that enables us to keep moving.
To move is to survive. You can see where I’m going with this.
Yet, this same system was never prepared for inertia. It most certainly never envisioned advanced civilization and it’s companion: the sedentary lifestyle.
Even those of us who are always “on the go” aren’t on the go the way our ancestors were.
For instance, if I don’t make it to the 7am meeting it’s unlikely deaths will ensue. If I miss my routine at the gym for one day there is a low probability that my family will suffer terrible loss and possible starvation as a consequence.
Nonetheless, we still have that same aforementioned system, so it might feel that way, but in reality most of us will love long long lives, even if we are seemingly making every effort to cut it short (fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sugar, etc.).
This system then engages in what I term “total system malfunction.”
Because it has freaking options.
Choices. Decisions. These things we take for granted. They weren’t so obvious for our predecessors. Particularly in an age of scarcity, a concept modern man knows little of.
Actually, we have so many damn choices that Jean Paul Satre noted “man is condemned to a life of freedom.”
What the hell does that mean?
Freedom is a sentence now???
Yet, it’s true – freedom in the sense of endless options is certainly a prison of anxiety:
Which decision is right?
Which interpretation is accurate?
How can I know?
What will be the result?
What if I’m wrong?
Soren Kierkegaard, 19th Century Danish Philosopher remarked,
“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness.
Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain. He who becomes guilty in anxiety becomes as ambiguously guilty as it is possible to become.”
How can terror and liberation coexist so naturally?
Well, the experience can be readily recalled for anyone who has any form of awareness or awakening.
There are so many moving parts, it’s obvious this is a recipe for emotional and mental paralysis. This is where we can use Ockham’s razor to cut away the bullshit. It can give us the strength to make the Kierkegaardian leap.
Keeping It Simple Requires Vulnerability
We begin by operating solely from the available data.
- We don’t bemoan the lack thereof.
- We don’t fall into the habit of indecision, as if doing nothing is a legitimate option (well, sometimes it is but I’m referring to destructive passivity).
- We don’t scrutinize the hell out of the intel expecting to find that needle in the haystack.
Rather, we work with what we have and we let that inform our actions.
To say I struggled with jealousy is the understatement of the century. I’m the creepy drive by your house at 3am kind of mad man to confirm my suspicions.
I know. It’s embarrassing, but I used to do shit like that.
She didn’t pick up my calls. I know she is just out with her girlfriends, but something doesn’t “feel” right. “It’s probably her ex,” I would think to myself. If only I paused and evaluated my position I could have avoided the pain that followed.
Instead, I would work myself into a frenzy, convinced she was a cheat, leave terrible messages (abusive, manipulative, and controlling), and even go the extra length and break it off for good (in the message of course).
Eventually she would call back, completely baffled and confused. It’s only been a few hours – what the hell was my deal. Usually this was the first step towards the complete dissolution of the relationship.
Unfortunately, I came to events (which I always treated as a crisis) with a boatload of pre-existing beliefs and assumptions about relationships and a litany of other things which informed my decision making. This was the data that compelled me.
Well, this would be the first cut from Ockham’s Razor. Just because something was true once, doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way.
For example, just because I went to a judgemental church once, it doesn’t follow that all churches are judgemental. Actually, if all I found was judgemental churches, I would eventually want to look at what attracts me to these type of churches to begin with. We tend to attract what we are.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that if I keep ending up in relationships with cheaters that I’m a cheater, but it does mean that I am attracted to toxic relationships, whether I am aware of it or not, if it’s a pattern I must accept that I am the one creating it at this point.
This is why it’s vital that the razor targets this type of pattern first (see my concept of Amplification Proclamation which explains how people end up in one unhealthy relationship after another).
Keeping It Simple Requires An Understanding Of Cognitive Distortions (Stinking Thinking)
Second, we need to avoid what I call “gap-filling.” This is the process wherein we plug in extra data to complete the narrative. This is rarely good. I wouldn’t even suggest injecting a positive narrative (e.g. she isn’t picking up her phone because…she’s helping the less fortunate, or something along those lines). I don’t know.
Truthfully, unless we have a reason for the injection, it’s better to assume the phone isn’t being picked up for some benign reason. As Al-Anon cleverly states, “no news is no news.”
We don’t make it good or bad. It just is what it is. If she has provided reason for my lack of trust, well then I need to reconsider my position. But if she has not, I don’t create reasons out of thin air to make my position valid.
So I repeat: avoid filling in the gaps.
Next we apply the razor to our communication. It’s a good rule of thumb to sum up your message in the fewest of words.
Brevity is heavenly.
Don’t overburden yourself and smother your interlocutor with your wordy monstrosity. If you can help it. But there is another aspect of communication that needs to be snipped.
Keeping It Simple Requires Healthy Communication
It’s far too easy to haphazardly displace our anger and fail to deal with the actual issue, which is our pain.
For example a friend of mine brilliantly noticed this principle play out in his personal life. I’ll allow him to tell the tale.
“Not too far in the distant past I performed a rage-seance and raised Cain against a co-worker of mine. We are talking balls to the wall, spit flying, clenched fist and elevated blood pressure type screaming match.
What did he do?
He got really loud with a female acquaintance of ours, and was just rude if not borderline abusive.
This really ruffled my feathers. I thought back to my childhood and my abusive father. I envisioned my mother cowering in the corner, fearful, awaiting the next blow to the abdomen. I recalled my own helplessness when any attempt to divert his anger only landed it upon myself.
So we fought, threw verbal fisticuffs, until it was broken up – if it wasn’t I’m sure it would have turned into all out war, hand to hand combat kind of stuff. And, naturally of consequence, the two of us jobless.
Intuitively, I knew I should never let a man talk to a lady like that, but I also responded in kind, namely, in an abusive, aggressive tone. It felt out of control; I more or less mimicked what I wanted to stop. Then it hit me.
I realized I was not angry with this guy, I was angry at who he represented. I was steeped in a deep resentment with my father. What was even more embarrassing was that when that coworker and I made amends, a heart-to-heart, alone with one another, he was contrite and thoroughly embarrassed with his behavior.
It just so happened that on the specific day he discovered that his wife cheated on him, was leaving and taking the kids, subsequently leaving him alone, enraged, and feeling helpless. He then, with little thought, displaced his anger on that poor woman.”
So, here are two gentlemen, angry at other people, fighting one another…ironic, humans are so weird…
This, however, is the problem when we speak from our pain.
If only my friend talked to his co-worker’s pain, inquired what was the matter, and demonstrated his genuine interest in providing an anesthetic of sorts to heal his emotional wounds.
I call this process “zooming out.”
Keeping It Simple Requires A Wide Angle Lens Perspective
Speaking from your pain is like looking through one of those pier mounted telescopes.
But on this day you look out and see terror. A boat is capsized and the only thing in your sights is a poor woman and her little daughter – they’re doomed, and you know it.
You feel panicked, helpless, confused, and angry. Your heart is pounding, your thoughts are racing, and your muscles are wound up as tight as Steve Erkles suspenders.
However, you’re zoomed in. Take note of this. You can’t see the full picture. You’re shortsighted and operating from limited data.
The recommended course would be to zoom out. As you shift to the wider lens you realize hovering above the boat is a helicopter, and two pararescue divers are being lowered down to the wreck. This is tantamount to speaking to someone else’s pain.
What a different story!
And it works regardless of who you’re arguing with: wife, husband, boss, parent, etc. Speaking to the pain is seeking first to understand, this is the zoom-out process.
Of course this analogy can be ripped apart, as most can, but the concept of “zooming out” to see the big picture rather than the myopic and near-sighted image that is seen at first blush, is simple and sharper than a razor.
My friend remarked that he realized, just as I did, that he comes to various difficulties in his life with all these pre-existing beliefs, assumptions, and tensions, and he allows that pain to determine his form of communication and reaction rather than allow the situation to do the forming.
It’s worth repeating: speak to their pain rather than from your pain.
This takes practice and the key is to practice in even the most mundane of activities. Some have termed this “the miracle in the mundane.” And what’s more simple than that?
I think you’ll find that it’s not the process that’s complex and strenuous but your resistance to doing it. So, keep it simple stupid. 🙂