Nature enforces simplicity everywhere.
In 1914, paleontologist Samuel Williston first highlighted how duplicate body parts of animals got reduced, and until only the useful ones remained as they evolved.
The same holds true for humans. The wealthiest people have simple philosophies and habits. The most common reason for people to remain wealthy is: “Same car, same house, same spouse.”
Take Warren Buffett for example. He lives in the house he bought in 1958, drives a 2014 Cadillac XTS (before which he drove a 2006 Cadillac DTS), and spends his day reading 500 pages and playing bridge. From any angle, his life is simple.
On paper, we all want a simple life too, one where we have peace of mind and spend time with activities and the people we love. But when it comes to practice, we go in the opposite direction. Complexity gets worshipped while simplicity gets ignored.
Why We Worship Complexity
Bankers sell complex financial products in an attempt to make more money. And surprisingly, customers buy them in an attempt to demonstrate their smartness. As Morgan Housel pointed out:
Charge a client for ten sentences of advice and they’ll leave in disgust. Give them a phone-book-size elaboration and they’ll pay you a fortune and refer their friends.
Likewise, companies walk away from software that offers ten features, even if those ten features are all they need, but they’ll pay a premium for a product with 30 features. Business leaders communicate using complex jargon, weird phrases, and long sentences to appear authoritative.
Complexity often lands us in trouble. Yet, we stick to it. The most common reason for this is our desire to appear smart. In the process, we end up making stupid mistakes.
For instance, complex financial products bring in high risk. (The sub-prime crisis is an extreme example). Most complex software lies unused in organizations and the investment becomes a sunk cost. Complex communication leads to passing the buck and fails to get things done.
We can try to appear smart. Or we can try to not be stupid. The first option is easier – to simply cram our minds with tons of useless information. The second option is simpler – to stick to areas in which we’re confident of making good decisions.
Do not confuse simple and easy as the same. Simple things are often difficult. For instance, appreciating what you have is simple but difficult. It’s easier to chase after things others have but you don’t.
Sticking with your circle of competence in business and investing is simple. Chasing the next big opportunity that promises a 100X ROI, based on an unreliable tip, is easier.
No matter which option you take, the results will multiply in the long run. Appreciating what you have will let you live a happier life while chasing things you don’t need will make you unhappy. Sticking to your circle of competence will yield consistent and steady returns. Taking unwarranted risks outside it will even take away what you have.
“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” – Charlie Munger
Consistently not being stupid is possible when we embrace a simple life.
The 5 Buckets of Simplicity in Life
“Life is nothing but a series of present moments. – Eckhart Tolle”
Life is not what happens in the future or what occurred in the past. Yes, you want to learn from the past and make your future better. But that can only happen if you simplify your present.
Here’s how you can instill simplicity in the five important buckets of your life.
1. At a Physical Level
Consume foods loaded with important nutrients and low in sugar. Ask yourself, “How little food can I live with?” Exercise regularly; hit the gym, do yoga, or take long walks daily. Take plenty of rest instead of burning out.
Your body and mind will stay active. You’ll give your best to your work and the people you love. And you’ll age gracefully. Nothing in the world can be enjoyed without a healthy body.
2. At an Intellectual Level
Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I’m wise so I’m changing myself – Rumi
Fulfilled lives are filled with wisdom more than knowledge. Knowledge is knowing what something means.
Wisdom is the ability to apply that knowledge in your life. Knowledge is knowing what should change. Wisdom is the ability to understand how much of that is in your control. Any knowledge that’s not usable is a burden. Wisdom is the ability to leave out such knowledge and focus on what’s useful.
Learn a few things, apply them, and improve the quality of your life and the lives of those around you. Keep your thoughts simple and you’ll reap long-lasting benefits.
3. At a Professional Level
The internet has democratized opportunities. Anyone can make a living by doing what they love. You can become an artist, entrepreneur, or an expert in the field of your choice.
Don’t waste your life chasing money by doing things you don’t like. Instead, invest your most valuable asset – your time – in doing what you love. Blessed are those who turn their ‘passion into their profession’. If not, at least love what you do. This will improve the quality of your work and make you happy.
Spend more time doing things you like. When love greases their wheels, your tasks become smoother.
4. At a Social Level
Relationships are meant to be nurtured and cherished for life, not manipulated for personal gains.
Since the lockdown, I’ve deepened my focus on building meaningful relationships instead of trying to expand my network. I’m choosing to spend more time with the people I love and respect.
When your relationships become simple, speaking the truth becomes easier. As a result, you won’t have to try and remember what you said earlier. People will trust your words and you’ll build a positive reputation.
5. At a Spiritual Level
We don’t know where we came from or where we’re going, nor do we have any control over either. All we know is what we’re doing right now, and we control our actions.
We’re all spiritual beings going through a human experience. We can choose to do good things for others and think simple thoughts. So let’s do it.
Life is all about choices. Complex choices complicate life while simple ones smoothen it. If you want to lead a simple life, focus on the following:
- Consume healthy food and exercise regularly.
- Focus on applying the knowledge you possess.
- Spend more time doing the things you love and less on things you don’t.
- Focus on deepening the quality of your meaningful relationships.
- Choose to think simple thoughts and do good for others.
Do the simple things consistently for the long-term and you’ll reap unbelievable results.
So how will you start simplifying your life today?