Complexity: The Future of Mental Well Being

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Have you noticed it?  Steadily, the abject complexity of our lives is building. To live simply would be to have few options, little in the way possessions, and no real aspirations for any “thing” other than living.

Few of us live simply. We live complicated and make it worse with every new possession, technology, and expectation we acquire. Add to that the compounding complexity impact of governments, companies, churches, sports leagues, groups, cities and communities that are certainly not getting simpler.

We wake up, enter the arena of complexity, wade through it all day, stumble home, deal with a bit more on our own, then go back to sleep. The next day we wake back up and some small piece of the intricate maze around us gets harder to navigate.

The evidence of complexity shows up in two distinct ways, first, the number of problems we must solve every day, and second, the quantity of decisions that must be made. Because the interconnectedness of both have more tendrils of consequences then the past, we sometimes do less living then we do problem solving and decision making with each causing even more problems and decisions. Add to this our ravenous “desire to acquire,” goods, relationships or progress, and I doubt our lives will get simpler anytime soon.

Look no further than the device we carry to communicate.  Every year there are more features, security mandates, applications and dollars involved in keeping it up to date and working.  They attach to, and control more, third-party devices which make them deeply integrated into how we live, work and play.  

Add to this a growing collection of smart devices that must be connected to bandwidth, security authorized and synced with other devices.  All of this must be upgraded constantly either for security flaws or new functionality – risking breaking some connection we built months or years ago. Were it just technology…

There is also complexity on the human side.  We have the ability to communicate in many different ways with many different people, groups, and strangers. We made it easy for hundreds of people to talk to us at any moment of any day, and they do. 

There are at least a dozen channels of connection into me and I am overwhelmed on some days just trying to be polite and respond to everyone. I could choose to ignore many of them but that ads an element of complexity because then I have to figure out how to manage boundaries and who I will let down from a connection standpoint.

I could go on for a few more pages selling you on the growing complexity in our lives, but I suspect you feel it too. Since I am in the future point of view business, allow me to share some thoughts about where this complicated life will go for many of us.  

First, it will get worse before it gets better.  

I see nothing stopping the progression of problems to solve and decisions to make. Technology is not going to get less immersive and difficult to maintain for a while. 

 This leaves us with even more decisions to make and these could make all the difference in the world.  Say these to yourself…

Decision One I will not own so many “things” that they then own me.  I have invented a new rule, like Moore’s Law, but different.  Every new physical thing you own increases the complexity in life dimensionally because it then has to be paid for, protected and maintained. 

Decision Two:  I will learn how to disconnect from the complexity of life for a time each day (and I don’t mean while you are sleeping).  Meditate, exercise, be creative or take long walks in nature. Do whatever you have to do to go to your inner citadel and step out of the complexity maze for as long as you can. Even 30 minutes a day will help.

Decision Three I will not upgrade all of my technology to the latest versions just because vendors are selling new models.  Another rule in the world is that the complexity of a device goes up with every new version – they never get simpler it seems.  Only upgrade technology that really must be a newer version. If the old model works for you, stay with it as long as you can.

Decision Four:  I will be OK with “non critical things” around me not working or getting solved. This is a tough one because we all want everything to work and be efficient and this drive is part of what gets us in trouble.  Focus on the critical problems to resolve and leave all the others until you have time and energy to deal with them.  When you add up everything that is broken or needs to be solved in your life and put it on a list to get done ASAP, you are taking the first step to overwhelm.  Making the list is OK but use the list as a way to defer minor problems until you have nothing better to do but solve them.

Decision Five I will not trade complexity for peace.  I will see complexity for what it is, a never-ending river of decisions and problems that grow daily. I will not allow it to own my heart and mind.  I will think and live as simply as I can in order to balance the complexity I choose to deal with.

Recently, I read the suicide note left by an 18-year-old, highly successful young man who everyone said was the last person they thought would kill himself. He painted a picture of school, life and high expectations crushing him inside.  He broke because of the complex pressures he felt he had to live up to.  What a tragedy!

Trust me when I say complexity in life is not going to get better any time soon.  We will be fighting against it for decades.  

Make these decisions and you have a fighting chance to step out of the web of complexity.  Ignore making these and joy in life will feel like a vapor you reach for and never grasp.

Annie Brown