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How Simplicity Can Transform Your Life

Humans are drawn to complexity. We believe complexity is better because it seems like it should be better. So we get drawn into complex nonsense that takes us further away from where we want to go.

The reality is, simple is better.

Simple is the foundation of everything. If you end up going into complex domains, your best path forward is riding the simplicity train through the complex web of options. Simplicity is the dedicated focus to first principles. Keeping things simple is hard. It takes sustained effort and constant reminders to stay the course.

The first thing we should understand is simplicity is not simple. To find the simple route takes skill. The most simple solution is the most elegant while usually the hardest to achieve. Simplicity takes faith—faith that it’s ok, ideal even, to let things go, and the confidence in yourself that you’ll keep going and iterating as you go. This is why simplicity is so hard; because most people don’t have the belief in themself needed to keep things simple. Faith is a prerequisite in creating success that no one talks about.

I think it is connected to our fear of the unknown, which is a survival trait from our evolutionary past. Our careful—paranoid—ancestors were the ones that survived and passed on their genes. Paranoia was rewarded in a dangerous, uncertain place like the wild.

As bearers of “paranoid” genes, modern humans struggle with the unknown.

Reaching goals and doing new things is an exercise in pursuing the unknown. Combine this with poor forecasting skills and you have a tricky proposition.

You've heard the quote, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

This too: "Life is what happens when you're making plans," attributed to John Lennon, but Mark Twain probably said it first.

So what do you do?

Keeping things simple requires a new way of looking at things.

You have to boil things down to first principles—things you know for sure, like 1 + 1 = 2 or how many atoms of material does it take to build a rocket, the question Musk asked himself when building SpaceX—he figured out he could build a rocket for much less than industry standard if he manufactured as much of the parts in house as possible since most parts in the Aerospace industry were purchased from many other companies, all of which had to bake profit into their products. Musk was able to reduce the effective cost of building and launching a rocket into space by millions following this first principles first approach.

Regardless of woulda/coulda/shoulda, ask yourself this question at every step: What is the best course of action I can take right now?

Don’t waste time complaining or blaming.

Don’t waste time trying to predict every possible outcome or worst-case scenario.

Don’t waste time thinking about sunken costs.

Just answer this question: What should I do now?

That's it.

It’s really as simple—and as complicated—as that.