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Over-Complication: The Insidious Excuse That You Probably Don't Realize You're Using

We often overcomplicate things to give ourselves a reason not to do them. This is me calling you out. Stop it.

As we discussed yesterday, it’s important to start small, because getting started really is the hardest part. The smaller you start, the easier it is to get started and keep going. Today’s topic is related. Stop overcomplicating things.

By overcomplicating the things we want to do, we give ourselves an excuse not to do them. “Oh, I can’t do X because if I do X, then I have to do A, B, and C, and if I do B, I have to do Y and probably Z, and I just do not have time for all of that.” Stop it. Just do X. Find a way to start. Start small, and start today.

How Do We Overcomplicate Things?

One of the most common ways that we overcomplicate something is by taking on too much at once. Unlike many other methods of overcomplicating, this one is typically done out of excitement, rather than self-sabotage. No matter the reason, overcomplicating a change in your life is going to set you up for failure.

Start small. I say this a lot because I’m trying to engrain it so deeply in your brain that you dream about it. Start small. When you attempt to overhaul your entire life overnight, you’re overcomplicating it. This is why you quit. This is why, every time you try to start waking up early, eating vegetables, drinking only water, meditating an hour a day, and working out five times a week, you can’t stick with it. You’re making it harder than it needs to be.

Any time we take on more than we need to, we’re overcomplicating. We’re most likely to stick with changes that are small, easy, and sustainable. If you overcomplicate things from the start because you’re feeling motivated, as soon as that motivation fades—and it will—that new life plan of yours goes out the window.

We also often overcomplicate by thinking that if we do one thing, we’ll also have to do these seventeen other related tasks as well. Not true. You’re making up excuses to get out of doing anything at all.

Any time we say, “I can’t do X, because then I’d have to do Y,” or, “I can’t do X because I haven’t done Y,” we’re overcomplicating things. The chances that X and Y are inextricably linked such that you can’t do one without doing the other are very, very slim. Slimmer than you want them to be.

A common example of this is when we decide we can’t do something to improve our living space because then we’d also have to do these six other projects. “I can’t refinish the dining room table because then I’d have to reupholster the chairs/get a new rug/start using matching plates at dinner/repaint the walls,” and on and on. You get my point.

We also do it with fitness. All you’re trying to do is be more active. You don't need to sign up for a $200 per month gym, buy a whole new wardrobe, interview a bunch of trainers, start drinking carrot ginger shots every morning, and bench press twice your body weight in six months. All you need to do is put on some comfortable shoes, and walk around the block. That’s it.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we’re making things harder than we need to. Most things are surprisingly simple when you really look into it. When we’re uninformed, it’s easy to overcomplicate things just because we don’t have a good idea of how to do it efficiently. Most things look harder than they are when you’re a novice.

The Solution?


Stop trying to do everything all at once. Stop creating problems in an attempt to solve other problems. I see this every single day. You don’t need six new apps to create a change in your life. You probably don’t need any new apps. You probably don’t need to buy anything new, or do any more research, or waste any more time thinking about it.

We live in a world that loves to overcomplicate. Businesses profit from creating problems where there were none before so that they can sell you a solution that you don’t need. At this point, over-complication is engrained in our subconscious because that’s the type of society we live in.

Consciously simplify. If you’ve ever watched Alton Brown on Good Eats (and if you haven’t, you should), you know he hates unitaskers. A unitasker is any device that serves exactly one particular purpose that could have just as easily been done without said unitasking device.

I bet your phone is full of unitaskers. Get rid of them. App makers profit from convincing you that you’re less capable than you are. Whatever they’re trying to sell you can probably be accomplished in a better, more straightforward way by using what you already have. By thinking we need some unitasker app to create change, we scare ourselves away from actually following through with what we set out to do.

Retrain yourself to simplify. Look at what you think you need or want to do, and cut out any steps that aren’t absolutely necessary. Cut it down to the absolute bare minimum. Start there. Once you’ve started, if you find you need to, bring things in to help you. But before that’s allowed, you have to start. That’s the key. Get started, and then those tools and extra steps that you bring in to facilitate progress are just that; facilitators. They’re no longer excuses.

Stop overthinking it.

You’re overthinking it. No matter what it is, you’ve already thought about it too much. I guarantee it.

One of the best solutions to overthinking is action. Take imperfect action. I do it all the time. Are these blog posts perfect? No, but they’re here. And all of these imperfect blog posts are infinitely more valuable than zero perfect posts. Get it out there. Throw yourself into it. You’ll figure it out along the way.

Some of the best and most significant progress in my life has been made when I was thrown into the deep end, either by myself or by someone else, and forced just to get started. Throw yourself in. You’ll figure it out along the way. Humans are great at that. We’re experts at adapting and improvising. That's how we made it this far in the first place.

Be honest with yourself. Often, taking a moment to really look at what we’re saying and think it through or journal it out will make it blatantly apparent that we’re really overcomplicating it.

If you need to, have a conversation with that friend who’s always willing to be candid with you. Explain your thought process. What is it that you want to start? What do you think is holding you back? Explaining our thoughts out loud and talking about them with another person can make faulty logic pretty obvious. Your friend can help to point out areas where you’re overthinking and push you to get started.

If you don’t have a candid friend, reach out to me. Be forewarned that I’m not afraid to politely but sternly call you out on your crap, but a lot of the time, that’s what we need.

Another option to quit overthinking is to take what you say you want to do as literally as possible. I did this when I started going to the gym. My goal was to go to the gym. So what did I do? I literally just showed up. I went to the gym. I put on some shoes and transported myself inside the four walls of the local Planet Fitness. Didn't even work out the first several times that I went there, but I went.

Don’t get caught up in learning a bunch of workouts, buying fancy new shoes, figuring out how macros work, or even dealing with the actual working out. Just show up. Put your physical body inside the gym.

Once you’re there, it’s hard to overthink and overcomplicate because your options are pretty limited. Chances are, you’ll do some sort of work out, even if it’s just walking on the treadmill, but if you don’t, that’s cool too. Either way, go to the gym again tomorrow. Just show up.

Use your resources.

There aren’t a lot of genuinely new ideas out there. Chances are, someone has already solved a problem for you, or made your life easier. Like I said earlier, businesses are continually inventing new problems to sell you solutions, and once in a blue moon, they actually create something useful.

Say you’re trying to cook your own dinner every night instead of ordering takeout. Buy vegetables that are already cleaned and cut up, or use frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones. If it seems appealing to you, do your grocery shopping online and use a delivery service to get the food to your door. Look up one pot recipes and sheet pan dinners so that you only have one pan to clean after dinner.

All you signed up for was cooking dinner. No one said you had to actually go grocery shopping, cut all your own vegetables, or do a bunch of dishes. Make cooking convenient. Don’t do more than you signed up for.

Sometimes, we don’t even realize that we’re making things harder than they need to be. We’re just uninformed. I say this cautiously because it’s way too easy to get lost in doing way too much research and making things even more complicated, but make sure you aren’t making things harder than necessary out of ignorance.

A great way to do this is to find someone who’s doing what you want to do and doing it well. Have a five-minute conversation with them. They’ll likely have enough knowledge that they can break it down and help you get started without wasting any more time. People love to share what they know, and asking a real person for advice prevents you from falling down the Google rabbit hole and never getting started.

There’s also a good chance that there’s a subreddit out there about what you want to learn. Check their sidebar. There’s probably useful information on how to get started. Gardening? Yep. Losing weight? Covered. Making bread? There’s a subreddit for that.

Start small.

Start small. If you haven’t, read yesterday’s post. Start there. It will help.

Stop trying to do everything all at once. Sure, you can motivate yourself to make sixteen significant changes in one day, but what’s going to happen to all those new habits a week and a half later when the motivation is gone? Motivation fades. No matter what change you’re making, there will be days when you need to grit through it. The smaller and simpler something is, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to push yourself through it. Don’t make things harder than they need to be.

It’s great that you want to change your life. That’s what I’m here for. I want to see you succeed. The thing is, changing your life takes self-discipline, which is a difficult skill to build. Starting small is how you build discipline.

It’s much easier to use self-discipline to meditate for five minutes than it is to use it to meditate for five minutes, and then go do the five hundred other things you’ve put on your To Do list for today. Discipline is a skill just as much as riding a bike is a skill. You need to practice if you want to be good at it.

Starting small lets you practice using self-discipline to do things you aren’t feeling motivated to do. As you practice using discipline to do little things, you’ll become more able to use it to push yourself through larger and more significant tasks. Starting small is your training wheels.

Along with my advice about starting small, I very often say to, “break it down.” I explained this a bit in yesterday’s post as well. Breaking it down is one of the most important skills you can learn as an adult.

Breaking it down is a skill that is often done for us for most of our childhoods, and then we get to adulthood and are expected to be able to do it for ourselves, but no one ever showed us how. Remember all those times in school where a teacher had the outline of a paper due one week, the rough draft due the next, and the final copy due a week later? They were breaking it down for you, and you probably found it pointless and annoying.

Maybe your goal is to live in a perfectly decorated and sparkling clean house eventually, and you’re afraid to get started because that seems like an overwhelming amount of work. Break it down. Don’t think about the big picture now. The big picture is necessary for setting your goal and finding your Why, but after that, it’s time to break it down.

Cleaning and decorating your home doesn’t happen overnight. Start by thinking one room at a time. Break that room into sections. You could work bottom to top, or left to right, or deal with one piece of furniture at a time. Find a way to segment your work that makes sense in your mind. Once you’ve segmented the work, focus in on one segment at a time.

I used to break it down all the time to write papers in college. Paper writing was one of the few things I found to be consistently overwhelming, so to get it done, I broke it down. One day, I’d brainstorm. The next, I’d create an outline. Then, over a few days or weeks, I’d write each section of the paper one at a time. Instead of facing the daunting task of, “write a six-page paper,” my To Do list would include things like, “write about how Tiravanija’s Pad Thai is an example of relational aesthetics,” which may end up being one page of my six pages.

It can be daunting to break down broader, more abstract goals like the kinds of larger life goals that we want to accomplish on the scale of years, instead of days. If you know where and who you'd like to be in five years, but don’t know how to get there, my 5-4-3-2-1 method of planning and working toward goals can walk you through exactly how to break things down so you can figure out what to do today to get moving.

The important part of all of this is that you find somewhere to start and get started. It doesn’t have to be the “perfect” place to get started. Remember that perfection isn’t real. Over-complication is defeated by simplifying and starting. Nothing is as difficult as the businesses making money off of you would like you to believe.

Also, seriously, you need to stop doing so much research. We live in an age of information overload, and it isn’t doing you any favors. You’re making it harder to start by continuing to do endless research. I know I just said to do a bit of research, but it’s important to limit yourself. Clarity comes from action. Getting started will teach you way more than continuing to research. Get off of Google, and do something.

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