“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the
unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Hans Hofmann

I write this at a time of massive momentum and change in my life. I got engaged in October, started back to school in January, and am now in the process of buying a house and planning my wedding while working and going to school full time.

Another way to put this is after 15 years of intensive personal struggle, the life I’ve always wanted is now here, operating at full speed.

There are many factors that have contributed to my success, which have worked in tandem, and no one thing can be given sole credit for bringing me here. However, if it I were to distill all the elements down to their most basic level, one overriding principle emerges:

Keep it simple.

Psychologically, the level where we block ourselves operates at the deep unconscious. The unconscious is incredibly, ridiculously simple. It knows emotions (happy, sad, scary, fun, etc), shapes, and colors. It’s not as good with words and can’t do abstract concepts at all.

Traditionally, when something feels off people become increasingly elaborate in their efforts to fix it. Going up and out when the problem exists down and in. They will focus on childhood issues, past life karma, the stars in the sky, and more.

While there is real value in considering these things (I’ve certainly done so in my own tangled journey), usually none of them hit the level where the resistance actually lives. You might have a great insight that creates temporary momentum, but without reaching the root you will eventually find yourself stalled or stopped again.

So how do you hit the deep, wordless unconscious? Below are three key steps:

1. Name the emotion behind the story. Think of thoughts as an avoidance strategy, the more elaborate the thoughts become the more they are trying to avoid an emotion. If you notice yourself getting lost in a maze of reasons why something doesn’t work, ask yourself what you’re feeling, and get curious about the experience of the emotion.

Neuro-scientist Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor proved that emotions only last for 90-seconds without thoughts to sustain them, so if you can pause and breathe for a minute or two into the emotion without words, you’ll instantly feel better and the multitude of thoughts that induce suffering will lose their fuel.

2. Say it simply. Remember, elaborate concepts are the enemy of change. The more you can phrase things at a 5-year-old’s level, the more power you give yourself in identifying and changing them. It can be as simple as, “I feel bad, I want to feel good.” From there you can utilize step 1 for feeling better.

As a rule, when struggling with something, ask yourself, “How would I explain this to a 5-year-old?” and keep simplifying your statements about it until they meet this barometer. This has the effect of pulling power out of the problem and into yourself.

3. Take action. The less you think about something and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Action never requires more effort than picking up a pen, however we load it with thoughts and feelings that make it feel heavy or even impossible. This is why acting before you have time to think – e,g. waking up and doing push ups before you remember you don’t have the time/energy/ability to work out – is so useful for keeping things in the realm of being easy.

Essentially, the more you make a habit of doing things instead of thinking about them, the lighter and more enjoyable they become.

If something is a source of perpetual struggle in your life, make a habit of small actions around it. For example, I started doing bookkeeping every day because I struggled with and felt overwhelmed by money. Over time it started to feel relaxing, because I got to sit and do simple math equations, which is similar to doing the puzzle books that I love. Now money is a friend I get to play with every day, and my current financial situation reflects this mindset.

Overall, if you want to change something in your life, make it as small and simple as possible. Don’t go into elaborate thoughts about all the ways your life will change if you can make more money, or fall in love, or get in shape, or meet another goal. Such thinking will make it feel massive and ultimately out of reach.

Rather, reduce it and your thoughts about it to their simplest components. When you do that, you’ll take action automatically, because when the things we want feel simple and doable, we do them.