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The Ancient Art of Complication

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Do you ever marvel at some people’s uncanny ability to make the simple complex? To make the straight forward anything but? A ten-minute task into a two-week saga?

I meet these people every day. Please stop sending them my way. They are the woe-is-me brigade; The Brothers (and Sisters) Grim. (The real Brothers Grimm were two German dudes who published a bunch of folk stories and fairy tales about two hundred years ago; that’s for those of you who aren’t as old as me!)

Yep, some people spend their whole lives making stuff more complicated than it needs to be. Relationships are a soap opera. Careers are messy and problematic. Getting in shape is a perpetual roller coaster of losing and gaining. Finances are a daily money melodrama. If you didn’t know better, you might think some people actually revel in the drama and attention.

In Australia we have a curious creature known colloquially as the ‘Drama Queen’. They are both male and female and their natural habitat is everywhere, unfortunately. They are the poster boys (and girls) for the art of complication. They are another cousin of the Energy Vampire.

I’m all for dealing with genuine complications and the tough stuff that life throws at us, but I’m not for making things more difficult than they need to be or making a mountain out of a molehill. (So 1963, that expression. I love it)

When people come to talk to me about getting in shape, I will invariably give them some highly complex and extremely scientific advice:

Move a bunch more, eat a bunch less. Get yer heart rate up. Get a bit sweaty. Do it consistently. See ya next time.

It’s very simple, but people still don’t do it. That look of disappointment on their face is hilarious. They think I might let them in on some little-known scientific weight-loss secret, give them a shortcut perhaps, a pill maybe, wave my magic wand, or pull a six-pack out of my hat.

“Okay, here it is Mr. Smith. Put in fewer calories than you expend and you’ll lose fat. Do it for long enough and you’ll lose a bunch of fat. Too complicated for you? Taking notes? Should I talk slower? Any questions? Mr Smith, where are you going? Mr Smith? Come back here fatty.”

The problem is that we don’t actually want simple. We want painless and effortless. Simple isn’t always painless or effortless or easy.

We love easy.

Some of the most effective and simplest strategies for creating real change in many areas of our lives require us to get uncomfortable. Yes, it’s uncomfortable but it’s also kind of simple and straightforward.

Some of us have an aversion to discomfort because we’re spoiled, precious babies who want amazing results without the effort. Amazing doesn’t work like that. Get your head around that concept and you’ll make some progress instantly.

We are constantly looking for quick fixes and miracle solutions because we love shortcuts, but the reality is that shortcuts don’t produce forever change and ironically, they (the shortcuts) often lead to complications down the track.

Weird huh?

Interestingly, the more we don’t deal with stuff by avoiding discomfort, putting our head in the sand, and looking for shortcuts, the more dysfunctional and the less capable we become. Ironic, when we consider that actually dealing with pain and discomfort is where the real growth and learning comes from.

Some simple and uncomplicated science for those who want to drop a few pounds (this was not meant to be about weight-loss, but I thought I’d chuck it in to demonstrate the simplicity of change):

(1) Body fat is essentially stored energy (calories).

(2) If you expend more than you put in, you’ll be in energy deficit.

(3) If you’re in deficit, your body will have to find some energy from somewhere.

(4) It will find it on your ass, or close by.

(5) If you are in energy deficit of 500 calories per day (a soda and a cookie), you’ll lose about one pound (0.4kg) of fat per week.

This is not complicated at all. Yes, there’s a little more to it and a few other variables, but for the vast majority of us, our key weight loss/management strategy should be to put less food in our mouth and move our body more. Yet we continue to find new and exciting ways to complicate the process in all areas of our lives.

While this information is more than enough science to get most of us in shape or at least well on the way, we continue to ignore the obvious and the simple, and keep trying to reinvent the weight-loss wheel.

Forget the Ab Blaster 7000, the fat-melting tabs, the liver-heart-kidney-pancreas-and-lung cleansing diets, the electrodey (yep, a word) things you stick on your body, forget about your high-carb, low-carb, no-carb debate, and simply eat less crap.

Maybe this is too simple. I don’t know.

We also complicate things when it comes to relationships and communication. We spend our lives not saying what we really think, not being honest, not dealing with problems, not making decisions, not being accountable or responsible, and complicating relationships and situations by putting our head in the sand and not doing the simple.

A friend of mine always says, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” His life is a disaster.

Ultimately we waste way too much time, talent, energy, and life on issues that could have been resolved quickly, simply, and effectively long ago. When it all blows up (and it does) we react, cope, and struggle for months or years dealing with something that should be a distant memory.

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine at a social event when another friend came up to chat. “Hey Craig, we’re all planning a four-day hike at Cradle Mountain over Christmas. Are you up for it?”


“Why not?”

“Don’t wanna.”

“How come?”

“Well, I love you all, but I don’t wanna spend my Christmas eating re-hydrated food and sleeping in tents with ten stinky people.”

“Okay, lemme know if you change yer mind.”

“Okay, see ya.”

The hiking guy walked away and my other friend turned and asked, “How can you say that?”

“What, the truth?”

“Aren’t you scared you’ll offend them?”

“It’s not about them. It’s about how I want to spend my Christmas. I like them, but I just have no desire to go hiking. If it was a cheese-cake eating festival…”

We all do the complication thing, don’t we? I still do it, but not so often these days. It’s kind of liberating when you just deal with stuff then and there, do what needs to be done — simply, quickly, and effectively while still being sensitive and caring towards others, of course, but choosing not to go the long way around; choosing not to complicate.

Some people need to take a five-minute trip, but they constantly choose to go via Anchorage, by foot.

People say to me, “I wish I’d embraced this mindset years ago. My life would be completely different today.”

So why don’t you stop complicating your life today? Or you could think about it for a bit longer.

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About Craig Harper

  • Doug Hunter

    I don’t think the world is as simple as you’d like to make out. Saying losing weight is as simple as taking in less calories than you output is as helpful as saying to run faster simply take longer strides at a quicker pace. Neither is particularly helpful to slow, fat people.

    The problem lies in the bodies ability to control it’s own energy levels outside of conscious manipulation. An average person burns a couple thousand calories a day. Running, walking, or moving a mile burns 100 calories on average. For the vast majority of folks this means their natural metabolism is by far the greatest source of calories burned. Let’s look at a real life example of how this might work using the same example you did.

    A sedentary person is running a 50 calorie/day surplus on a 2000 calorie diet and decides to take your advice to drop the extra poundage. They target their lunch soda and an afternoon cookie dropping their intake to 1500 and for good measure decide to take a mile walk every morning. If life were simple this’d mean a 550 a day calorie deficit ending with results as you explained.

    The likely reality is much more complex. As soon as the body quits receiving it’s usual calorie load it’s going to change its metabolism to deal with the oncoming ‘famine’. The body can survive on much less than the 1950 cal/day it’s been burning so it quickly turns the energy down to 1550/day eliminating the majority of the gains from the diet. Although the extra exercise does put you at a decent deficit, the lower metabolism strips you of your energy essentially making life miserable as you slowly grind out a pound or two loss a month. Since you’ve got 50 to go and the lack of energy is affecting your work performance, relationships, and the increase cost of healthy food is straining your budget your initial motivation gradually wains and you return to your previous ways. Only this time your body is a bit smarter, to ‘save’ you from the next famine it’ll throw a few extra pounds on your midsection and respond even quicker to the decreased calories next time. Welcoime to the real world of the yoyo diet. It is still relatively simple, it’s just the progrnosis isn’t all that great.