Micro Habits

You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda


Want Change?

So you want to change. You have reached a point where you have decided this is it. The time has come and you are committed. There is a clear vision of the person you want to be and even a plan on how to get there. It’s a massive undertaking, probably the biggest challenge you have every faced. That’s OK because you are going to take a deep breath and steam right in. Right? Are we ready? Let’s do this. Wait for it, wait for it…

Something happens and we balk. Our best laid plans are scuttled. The best of intentions are not enough. There was right intent and right motivation but the bar was set too high. We couldn’t do it. What happened?


A journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step” – Lao Tzu



Fail to Launch

Some years ago I embarked on a fitness campaign that was meant to go for months. It lasted precisely one day. I had a program written and had received good advise from a fitness expert. Because I was desperate for fast results I set off at break neck speed on a program that was way above my limitations. The next day I was too sore to move. I tried again and the work load was so high I could not complete the routine. The experience was anything but enjoyable. Motivation lost I decided to drop it and I never returned to the gym.


I never explain myself, it’s a bad habit” – Han Solo


Change is rarely an easy endeavor particularly when old habits must be replaced by new habits. We have to overcome entropy and inertia. It is easier to sit and watch television than it is to go for a run. Buying and eating fast food is easier than taking the time and effort to prepare a wholesome and healthy meal. Even if we decide to get up and go for a run we may set off at sprint committed to five miles and gas out at 200 yards, turn around and go home, defeated and deflated. Our brain resists our best intentions and we quit because we lose confidence.

How many times have you made a new years resolution to learn a language, exercise more, spend less, eat better or quit smoking and after a few days have found yourself back in your default routine? The problem is not intent or motivation it is strategy. If we are trying the same thing over and over again and not getting the desired results, it is time to change tact. Micro Habits may be the solution.


We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle


One small step

Every marathon begins with a single step. A strict muscle up starts with an assisted pull up. One single push up done often enough will eventually build up to many. A major change in our character or habits starts with small and incremental changes. Each drop of water adds to the bucket of gains over time.


Easy does it


Micro habits are baby steps. Psychologists call it behavioral momentum. Once you start something and keep chipping away at it over time eventually it becomes a habit. This can apply to both good and bad behaviors. For example, we can form a positive habit of reducing sugar intake over time and reap the benefits of weight loss. Instead of cutting out sugar completely we reduce it slightly and cut back a little every day. Eventually our sugar intake is minimal.


Bad Habits

The same principle applies in reverse. We can form bad habits incrementally. At one stage in my drinking career I got in to the habit of having a glass of wine in bed as I watched television. This turned in to two glasses and eventually a bottle. After a while I was passing out after consuming two or three bottle of wine while sat up in bed. I developed hypertension and put on about 20 pounds. The ramp up was gradual over a couple of months. That is how fast habits can become ingrained and reinforced. Eventually the habit becomes an addiction.

As an alcoholic I am painfully aware that I have an addictive personality and form habits very quickly and find breaking “pleasurable” habits difficult. If I were to try controlled drinking the experiment would likely backfire and I would soon find myself in full blown abuse as the habit reestablished itself.


“Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.” – Epictetus

One Day

Getting sober in the beginning was a “one day at a time” endeavor for me. Alcoholics Anonymous asks a new comer if they can go one day without a drink. Not forever, just a single day. Most alcoholics can go one day without a drink. That’s all that is asked, just one day and let tomorrow take care of itself.

The next day we ask the same question and “God Willing” we get through another day. These baby steps get us through the early days. Eventually the days without a drink pile up. At this point we can start to plan ahead and turn our short term gains in to a long term program of recovery. Micro Habits become life long habits.

“One Day at Time”


Future Shock

Micro habits can be used to counter every day habits. For example many people will automatically reach for the smart phones if they are idle for more than a few seconds. The trigger to reach for the phone is that moment when our attention is not drawn to something or we are not deep in thought or reverie. Who rolls out of bed in the morning and instinctively checks their messenger and social media feed? I do!

Rather than mindlessly follow those mental urges we can stop ourselves and apply self awareness. Having a moment to do nothing but breathe and take in the moment we find ourselves in is a far better use of time than peering at our Face Book feed* (see foot note). Instead of defaulting to social media as the primary form of interaction with other human beings we should seek to connect with those around us in some meaningful and tangible way.


“You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life” – Wayne Dyer


Micro Habits can also be used to address anger, depression, anxiety and resentment. We can identify triggers that cause us to react in ways we would rather not. If bad drivers cause us to rage at the wheel or rude people raise our ire and resentment we can work towards accepting that they exist and only we can choose how we react to them. Instead of acting out negative emotions we can form habits that convert challenges in to opportunities to practice principle. We can turn patience and equanimity into a habit. Instead of getting angry and snapping at someone, try smiling and offering some kind words. It might be hard at first but eventually it will get easier and there is real pleasure in disarming an unpleasant person with a sincere compliment.


“It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them” – Benjamin Franklin

Micro Habits may not be the cure to addiction or serious psychological issues but when we are focused on a positive habit we crowd out a bunch of negative one’s. We can get drunk while in recovery but doing so with a head full of program is a miserable proposition. Small, incremental and constant changes in our habits re-wire the brain. Through repetition our responses change and over time so does our character.


Tiny Habits

So you want to change. You have tried everything to achieve your goals but have so far stumbled and failed. Micro Habits can help because anyone can take a baby step. All it takes is that single step out of the door, one push up or one pull up attempt. Anyone can try meditating for a minute. If we were honest about wanting to learn a language we would be able to find 5 minutes a day to spend on a language app. If we are committed to reading more and browsing less we can read a page and day and work up to two. With practice you will soon be sitting in meditation for 30 minutes or more and spending more time on your exercise, language studies and reading or whatever else we want to do but keep failing to launch.


  1. Incorporate your activities in to current daily routine. For example, meditation can be done anywhere. If you take the train or bus to work, start doing mental body scanning and focusing on your breath. You don’t need a “meditation room’, soft music and incense to meditate. It can be done anywhere. I practice calisthenics and never have a problem finding time or floor space to do some push ups or sit ups. A bench or chair can be used for dips. A branch or sign post can serve as a bull up bar. I have Memrise on my smart phone and can complete a language lesson on the fly anywhere there is a signal. All of my readings are on a Kindle which is rarely out of reach.
  2. Don’t stop it swap it; I have a habit of drinking a coffee every night before bed and eating some chocolate. A few months ago I switched to 85% dark chocolate and organic coffee. Another option might be to have green tea and a carrot stick instead but let’s not get ahead of ourselves! The point is you can reduce or substitute. Read a book instead of click bait. Snack on a banana instead of a bag of chips.
  3. Be SMART; goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Decide to run a marathon? That’s a specific goal. Is it achievable? That depends. A training goal should have measurable outcomes such as incremental increase in distance ran every week in the months prior to the event. Be realistic, if you have never done long distance running there is little chance you will be ready in two weeks let alone six months. Timely; set yourself a time-frame to completion with plenty of room. Micro habits require time to show results.
  4. Journal your progress; I keep a training journal of my progress in calisthenics. A year ago my routines were basic and very modest compared to now. As I flick through the pages I can see the incremental improvements over time. Big gains take time and you may not notice them straight away because they are the new normal but they are very real. Many people do video or photos to journal their weight loss or fitness journey. Many recovering alcoholics blog their journey and the changes in their lives over time are astounding.
  5. Daily practices; daily practices such as exercise, meditation and reading can be scheduled in to our day. A morning routine of gratitude and planning, mindfulness and an evening review of the day followed by quite contemplation or meditation need not take hours. Set priorities. Which is more important watching reality TV or investing in your spiritual, mental, physical and emotional growth?
  6. Celebrate small wins; so we manage to complete our daily goal. Well done! Parents applaud in delight as their child takes her first small steps. Baby also celebrates, a little afraid but clearly proud and happy with her milestone accomplishment. We should also celebrate our small daily milestones and congratulate ourselves no matter how trivial it seems. One push up or pull up when you struggle with one is a million times better than not even trying. With small victories comes greater confidence in your ability. That’s the Jedi Spirit.


“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking and running by running…therefore if you want to do something make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead” – Epictetus

Easy Does It

You will not find a perfect Jedi any more than you will find a perfect practitioner of any philosophy. I am definitely not an exemplary role model for either. My program of recovery also has many areas needing improvement as does my character. Micro Habits gives us the tool to make small but significant steps in the areas that we want to improve. By starting simple and easy we give ourselves a chance to get traction and gain momentum. Progress, not perfection is the goal.

In order to create habits they have to be routine, they should be triggered and there should be tangible reward for our efforts. To break a habit we must remove one of those three elements and preferably all three. Every morning I get up and drink a large glass of water. There is a trigger, routine and reward. In the past I would stop in a bar on the way home from work and have a few beers.  I stopped that habit once the cycle of addiction was broken.

Micro Habits may be Baby Steps but they still move us from where we are to where we want to go.


All I’m saying is don’t let having the Force in your arsenal lull you into a false sense of security. Don’t get into the habit of taking more credits from your bank account than you put in.“- Bail Organa

 “Jedi don’t have bank accounts.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Foot Note: Facebookalitis

*Face Book addiction otherwise known as Facebookalitis is on the way to becoming described as an actual psychological disorder. Social Media is addictive as the reward centers in our brain are fired sending off dopamine every time we get a notification or like.

The more we use the platform the more addictive it becomes. The perception of social acceptance through likes and comments the reward. Our social media profile and personality can becomes someone we are not in real life. A type of multiple personality disorder evolves.

Our brains are re-wired through chronic internet usage. Short term memory and attention spans are diminished and the prefrontal cortex is altered. Emotional responses can change. Human emotions such as empathy, compassion and the ability to control aggression and anger can be reduced in people who are chronic users of Face Book.


The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the “Minimalists”. They are two guys that have published books, posted you tube videos and pod casts and made a documentary on the benefits of minimalism. The Minimalists have travelled the United States speaking to everyone and anyone who will listen to their message that you don’t need a lot to be happy; you only need to have the things that matter. You may have seen their documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix, listened to their pod cast or read their books and essays. In a few short years they have helped start a quiet movement in the United States and the rest of the world on the benefits of minimalism.

Take a look around you. What do you see? In my house I see a lot of clutter. Having a couple of kids who are teenagers and twenty years of accumulated possessions does that. It’s actually quite normal to have a house full of things that we barely use or need. Our society expects it and we have been bought up to believe the mantra of marketing and consumerism; “more is better”. Take a walk through a shopping mall or a furniture and electrical goods warehouse and we are immediately impressed by the range of goods on offer. They promise a more comfortable existence and the marketing used tries to convince us that we will be happier, more popular and attractive if we fill our lives with more.


Less is More

The Minimalists would argue that the opposite is true. More is not necessarily better and in fact it may be what’s holding us back. Having less is having more. The counter-paradigm is a hard concept to accept. How can having less be better than having more? How can living in a small house or apartment that is sparsely furnished be better than living in a luxury mansion or apartment full of elegant and expensive furniture? Why would someone choose to ride a bicycle to work when they can drive their comfortable BMW? Isn’t it better to have a walk in wardrobe full of clothes and shoes to choose from than a small selection of functional yet attractive garments and shoes? Who wants to work in a job that provides for our needs rather than our endless wants? You want us to work to live, rather than live to work? Life is not about money? Are these Minimalists mad?

In the documentary “Minimalism: A documentary about the important things” we learn that Millburn was working in a higher powered corporate role and was chasing the American Dream. On the rat race to the top, Millburn found that he was working crazy hours and stretching himself thin. Relationships with people were shallow and geared towards personal gain. Life was about owning more and getting as far up the ladder as possible, at any cost. This is the competitive culture that society instils in people.

Take a walk down the main street of your commercial capital and you will hear the hum of capitalism and the fast pace of people defying reality by trying to push infinite growth in a finite system. Something has to give and for Millburn it did. The loss of his mother and marriage in the same month and nearly burned out by his job, Millburn was chronically unhappy with his life. Depressed and questioning everything he lived for he stumbled on minimalism and his life changed for forever. Minimalism and simplicity set him free.


Slow Death

I recently learned that in Japan the rate of deaths of otherwise young and healthy professionals from overwork and stress is unprecedented. China is fast catching up as its fast growing economy and hard work ethic churns people through the system and spits them out. Hundreds of millions of people in that country are desperately trying to achieve the same level of affluence and fulfil the same material goals that hold us hostage in the west. The eastern culture of community, simplicity and harmony has been hijacked by consumerism and unsustainable economic growth.

In the west many of us are forced to work longer and harder for less as prices increase and wages freeze. We spend our lives chasing the dollar to fill our homes with worthless junk or in some cases to continue to live with the basics and make ends meet. People are becoming more insular and disconnected from each other as they focus on their own lives and “keeping up with the Joneses”. Society is becoming more dysfunctional and unhappy as people mindlessly ride the Hedonistic merry-go round. We seek and then finding grow bored and dissatisfied and we seek the next thing to fulfil us. Never happy, never satisfied.

The Environment is suffering from our over consumption and waste. We stand on the brink of ecological collapse. Insanity is the only word to describe the paradigm we live in. It can only end one way, but it doesn’t have to.


Love People not Things

Millburn says in his documentary that we should “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” As a 12 Step Jedi I can identify. In active alcoholism we use people purely for the purpose of getting drunk. Alcohol is not so much used by us as it uses us. It sounds insane but the disease of alcoholism is completely insane. We are prepared to sacrifice everything in order to satisfy an addiction that is slowly killing us physically, emotionally and spiritually. A love affair with booze forms that resembles the most dysfunctional and destructive of relationships yet nothing short of death or a spiritual experience will break that bond.

I had a spiritual experience, no doubt about it. Perhaps Millburn did to. No two spiritual experiences are the same. The bright white light and “out of body” experience described in the literature is rare. Most people experience a type of epiphany or a sudden self realisation.  A number of discoveries are made and events occur in almost fortuitous succession that lead of personal insight and spiritual breakthroughs.

I hit rock bottom and was presented with the truth of what I had become and given a clear vision of who I truly am. Perhaps Millburn experienced something similar. The 12 Steps and the Jedi Path is my road and minimalism was his. The end result is that we got the same basic truth to always “love people and use things”.


Clean Minds

Everyone thinks that minimalism is about getting rid of stuff that we have been hording for years. Going through the garage, wardrobe, basement and attic and turfing things out is only part of it. We also have to take a look at the mental junk that we are hording in our minds and decide what to discard and what to hold on to.

That is essentially what Millburn did when he quit his job and sold his stuff, he was overhauling the mental paradigm he was trapped in. By changing his external world and his behaviours he was changing his internal world. As he started to free himself of the clutter and false ideas of the world he began to realize a better and easier way to live, minimalism. The changes in his life resulted in changes to his own mental patterns and ultimately his character. The wonderful thing about the Minimalists is that they could also take this and share it with the world and support themselves by doing it.

So what can we take from the Minimalists and how can we apply it in our own lives? Those that practice a philosophy for life will have many answers. I know that the 12 Steps and the Jedi Path lead us to a minimalist life through deeds, not words. To be Jedi is to take action:


Take Action

  1. Take Stock: Millburn quit his job not because he hated his boss but because he saw that his life was passing him by in the mindless pursuit of wealth and material possessions. Millburn recalibrated his values and decided he wanted to live a life worth remembering. A major part of that was realizing that money is not everything. Yes, we need money and it can make life more pleasurable but poor people are happy too. We need to decide what we value in life and live in accordance with our values.
  2. De-clutter: In the army they used to say something along the lines that “if your shit is not squared away neither is your head”, except the language was far more colourful. It is true that a cluttered home or workspace denotes a cluttered mind. By applying the 5S principles we can de-clutter and organise our external world and allow the benefits to flow in to other areas of our lives.
  3. Service: One of the best ways of getting out of our own heads is by helping others. It is no cliché, doing something for others, even small acts of kindness make us appreciate people more and thereby forget our own troubles. We come to realize that helping others provides us greater rewards than money can.
  4. Mental Breaks: Meditation, mindfulness and awareness are tool we can use to reduce the mental clutters and ease the chattering mind monkeys that assault us sometimes constantly.
  5. Less is better: I find I am addicted to social media and the news. Taking a break from both is a respite. We are tied to our phones and our internet accounts. Some people never put them down. The other day I heard a line which I thought rang very true “Years ago we used the internet to escape from reality, these days we escape the internet by returning to reality”. Our over consumption extends to television and food as well. We need to eat less junk and more healthier food, exercise more and spend more time outdoors in nature and with other people instead of staring at a box.

And most importantly, remember: “love people, not things.”



Books by The Minimalists:

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life


The Minimalist Website


The Tree

Every autumn I take a chainsaw to a tree in the back yard and take back most of the branches. The tree is reduced from a tangle of foliage and branches to a short truck with a couple of main-stems left behind. Looking it after my hack job you would think that it will surely die but every spring it returns in full vigor. New branches reach out with sprouts of leaves. Flowers blossom and the trunk thicken. The tree is healthy and productive. By cutting back old growth and dead wood and leaving it almost bare I have allowed the tree to renew itself and continue to grow. Simplicity is like that.


Consumer Society

Life can get messy. We can fill our days with drama and complexity. Our time seems to get shorter as we are constantly distracted by new things. We fill our homes and garages and eventually a rented storage unit with so much stuff that we soon run out of room. Our attention hops from one thing to another. For a while we are interested in one thing and soon enough we get bored with that and move on.

The constant pull of modern consumerism sees us accumulating stuff that we don’t need or acquire mindlessly because we have been told that if we have it we will be happier, cooler or more popular. By having more and being constantly busy we think that our lives will be fulfilled and we will reach our desired state of happiness and contentment. All that happens is we find ourselves on a slippery slope and soon get overwhelmed by the tempo and shallow materialism of our lives. The environment suffers, we suffer and only big corporations win selling us stuff they tell us we need.


Hatchet Job

From time to time we need to take a pruning saw (or a hatchet) to our lives and cut back the excess. We should identify the dead branches and cut them away. Cut back the complexity and over activity. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

All monastic orders required their adherents to live lives of simplicity. Excess was avoided and attachment to material possessions and relationships eschewed. When I was in the Army the principle of simplicity and self discipline was constantly reinforced. We were expected to have few personal possessions and avoid the trappings of conspicuous consumption. Our job demanded that our first priority was the job. Some of the guys took it far and owned little more than one set of civilian clothes for going out; everything else they owned was issued or bought kit.


A Life of Purpose

The Jedi are an example of simplicity. Besides a Jedi Robe, a belt and boots and a light sabre what does a Jedi own? Seemingly nothing, they got funds to support themselves and their mission when required but otherwise a Jedi was discouraged from having attachments.

Allegiance to the Jedi Order demanded simplicity and purpose. By living simply, the Jedi were never distracted from their primary purpose. The Jedi also kept their internal world well ordered and simple. The Jedi demonstrated equanimity and dispassion.


Hording is Suffering

They say that what makes a person horde possessions and refuse to let them go is fear. They are suffering from over attachment. We have all seen the effect of severe hording on television shows that take us in the homes of chronic Hoarders.

People will horde and even refuse to throw out old newspapers and trash. Eventually their lives become unmanageable and desperate; they are drowning in an ocean of junk but refuse to let any of it go. Fear won’t allow them to lighten their lives and simplify. They feel by throwing their “treasures” away they are somehow losing a part of themselves. Inanimate objects hold them hostage. Attachment becomes real suffering to the point that they would rather die than toss out a box of old moldy magazines. The problem is not that they can’t do without their possessions, they can, and the problem is only in their mind.


Dead Wood

We might say, “Yeah but that’s pretty extreme. Most people aren’t like that”. The reality is that the ego is exactly like that. We may not be hording a ton of stuff we don’t need, we may even own very little. On the other hand we may be holding on to beliefs and ideas that do not serve us or represent who we truly are. Few people, if honest, would disagree. Most of us hold on to more than we realize. Every single experience, thought, word and action in our lives becomes a part of who we are. As the years pass, we find that we have become like an old tree; an over grown jumble of unruly branches and dead wood.

For more than a decade I lived out of a bag. My possessions were limited to a backpack with a few clothes, a sleeping bag, a pair of shoes and a camera. There were a few keepsakes I’d picked up on my travels, a couple of books and a sealed plastic bag full of photos. I was homeless and owned nothing. My home was wherever I found myself at the end of the day. Not having much meant I didn’t have a lot to lose. The freedom allowed me to indulge in my addiction without constraint. The problem of course was that inwardly I was a mess.


Handing it Over

Getting rid of unwanted excess is actually liberating. By handing over my problems to a higher power I started the process of pruning back my life. Writing an inventory of my character defects and misdeeds to others highlighted where I needed to make further changes and do amends. Sharing my inventory with another helped me take a weight of guilt off my shoulders. By coming clean I was able to throw off the dead wood that had been holding me back. I was free to move on.

The pruning back continued. There was years of growth that needed to be removed. I finally decided to do something about it and I asked my Higher Power to guide me. The work was up to me, but I left the outcomes to the Force.

One by one I hacked back the character defects and flaws through application of principle and changing my thought pattern and behaviour. Several years later with pruning being a constant and meticulous job I can look back at my work and see what I have become. The person I was is gone and a new man stands in his place. This is the feeling of freedom; to cast off the world like some dark cloak and walk through the gates in to another dimension of existence.


Daily Maintenance

Today I continue to take a pair of secateurs and prune away. My life is like a tree that requires daily maintenance to keep it healthy. Where I have made a mistake I admit it, where I have wronged someone I try to make amends. Each day is reviewed and where improvements can be made I do so where I have control. Life becomes a daily pursuit in simplicity and purpose, the Jedi way.


Inventory and Let Go

We don’t need to get rid of all of our stuff and live like a monk or a Jedi but we can simplify and reduce the clutter. One of the best ways of taking stock of our rampant and manic lives is to inventory. List all the things that take up our time and attention. What do you enjoy doing? Are you doing things which take up time but bring you no joy or return? Decide which you would be better off without and drop it.

Review your consumer patterns. Take a shopping list with you or decide on what you are going to buy and then buy it. Avoid making purchases on impulse and ask yourself whether you need it or just want it. Remember, wants are not needs.


Sort, Sift, Sweep, Sanitize and Sustain

Go through your wardrobe and garage. Do you really need all of the clothes hanging up? One way is to turn all your clothes and shoes to face one way. Every time you take something and put it back have it facing the opposite direction. After a year take all the items that were not moved and donate them to good-will. Take all of your horded clutter out on to the lawn and divide them in to categories based on their utility and purpose. If you have stuff sitting there since 1999 which has not been used, donate it if it may be of use to others or throw it out.

Occasionally review your life and take stock. Not just where you are financially, in your career, or on the journey to achieving your goals; review your internal values system. Are your values consistent with who you are and who you want to be? Ask what do you care about, what is your purpose and what do you want out of life. Decide whether your values match your principles and agree with your goals. Remember that values define you, principles are the way your express them and goals are where you want to take your life. Keep it simple.


Take what you Need

Sometimes we will find that a lot of ideas and assumptions that we had are no longer useful and we resolve to get rid of them. For example, we may have decided some time ago to be less stressed about life and worry less about material wealth and more on our self improvement but our actions may be the opposite. If our ideas no longer serve, we drop them and find those that do. We align ourselves to our purpose. Being Jedi is about being agile and adaptive. Its about being able to take what you need and leave the rest.

Life is like a tree. It is a living and breathing thing that grows and throws out branches in all directions. Sometime we need to do some pruning in our lives and re-calibrate ourselves so that we can continue to grow and get better.


Keep it Simple

One of the mantras used by people in recovery is “Keep it Simple Stupid”. Often when we must decide on how to proceed with a project we fall in to the trap of over complicating it. We turn what should have been fairly straight forward in to something that becomes expensive or difficult to complete. In the end we become frustrated and leave the job unfinished. The KISS principle can save us from this trap.

“Keep it Simple Stupid” is not something we say because we think ourselves or others stupid. The KISS principle reminds us that some of the mistakes we make when trying to reach a goal are “Stupid”. These errors don’t make us stupid unless we fail to learn from them.


You’ve got to keep it simple” – Albert Einstein



The Shortest Path

Ask anyone the shortest path between two points and they will tell you a straight line. If someone wants to fly from LAX to JFK they find the most direct route. Taking a flight with multiple stops across the country would seem counterintuitive and not very smart. The less stops the better. We are focused on one destination. The same principle should apply to every aspect of our lives as well. We can choose to keep things simple and achieve our goals with minimal fuss.

So then why do we choose to complicate our lives when the clearest path is laid bare in front of us? We take the rocky trail through dark forest and over misty mountains. Along the way we fall off the path and get lost and end up frustrated, lost or both. Rather than just living, we fill our lives with unnecessary drama, conflict and confusion.


A Complicated Life

I learned very early that life can be fairly simple and care free yet I chose to take a different approach. In the Army I was constantly reminded all I needed to do to have a trouble free career was to get up in the morning, show up to parade clean and shaved, do my job, keep fit and not draw attention to myself by being drunk all of the time. That was the simple and easy way of doing things. Alcoholics don’t like easy and simple. Instead I insisted on being insubordinate, absent, drunk and a disgrace to the corps. I chose to complicate my life and make it hard for myself and others. None of it was forced on me I chose it all and bore the consequences of my actions.

Through decades of active alcoholism I continued to make a mess of things mostly by trying to control people, places and things. On top of that my mind would refuse to accept things at face value. I had to resist, argue, deny, twist, distort and mostly complicate anything and everything in my life. If a situation was clearly working well for me I’d find a way to mess it up. I would take a sledge hammer, chain saw and blow torch to a job that required little more than a hammer and kids gloves.

Relationships, jobs and welcome never lasted and in my blind ignorance I would formulate delusions justifying my behaviour and blaming my misfortunes on others.


Clear as Mud

A complicated life is utterly miserable. We can be alone, homeless, broke, jobless and have few responsibilities but still life is complicated. In fact it obviously isn’t, it’s only our mind telling us that it is. The chattering mind monkey takes what is simple and convinces us that it is not. What is clear turns in to mud. We no longer see reality and create a false world that is based on fear and attack. Our life resembles a bucket of putrid muddy water. Nothing is clear any longer and the mud sticks to everything we touch and sullies it.


Others no longer trust us and we can’t even trust ourselves.


Don’t you trust me Master”? – Anakin

I fear I trust you too much Anakin” – Obi-Wan Kenobi



Direct Action

Obi-wan Kenobi applied the KISS principle. The Jedi Master was cautious and mindful not to allow himself to be swayed by emotions. If there was a direct approach to a situation he took it.

Obi-wan Kenobi learns in “The Clone Wars” that his old nemesis Darth Maul survived their battle years before and has returned this time with his brother Savage Oppress. Seeking revenge the brothers commit one atrocity after another in an attempt to draw Obi-wan Kenobi to them.

Despite the threat from the entire Jedi Order they continue their reckless campaign forcing themselves in to a corner. In his attempts to bring Darth Maul and Savage Oppress to justice Obi-wan keeps it simple, he follows Yoda’s advice and refuses to allow his emotions to overrule his better judgement. Darth Maul had killed his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wan feels the pain of the loss again. Despite this Obi-wan keeps the focus only on his mission; he refuses to muddy the water with a thirst for vengeance.


Victim of Illusions

Anakin was a victim to his emotions. Rather than keep things simple he insisted on seeing things through the lens of his past. Anger and fear clouded his judgement. The delusions that twisted the truth in his mind complicated his relationship with the Jedi Order, his Master and his wife Padme and ultimately himself.

Anakin pushed himself in to insanity by creating a hell that didn’t exist. It was entirely his own invention and Darth Sidious took full advantage of it. Obi-wan Kenobi could see the changes in his friend but was powerless to help him.


Clear away the Mud

In recovery we say “Keep it Simple Stupid” often. We say it to remind ourselves that we are not stupid but decisions can be. Our amends made to others is a way of clearing the mess we have made in our lives and in the lives of others. We seek to keep things simple and remove complication from our lives.

Every time we set plans that sweep us up we take a step back. We ask is the decision the right one, can we handle it and have we thought it through. We seek advice from family, friends, counselors and sponsors whom we trust. Very often it takes someone else to clear the muddy waters and make things simple again.

Analysis paralysis is what happens when we complicate something that is simple. We put ourselves in to a state of indecision and can’t move or we panic and depart on a tangent. As we get further away from reality the true nature of the issue disappears under a lay of complexity and confusion. Look at nature. Is it complicated? Is it manic or confused? Nature is extremely simple despite its complex and intricate design. See things as they really are.


For when things are simple, they return to the simplicity of formless nature” – Lao Tzu

One Drop at a Time

I heard a fellow sober alcoholic explain how he had cleared up his life and achieved equanimity and contended sobriety in his life. He said, “I saw that my life was a bucket filled with muddy water. I had fouled everything in my life and now I had the choice to clear things up and live a simple life. One day at a time I lived by my spiritual principles; I kept things simple and I let go of my attachments. Every day I added a drop of clean water to that bucket and over time the water got clearer and clearer until it was clean and whole again”.

How do we keep it simple? Here are a few ways we can start:

  • If it ain’t right, don’t do it;
  • If it ain’t true, don’t say it;
  • If it ain’t yours don’t take it;
  • If you are misunderstood, explain;
  • If you miss someone, call them;
  • If you want something, ask for it;
  • If you don’t know, ask;
  • If you love someone, tell them.



The list resembles something a parent would say to their child. It is direct and straight with no ambiguity. Sometimes we need that in our lives too, a simple formula. One way is to take an almost child like approach to life. Kids don’t complicate things. Have you ever tried to explain something to a child? They ask “why” until the simplest answer is provided which they can understand.


Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.” – Yoda


All we have to remember is to keep it simple. We still do it and we do it smart and easy, stupid is only as stupid does.