This summer, my little nephew gave me some excellent advice. I was at the park with him, and he was fascinated with a fireman’s pole that was connected to the park jungle gym. I could tell he really wanted to slide down the pole, but he was afraid.
So I spent some time with him, helping him figure out how to slide down the pole in a way that wasn’t too scary. I figured out that it was really helpful to him when I broke the task down into short steps or pieces of advice. I would say, “Wrap your feet around the pole, lean forward, and slide down.”
When I started repeating this advice to him, I could see that it helped, and it increased his confidence with sliding down the pole. He was really excited about his accomplishment, and he kept sliding down, laughing happily, and running back around to climb up the jungle gym so he could slide down again.
After a while, it seemed like my advice wasn’t as helpful. I would say the same three pieces of advice to him–“Wrap your feet; lean forward; slide down the pole”–but it just wasn’t working for him. I could tell he was feeling anxious again, and he had lost his confidence.
But for some reason, I kept offering him the same advice to him over and over and with greater insistence. I REALLY wanted him to conquer his fear about sliding down the pole. At one point he looked at me and said, “Keep it simple”. This became his new mantra.
My nephew was onto something. So often in life, I have tasks that I REALLY want to accomplish. I get a very fixed idea in my mind of how I think they should be done, and I start pushing myself to accomplish them exactly the way I have envisioned it. I totally stress myself out. I do this a lot. Maybe you do, too.
In fact, I was having one of those days again today. I was pushing myself to do something I thought was really important, and I was getting really anxious. And all of a sudden I remembered my nephew’s advice, “Keep it simple.” I immediately relaxed, and I realized that I could approach my project in a much less pressuring and much more creative way. These are the insights that often occur when we keep it simple.
On the one hand, there certainly are some times when things have to be done by a certain time and in a certain way, and it is also the case that some stress is a normal part of life. On the other, a lot of stress in our life is self-induced and comes from us creating imaginary deadlines, pressures, and impossible expectations for ourselves.
When we push ourselves too hard and stress ourselves out in this way, it is really hard to think clearly and be creative and productive, just like it was really hard for my nephew to slide down that pole when he felt anxious and when I was over-complicating things for him. When we keep it simple, we can breathe more easily, see more possibilities around us, enjoy the moment, and take the tasks ahead of us one easy step at a time.
When we keep it simple, it is much easier to flow. That’s a great state to be in. My nephew totally gets it. Keep it simple, Friends.