Complexity and Personal Flexibility

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As our lives become more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), personal flexibility can be helpful as a coping mechanism. It gives us piece of mind and options.

Eventually, many of us will encounter certain life events like; retirement, moving countries, or ‘empty nest’ down-sizing. Such events might help us shed cost and excess physical capacity.  But not necessarily the life complexity we’d like to simplify.  How so?  We can anticipate that downsizing will likely be undermined, when complexity compliance acts as a brake. One simple example is that empty nest parents don’t stop being parents (or offspring of their own, perhaps ailing parents), just by downsizing their house, after the kids leave home.

So how can we achieve matching, so that downsizing and simplifying the complexity of our lives go together?

Using personal flexibility as a tool to alter the complexity before downsizing is one avenue to explore. On this, we can take inspiration from our own brains. Each night, our brains exhibit personal flexibility, in relaxing the body (reducing the complexity of physical activity) in preparation for sleep.

Another personal flexibility example is time flexibility – buying time to reduce complexity before we downsize. For example, hiring specialists to help us ‘get our affairs in order’ and simplify the maintenance time required.

Reducing complexity and downsizing together is another option. For example, we can build up a passive income portfolio, to replace the need for us having to work a 40 hour week, therefore downsizing the number of hours worked. And the complexity of handling a full-time job.

Regarding complexity, in the same way that households and wage earners have fixed & variable costs to pay for, (think of rent/mortgage payments and food bills respectively), complexity can also be described as fixed or variable. There is however no direct relationship between cost type and complexity type – you can have any mix of both. But in a VUCA environment, some combinations are likely to be more troublesome than others. For example, high fixed cost, high life complexity.

Some examples of fixed complexity in our personal life are as follows;

  • the number of family members in our immediate family group,
  • the number of places we can physically be at any one time,
  • regular bill paying tasks each month e.g. utilities and rent/mortgage.

Some examples of variable complexity in our personal life are as follows;

  • the number of key relationships and purchases we manage each month,
  • the range of improvements we try to make each month,
  • the range of disagreements or arguments we have each month,
  • the number of crises we face each month.

Personal flexibility thinking is about designing both costs & complexity to be as variable as possible, regardless of our (own perceived) level of expertise, other people’s dependency on us, our career success, or our bank account balance.

Why is variable complexity in our lives desirable? Fixed complexity doesn’t stay fixed forever, so by coping with variable, we can cope with fixed complexity (inevitably) becoming variable. Assuming fixed complexity may lead to complacency and stop us looking for improvements i.e. personal growth opportunities. Some types of fixed complexity in our lives may be an illusion. When the unexpected occurs, for example our teen or adult children bring home a partner and behave differently in the partner’s presence, this reminds us not to make assumptions.

Simon

Flexibility shining through

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Our choices create bridges to new aspects of our lives. And enable new branches on our family tree to develop too.

Our choices may be optimally timed, morally righteous and/or inherently wise. But their direction and sustainability are a product of the flexibility we have at the time.

Our family tree develops its height and shape due in a large part, to the flexibility our forefathers and mothers thought they had. There is perceived flexibility and reality flexibility. And not always great alignment between them. To elaborate, some of our forebears may have emigrated to new lands expecting a better life, simply because they perceived the flexibility they would have there to be almost infinite.

Where perceived flexibility greatly exceeds reality flexibility, we take risks. Where our perceived flexibility is significantly less than reality flexibility, we squander chances. Clearly we have to act too. But our effectiveness in acting is often due to flexibility we have, or think we have.

There are at least two things to improve, to enable our lives (and our family tree) to flourish. The first is to grow & maintain our flexibility per se (grow and keep our options open). The second is to keep trying to close the gap between our perceived and reality flexibility.

One tool to close that gap is flexibility itself. What’s a simple example? If we become more flexible on what we value (become less materialistic and more ambitious but for different things), our perceived flexibility can reduce to match reality flexibility. We then take jobs that involve fewer compromises and probably less stress. We live with less credit card debt. We seek less punishing avenues of stress relief – less gambling, binge drinking and sugar consumption. We sleep better and feel fitter, with fewer sporting injuries. In some cases, lowering the perceived flexibility can itself improve reality flexibility.

For some people the reverse is also true. By daring to dream and not settling for second best, they inspire those around them to lift their game, benefiting everyone. A low perceived flexibility can lead to self harm, anger issues, mental health problems, or turning to a life of crime. Beliefs become fatalistic and self fulfilling. Instead be realistic and recognise the value of real options ahead of time. Keep asking what are the things that open doors and keep on opening doors?

In summary, flexibility is like the sunlight and fertiliser for your life and your family tree both.

Simon