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It’s complicated: Seven easy ways to embrace uncertainty

When making radical changes to your life, such as redesigning your life, it is pretty normal to think that things will be complicated, maybe even so complicated, that it is best not to proceed. Those challenges come both from moving out of your comfort zone as well may come from others who see you making changes they might want to make (but think they are too complicated to do). It is easy at this point to fall into the trap and abandon the plan, coming up with obstacles and focusing on all the negative aspects.

After I had “designed” my vision of my future, I was often tempted to abandon the ideas simply because things felt complicated (really falling at the first hurdle). That is not to say it will always be easy (it won’t), but remember, the result will ultimately be a what you really wanted, because you are moving ahead strategically and focusing on achieving the ultimate goal: your dream vision.

When “complicated” struck me, feeling like the road ahead was like a wild mountain road, with many curves and complications …. I used the following seven ways to overcome my thinking: immediately challenging the “too complicated” idea – and avoiding mentally making lists why it won’t work, will fail etc – and therefore focusing my ideas on achieving the outcome (rather than running the risk of sabotaging it).

Throughout the process I learned that the “ it is too complicated thinking” is part and parcel of making changes  – it is a sign of progress. The problem is, that if you give in to the “complicated”, you will stand still at best – or setting yourself up for self-sabotage at worst. So taking “complicated” at face value is probably the most severe mistake you can make – the only way forward is to “challenge the complicated”. And often, it turns our a lot less complicated than you think.

To challenge the “complicated” thinking, here is what worked for me:

– Is it rational or irrational?
Often I found asking this simple question stopped the complicated thinking in the tracks: Many thoughts about things being complicated were pretty irrational – or alternatively, I could do something to make sure the complication was contained. For example, one night I imaged how complicated it would be to go flat hunting when not really speaking the language. I’m not sure why this particular scenario played out on my mind, but that was what it was. Of course, I could quickly challenge this by remembering how I flat hunted when moving to Spain: at the time I didn’t speak any Spanish. But after a bit of work I secured one of the nicest flats I have ever lived in. The point is, of course, that the fear is irrational: many people move without speaking the language – but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it or end up living under a bridge – or, worst, should give up on their dream. But just to be on the safe side, the next day, I also decided to look for a Portuguese course. Of course, speaking the language at least a bit will also be hand in other areas. Most importantly though, I moved forward, and didn’t let the “it will be complicated” ruin my plan.

– Best and worse case scenario
Rationally sitting down and working out the worst case and best case scenario also proved very helpful for me: Simply weighing up the potential benefits of achieving even just the main parts of my vision vs the potential worst case scenario quickly alleviated any thinking of “this is too complicated”.
In my case, it was simply a case of thinking through what would happen: It was easy to dramatically think about it in terms of “total failure” at this point. Don’t! Remember to be rational: In the worst case scenario, I would have spent a year or two taking time “out”, learning a new language, making friends and living in a place I like – before doing something else. Doesn’t sound quite so bad now, does it?
In the best case scenario… I will achieve all my goals, make my vision reality and live the life I want to live. Taking it like that meant that even in the worst case scenario I was still gaining from making the changes – so there was really no need to hold back.

– Give yourself some easy wins
Remember the planning tips from the “Lists and SWIPES: Getting towards a clear vision and designing goals” post?  … here those plans came in particularly handy: Because the tools allowed me to visualise and work on “easy wins” first, which meant I started moving towards my goal, I managed to gain more confidence. In fact, some of those wins can really boost your confidence.
Here is an example of an easy win: One of the seemingly complicated problems was simply getting a bank account sorted. Not really complicated at all with hindsight – but I felt it was complicated. Mostly, because in Portugal you need a tax number to open it. This felt like a massive task: going to a tax office, registering etc etc … I don’t know about you, but I have a chronic fear of anything to do with tax offices, officials and that sort of thing (mostly unfounded, I know!). You can imagine how quickly this would have turned into a massive list to stop everything. Eventually, during my stay in July, I decided to take the issue, and after morning class went directly to the tax office to register. Of course, I had imagined it to be massively complicated, and having to deal with a grumpy tax inspector and so forth… but actually it wasn’t half as bad. I also challenged myself to do this in Portuguese to give myself an easy win: So I prepared what I would say, looked up the words I’d likely need before hand – and walked into the tax office to get the number. As you can imagine, none of my “complicated issues” actually came true: There wasn’t a massive queue, instead, I was in and out within 30 minutes. The person wasn’t a grumpy person, but a really friendly woman who loved the fact that I made an effort to speak Portuguese (even if that meant pointing and gesticulating at some points)… and actually, when I cam out I felt massively more confident: not just had I “beaten” my fear of officials, I also proved that I could do it in Portuguese!

– Remind yourself of the goal
Another strategy was to simply visualise the goal again… and ask myself the question: will this simple “complication” really stop me? Keeping fixated on the goal helped enormously to put things into perspective, especially when combined with one of the other tools above. Consulting the lists again, the vision and imagining the outcome, in full “technicolour” … how it would feel, smell and sound like when I succeeded quickly alleviated any “it is too complicated” feeling.

– Immerse yourself
It is generally true that what is different is often seen with suspicion. Even if that “different” happens to be what you really want. Just think of a dish you don’t know what it is: many people would rather forgo the chance that to taste it, than to try it. Obviously, moving to a different country means a lot of “unknown dishes” – and not just in a culinary sense. The strategy I came up with was simply to introduce more and more things from the “unknown” into my life: I started reading the English newspapers published in Portugal. I started to look for Portuguese restaurants… listen to Portuguese radio stations. All of these were simple steps that made the unknown much more familiar – even before I was there.

– Talk
I also benefited a lot by talking to other people about the plans I had made: it actually had effects on three levels: Firstly it helped to clarify my own vision as I was explaining it to my friends and family. Secondly, it meant that often I discovered how many people had friends or stories which contributed to helping me refine the ideas and options. One friend, for example, made a similar move a few years back: talking to him was really helpful. Thirdly, by talking about it, I meant that I was increasingly publicly committing myself to doing it – making it more difficult to stop the process.
Also remember to talk to other people openly about your plan – and what it means for them: For example, some of my friends appeared fearful that moving would mean I would never see them again. I immediately challenged that by inviting them to come and visit me in Lisbon. For others, the move meant potential delays: For example, I have some co-authors and my publisher who are waiting for manuscripts. Talking openly to them allowed us to establish a time plan together and put their mind to rest, that, although I’m moving, I will still follow through on my commitments.

– Allow yourself time, but don’t stand still
An other important point was to allow myself a balanced time frame: making major life changes doesn’t happen overnight. But equally they don’t happen if you put them off. Sometimes time works in your favour: for example, I needed to give four months notice to quit my job. That time helped me to immerse myself, and prepare for the move etc… It would maybe have been easy to stand still at this point and simply work out the notice period, then start the move in quiet and… you can imagine. The trick for me was to keep the pressure strong enough to keep me moving forward: that meant working out the notice period while intensifying the language learning, moving preparations and so forth. In the end, that meant I never stood still waiting for something to happen – but I was continually moving towards my goal.

In the end, these strategies worked miracles for me to avoid thinking “it is too complicated” – and simply retreating into my comfort zone. I hope they are helpful for you when you are making important changes to your life. Remember: it always feels easier to to the same thing over and over again, to stay in your comfort zone – and all else will always feel complicated. But in the end, you can’t win by standing still. Accepting that feeling of complication is key to getting ahead. In fact, there isn’t anything new that isn’t at least a bit “complicated”. So embrace complications … and you’ll see just how many complications are just like hot air.