The Only Mental Model You Need to Simplify Your Life
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” — Confucius
“The simplest explanation is usually the right one.”
You’ve probably heard it before.
Which is why many successful people swear by the same routines, productivity systems, and investment strategies.
Even detectives use this principle to deduce who’s the likeliest suspect in a murder case.
Doctors use it to determine the illness behind a set of symptoms.
The Occam’s Razor
“Most geniuses — especially those who lead others — prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.” — Andy Benoit
The Occam’s Razor is a logical principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician, theologian and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham.
Ockham was the village in the English county of Surrey where he was born.
It is often called “ the principle of parsimony”.
It underlies all scientific modeling, and theory building, admonishing us to choose the simplest from a set of otherwise equivalent models of possible solutions.
Occam’s razor is used in logic and problem-solving.
It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but — in the absence of differences in predictive ability — the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.”
The principle states that“Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.”
In explaining the principle, William of Ockham said, “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.”
Occam’s razor is based on the notion that simplicity equals perfection.
Simply stated it means — all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best.
There are two parts that are considered the basis of Occam’s razor, and they were originally written in Latin:
The Principle of Plurality — Plurality should not be posited without necessity.
The Principle of Parsimony — It is pointless to do with more what is done with less.
William used the Occam’s razor principle to justify many conclusions, including the statement that “God’s existence cannot be deduced by reason alone.” That one didn’t make him very popular with the Pope.
The principle is often cited in stronger forms than Occam intended.
These are a few statements that support the Occam’s Razor:
“If you have two theories that both explain the observed facts, then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along.”
“The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be accurate than more complicated explanations.”
“If you have two equally likely solutions to a problem, choose the simplest.”
“The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.”
“Keep things simple!”
Many scientists have adopted or reinvented Occam’s Razor.
Isaac Newton stated the rule: “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”
In his book, “Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking advocates for Occam’s razor and says:
“We could still imagine that there is a set of laws that determines events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it. However, such models of the universe are not of much interest to us mortals. It seems better to employ the principle known as Occam’s razor and cut out all the features of the theory that cannot be observed.”
Successful theorists often speak of symmetry and beauty as well as simplicity.
In 1939 Paul Dirac, an English theoretical physicist who is regarded as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century, wrote:
“The research worker, in his effort to express the fundamental laws of Nature in mathematical form, should strive mainly for mathematical beauty.
The Occam’s razor principle goes back as far as Aristotle, who said, “The more perfect a nature is, the fewer means it requires for its operation”
Occam’s razor is also used in a wide variety of ways throughout the world as a means to slice through a problem or situation and eliminate unnecessary elements.
In design, Occam’s Razor encourages designers to eliminate unnecessary elements that would decrease efficiency and customer engagement.
So, when two products or designs have the same function, Occam’s Razor recommends selecting the simpler.
In investing, simplicity has proven to be the best way to long-term success.
Warren Buffett says even though the difficult complex behaviour is rewarded in higher education, simplicity is more effective in real life. He says:
The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective….We haven’t succeeded because we have some great, complicated systems or magic formulas we apply or anything of the sort. What we have is just simplicity itself.
In Buffet’s 1990 letter to shareholders, he wrote –
After 25 years of buying and supervising a great variety of businesses, Charlie and I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we have learned is to avoid them. To the extent we have been successful, it is because we concentrated on identifying one-foot hurdles that we could step over rather than because we acquired any ability to clear seven-footers. The finding may seem unfair, but in both business and investments it is usually far more profitable to simply stick with the easy and obvious than it is to resolve the difficult.
Remember the KISS principle
The KISS principle is probably one of the best principles in design that finds its origins in Occam’s razor, and other minimalist concepts including, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, Mies Van Der Rohe’s “Less is more”, Bjarne Stroustrup’s “Make Simple Tasks Simple!”, or Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s “It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.
KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” as a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960.
The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
The phrase has been associated with aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson (1910–1990). The term “KISS principle” was in popular use by 1970.
Variations on the phrase include:
“Keep it simple, silly”, “keep it short and simple”, “keep it simple and straightforward”, “keep it small and simple” and “keep it stupid simple”.
In painting, Quang Ho advocates for simplicity.
He once said, “You can paint an entire painting with one stroke.”
It’s amazing how much you can do with a single stroke of the paintbrush.
Vincent van Gogh asks, “How difficult is it to be simple.”
Simple systems have fewer points of failure.
Multiple pieces of research have shown again and again that the human brain is not optimized for multitasking especially when you are working on complicated and unfamiliar tasks.
In all pursuits, focus on the important things that bring the most results.
Remember the Pareto Principle — “80% of your profits come from 20% of your activities.”
Focused attention on the basics is the key to high performance.
When a problem looks complex, dig deeper and master it until you can strip everything that makes it complex, and find your solution in the simple way possible.
Masters reach simplicity.
Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
As a society, we typically make the complicated commonplace, but geniuses strive to make the complex simple.
A simple approach to life
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” ~E.F. Schumacher
The Occam’s razor principle is a gentle reminder to shave away complex principles, ideologies, systems, and extraneous assumptions to make way for the simple truth to run our lives.
Whatever you intend to achieve this year, pursue a few repeated actions and witness the power of compounding deliver amazing results.
A micro-habit is a small, simple action that doesn’t require much motivation, but will help you build up to a larger goal habit.
This is the Japanese process of kaizen, or continuous, gradual progress.
Kaizen can be used to build new habits, pursue new goals, or change bad behaviours.
This year, learn to step back and think about what’s important in your life.
Learn to spend time doing the most important things that advance your vision and dreams instead of the things that have naturally come to fill your life.
Forget about complicated schedules that steal your time and focus on what’s really important.
Make a list of your top three important things for the next four week or three months. What’s most important to you? What do you value most?
Simplifying starts with these priorities.
Look at everything you’ve got going on in your life.
Everything, from work to home to hobbies to side projects.
Which of these things really give you value and make you a better person.
Drop everything else and focus on achieving your important things in a specific time and stick to it.
You could also divide your tasks into must-dos and want-dos, and eliminate everything else.
Or better still, make a list of important and urgent tasks every week. And focus on important actions instead of reacting to every urgent demand on your time.
Ask yourself: will these actions matter tomorrow, next month, or even a year from now? Do this to avoid wasting time on everything brings little or no meaning to your life.
Once you have identified your crucial actions, establish routines around them.
Life is simpler when you satisfy yourself and meet your own expectations.
Embrace simplicity on your own terms.