Entropy: the reason our lives become more chaotic and how to combat it

“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life because everything is pulling you to be more and more complex.”

Yvon Chouinard

Why is it that our lives seem to get more complex, more problematic and difficult as we get older? Whenever it comes to moving home we have somehow accumulated an amount of possessions that seems unreasonable for one person to use let alone own. No matter how many times we do laundry, almost no time has passed before we have to do it again. And something is always requiring our time and attention to be fixed or tended too.

The problem we face is overcoming entropy and unfortunately, entropy is the natural progression of life.

What is entropy?

Entropy is the inevitable and steady deterioration towards disorder. Left untended, our lives will always become more disorderly. Homes will be come untidy. Gardens will become wild. Dishes will need washing. Relationships will deteriorate. Muscles will atrophy.

Chaos vs. order

Entropy in our daily lives could be better described as disorder or chaos. Even though entropy means our world naturally slides towards chaos we can combat by inciting order.

We can tidy messy homes. Tend wild gardens. Wash dirty dishes. Repair broken relationships. Workout weak muscles.

Trying to create order does not mean reaching a place where we have zero problems to solve or that we have nothing to do on our todo lists. It’s about making sure that we don’t keep reinventing the wheel of daily life but instead free up our time and resources towards things that can provide greater contribution.

For order to work best we need to design systems and routines that not only reliably produce successful outcomes but that can be also upheld even in the the face of problems and inevitable draw of entropy.

Think about the person who vows to write every day for 30 days. They start off strong, but things begin to feel a little uninspiring somewhere around day 14. Sheer willpower, however, keeps them going for a few more days. Then all of a sudden, they get really sick on day 18. On top of that, a friend calls with a serious emergency. So now they have to get out of bed when they really should be resting and drive across town to help their friend. While on their way, they get a flat tire. The flat tire incident eats up half the afternoon. Don’t forget the part about them being sick. By the time they make it to their friend’s place, do all the things a good friend would do, and make it back home, they feel like dying. Exhausted, they collapse into bed. Writing streak broken.

Who wouldn’t understand, right? You’d have to be a total jerk to expect that person to produce on a day like that, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

The problem with the above scenario wasn’t the existence of problems. The problem was that problems weren’t programmed into the plan.

This person’s system for writing every single day was designed to work only on non-emergency and non-sick days. This isn’t a lazy person. It’s an ineffective system. It’s ineffective because it only works under conditions when life is fair, or when things go well, or when there aren’t any crazy surprises.

T. K. Coleman

When it comes to implementing a new routine in our lives we need to factor in that problems will happen. Disaster will strike when we least expect it.

Another way of viewing it is preparation. Being prepared doesn’t mean things will turn out the way you want, but rather you are bolstered for what comes. The best defence is a good offence.

Some of the ways I implement order in my own life are: my time through my calendar, eating through a meal plan and finances through a budget. So when the inevitable chaos hits (and it will!), I have a structure to buffer me against it. 

Because there will be days when an event crops up but by having slack in my calendar I can fit it in if need be or shuffle things around. There will be days when I get home late and don’t want to cook, but instead of splurging on takeout I can pull a meal from the freezer. There will be days when something breaks or gets stolen, but having an emergency budget to cover it will ease the stress.

This is where the benefit of keeping a smaller life comes in. There are simply less moving parts and as any good engineer knows, the less moving parts, the less there is that can go wrong. The simpler our needs and by proxy the simpler our systems the more successful outcomes we can have even in the face of inevitable problems.

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