3 Times Simplicity Can Ruin Your Success Plans

UPDATED: June 1, 2017
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2017

Simplicity seems enticing. We dread the idea of reading instruction manuals, wading through piles of paperwork and devoting hours upon hours to research. These complex, time-consuming tasks just add work to our days.

We often prefer to take the simplest, most streamlined path to success. However, this route isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, there are certain scenarios in which it can be downright lethal.

Here are three particular situations in which simplicity can give the kiss of death to our success plans—and how we can make complexity our ally instead.

Related: 34 Things You Need to Know About Becoming Successful

Situation 1: “I don’t have any time for distractions.”

When facing a tight deadline, you might try to avoid being sidetracked. What you don’t realize, though, is that a sidetracked, wandering mind can actually be quite productive if you deliberately build it into your day.

When you focus, focus, focus all day long without taking a break, you deplete your brain and cause it to slip into a biased, less helpful state. It becomes too tired to accomplish the original tasks you set out to complete.

Accidental daydreaming will not help you achieve productivity, either, but studies show that deliberate mind-wandering can.

The solution: Don’t respond to time challenges with a one-track mind that intends to remain constantly focused until the task is complete. Instead, consciously mix up work and play. Take pre-scheduled breaks to embrace being unfocused. Allow yourself to acknowledge all aspects of your life.

There’s a big difference between unplanned distractions and planned distractions. Only one will keep you sane. For that reason, alternate between focused and unfocused over the course of a stress-filled day to help manage energy utilization in your brain.

Situation 2: “Let’s get to the bottom line.”

Bottom-line thinking offers deceptive simplicity. How often have you wished that someone would stop vacillating and simply make a decision? Although there are certain situations that might require a snappy, straightforward response, research shows that aiming quickly to “get to the point” is actually counterproductive—it might turn your brain off.

Impatience disrupts the incubation time necessary for producing creative solutions to complex problems. Also called the need for cognitive closure (NFCC), bottom-line thinking can negatively affect decision-making and creativity. For example, one study revealed that obstetricians and gynecologists would forget to ask important clinical questions during well-woman exams when they expressed high levels of NFCC.

Related: 5 Things Successful People Don’t Do

The solution: Resist your brain’s natural aversion to uncertainty and desire for closure. When you jump to conclusions too quickly, you risk missing the forest for the trees and, in turn, ignoring vital information that should drive your decision-making.

For this reason, be discerning about when to exercise NFCC. When you hit a wall or are under time constraints, consider building in time for open exploration that provides you with an opportunity to reveal what a brain-wearing, proverbial blinker would overlook.

Situation 3: “Let’s just stick to the original plan.”

Doesn’t it feel great when a plan falls into place? This feeling can provide the exact fuel we need to find our motivation and hit the ground running. However, along the way, what happens when you realize your brilliant plans are no longer relevant?

Although you should re-evaluate things, the simplest option is to keep going. You might elect to avoid the delay of starting back at square one and cross your fingers, wishing that you would still achieve some level of success.

But even if you do hit some of your goals, you might have lowered the bar and compromised your full potential by prematurely closing the doors of opportunity and settling for simplicity. Emotional burnout and intolerance to uncertainty are two main reasons why we allow ourselves to accept less successful outcomes.

The solution: Learning how to tolerate uncertainty goes a long way. It can give you the patience needed to embrace turmoil and reach your full potential. Many successful people will tell you they had to wade through chaos in order to get to where they are. When they did, they metaphorically found a new calm beyond the storm in their minds.

Along the way, encourage yourself with self-talk. Studies show that speaking to yourself in the second person will increase your confidence.

There are two broad ways in which you can view “simplicity”: It can either be a path of least resistance that leads to a superficial solution, or it can be something that emerges after a deep (and sometimes chaotic) dive that leads to a thoughtful, thorough solution.

To turn the success wheel in life, your best bet is to switch gears between “focused” and “unfocused.” Although focus is essential to success, planning distractions, building phases of curiosity and openness into your day, and being prepared to tolerate uncertainty are all essential mindset shifts that will help you get the most out of your brain and harness your full potential.

Related: 4 Changes You Can Make to Reach Your Full Potential


Srini Pillay, M.D., is the CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and the award-winning author of numerous books, including Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind, Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear, and Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders. He also serves as a part-time assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and teaches in the Executive Education Program at Harvard Business School. Recently, Srini created a series of videos on “Managing Depression in the Workplace” for LinkedIn Learning.