Sunday, April 5, 2009


I went to an event this weekend for Quattro University. I was thoroughly impressed by the university staff, and the speaker they had for the event was really top notch. A question came up at the very end of the presentation that really never got answered as fully as the I am sure the speaker would have liked due to time constraints. I was reminded what an important concept Complexification is, and so I thought I would discuss in this newsletter.

There are three areas in which out own judgments of ourselves can really do a lot of harm:
Competence ("Am I competent?")
Worthiness ("Am I worthy?")
Value ("Am I a Good Person?")

If you look at these and the FIRST THOUGHT that comes to mind is "Well, it depends" then good for you (although you aren't out of the woods, you DO have a head start!)

If you look at one (or more) of these as questions with 'Yes' or 'No' answers, you need to think a little more about it. You may have found a very tight spot from which you escape if you learn to Complexify.

Many of us feel, due to lessons learned from well-meaning people, that you are either competent or incompetent; either worthy (of love, for instance) or unworthy; and either good or not good. If you agree with these two options (dichotomies) on any one of the topics, we need to explore this a little more.

If you believe that these are absolute qualities, you are destined to be disappointed. Let's take for example competence. Many men feel that either people are competent or not - no middle ground - and so in order not to fall into the "incompetent" category, they behave as they believe a "competent" person would, since that is the only alternative. What does that behavior look like? Let's see:

1) When asked if they are willing to take on a special project, maybe one with an unusual importance or challenge associated with it, they say sure. Why? Because the only reason to turn something down is that you think you would fail - the very definition of incompetence.

2) When they find that the project represents an unanticipated amount of difficulty and is impacting other work they had previously committed to, they work harder - spend more time on it. They certainly don't ask for help. A competent person would NEVER ask for help - they don't need it.

3) When they find things going badly, they blame others, they claim they were tricked, they claim that the project was doomed from the start, they do many things EXCEPT ask for help or instruction. There's only one kind of person that asks for help, and they are NOT that kind of person.

4) Finally, when they are unable to complete the task, they become overwhelmed by the idea that they MUST be one of those other people - they must be incompetent. Because there are only two kinds - and they must be incompetent because they failed. Which is the signature of the incompetent.

I don't mean to pick on men, or to single out the competence dichotomy as the most severe of the three I mentioned. I am just most familiar with that one. Women certainly experience this kind of "binary" thinking too.

The destructive part is, that if you think in terms of dichotomies (only two choices that are opposites), then you almost certainly will be trapped in this kind of "mind game" that prevents you from being the thing you most want to be. People that INSIST on being competent eventually come to believe that they are incompetent just because they aren't ALWAYS competent in everything they do. Guess what happens once they believe that they are really incompetent? It limits the things they try, the things they can enjoy, and ultimately colors their world so that they feel they are "faking" it. Nobody is happy when they feel like a fake.

The same thing happens, in a slightly different way, for people that struggle with a worthiness dichotomy or a goodness dichotomy. They eventually come to believe that they are unworthy or not good, because they can't be those things in the absolute, universal, inflexible way that think they must.

Complexification is the act of replacing a dichotomy (an overly simplistic interpretation) with one that is proportionally complex.

In Complexifying, we:
1) Understand that competence is not absolute - there are degrees.

2) Understand that on some days, we will be more competent than on other days.

3) Understand that failure is not NOT incompetence; it is the first step of learning.

4) Understand that failure is not NOT incompetence; it is an essential part of building resilience.

5) Understand that it is not a good use of time to strive for extreme competence in all the things we do.

Think about these examples -
Would we call Tiger Woods incompetent if he is bad at Calculus?

Would we say Gandhi was not a good person if he only helped people in his own country?

Would we say that a stranger is unworthy of love because we don't feel love for them?

No, because these views are overly simplistic. These views could only be true if the dichotomies are true. and they aren't. Things are more complex than that, no matter what you were told.

Now is a great time to rethink them, before they cause you any more pain.

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