How to simplify your life

woman with lightbulb above her head


Have you ever looked at your kids and thought why can’t my life be that simple? Well, according to Richard Gerver, author, former head teacher and leadership guru, maybe looking at the world like a five year old could help you.

His new book, Simple Thinking, addresses the problems caused by overthinking and too much complexity in our daily lives.

The dad of two starts by mentioning his own sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ when he started out in the world of work. He says that ever since he has been fascinated by the perception of success and the belief that it must somehow be complex and only attainable by a “rare, superhuman few”.  To young children, success is much more simple, he says. Children generally just get on and do things and don’t know that there are things they can’t or shouldn’t do.

Gerver says: “Our perceptions of success and its complexity can hamper our potential to be more, to be better and, most importantly, to be happier. As we grow and evolve, something happens along the way that fills so many with a sense of doubt.”

That sense of doubt has led to people never having the confidence to meet their potential or follow their passion, he states.

He writes: “Without a doubt, childhood is the most successful part of most of our lives. We learn, evolve and develop at such extraordinary rates. Most of us look back to those times with huge affection, remembering happier times, laughter, learning and play.”

Back to basics

So how do you simplify your life? Gerver advises taking things back to basics, rediscovering what made you happy as a child and reflecting on what your idea of success is and how much of it is actually yours and how much it comes from other people’s expectations and ideas.

He advises trusting your own instincts on what you find interesting and follow it; listing what you can do rather than overthinking what you can’t; be open minded; focus; questioning something every day so that curiosity becomes a habit; enjoying life rather than just seeking to survive it; and not being afraid to fail.

In order to succeed, he says, you need to understand what you want. It’s a simple enough proposition, but how many of us stop to think about that after becoming bogged down in busy family and working lives? Time tends to get taken up with reacting to events rather than being creative and proactive. Gerver advises developing time management and prioritisation skills in order to be able to block out distractions and maximise productivity.

It’s not easy,though, he acknowledges. It involves a certain degree of willpower, a willingness to be challenged, receive critical feedback and act on it; the ability to really listen to others and treat them with respect; and having the courage to step out of your comfort zone and to be authentic so people know you mean what you say. It also involves surrounding yourself with a network of the right people who will support what you are trying to achieve and being prepared to find new people as you develop and evolve.


Gerver cites his own experience of working with leaders in industry. He says what has struck him about those who are successful, however they define it, is their relentless optimism, founded on their resilience and persistence. Another point he stresses is that success is not about wealth and fame – these are generally by-products of success. Indeed, he says none of the successful people he has dealt with in business, sport and entertainment said they did what they did because of fame and wealth. Yet many of those who failed to achieve their potential were “blinded and diverted by obsessing with those objectives and, as a result, never fulfilled their ability, potential or, more importantly, feelings of success”.

Apart from optimism, Gerver says there are practical things you can do to achieve your aims once you know what the overall picture is. Breaking down those aims into clear bite-size chunks is useful and keeping a journal can help you to plot your progress forward, as can taking control of issues that you have been setting aside or ignoring.

Finally, says Gerver, “if you are really stuck or don’t know what to do or how to deal with something, ask yourself this: What would the five-year-old me have done. Simple!”

*Simple Thinking: how to remove complexity from life and work by Richard Gerver is published by Capstone, price £10.99.

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