Serenity by Understanding Social Systems and Chaos Theory


Welcome! Yesterday was a Monday. In the past, Mondays for me have been a big source of anxiety, e.g. the worry about the coming work week, the overdue items that didn’t get done last week, and the problems that always seem to emerge on any given Monday. Yesterday served itself up as a luscious dessert tray of problems. In the past I would have been frustrated by a day like that.

A few months ago I made a drastic change that, when followed, has effectively removed all stress from Mondays:  I stopped taking other people’s inventory.

It all started many years ago. To help understand this transformation, let me start by presenting a few questions:

  • Does my life feel like I live in constant chaos, leading to anxiety?
  • Do I feel overwhelmed with the thought that nothing is going according to plan?
  • Have I dedicated myself to getting things under control?
  • Do I believe that once I have control, I’ll feel better?

In my old way of thinking, I answer yes to all of the above. However, the more I try to control and manage things the more chaotic things feel to me. That is, until I change my focus from solving problems for others to solving my problems. By putting myself first I effectively reduce chaos in my life. The more I focus on myself and trust others to take care of themselves, the more serenity I experience and the less chaotic the world seems to me.

To understand why this is, I offer the following analysis. In this analysis I have taken a lot of liberty with System Theory and Chaos Theory. The basis of this analysis comes from the idea that situations, people, and organizations operate as self-defining systems. These systems adhere to agreed-upon Social Dynamics that are contributed to by everyone in the system. A Social Dynamic is defined by the behavior of a group that results from the interactions of individual group members operating under a set of defined social norms.

According to Chaos Theory, for something to be considered chaotic it has to have three properties. Here is how I define those mathematical properties for a social system. A social system is chaotic when —

  1. Things that happened in the past have a big impact in the system.
  2. Seemingly unrelated issues, people, or situations have an impact in the system.
  3. The entire system is sensitive to even the smallest input. Even if you managed to resolve things into a stable state, the slightest perturbation, the tiniest change, could cause a drastic change at some unpredictable time in the future.

So, I can avoid Chaos in my life by not contributing to Social Dynamics in ways that make these properties true. Since I can only control myself, I must focus fully on my part in the system and ensure that my attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are not contributing to the chaos. I must not focus on others. To help me see how I contribute to Social Dynamics to create chaos I have drawn several conclusions about my past behavior.

  • I have concluded that by focusing on the past, I create chaos. Anytime I’m looking to assign blame, get credit, obtain an apology, punish, justify, judge, or defend my actions, I’m giving power to the past. I’m adding to the impact of the past on the current moment. I’m setting up the initial conditions for chaos.
  • I have concluded that by trying to be the fixer, I am driven to try to solve the biggest problem I can. To prove my own worth to myself I keep signing up for more and more complex problems. The larger and more complex the problem, the more chaos I am inviting into my life.
  • I have concluded that by trying control the state of the system through force of my will, I am in constant conflict with all of the small and relatively small inputs. I put all my energy into trying to control minute details. Since I cannot manage to address all the small things that can possibly create problems, have an impact, or force a change, I create Chaos through my very attempts.

So my goal is to avoid acting in ways that perpetuate the chaos. I have found through therapy, study, and spiritual practice three techniques to avoid the problematic behaviors. By following these techniques I will reduce chaos in my life.

  1. I will approach my work based on the current moment, avoiding and limiting conversations that would have me DREJJ  (D)efending my actions, (R)ationalizing why something was done, over (E)xplaining, have me (J)ustifying myself or others, or offering up my (J)udgements of past behaviors of others.
  2. I will work to just solve the smallest possible problem in front of me, not trying to affect too many things, people, or situations at once.
  3. I will detach myself from the current state of the system. I am only one person in the system and my part is to help the system be more healthy by focusing on myself and controlling my own behavior to my highest and best. I will strive to let go of minor details and issues and focus on only my problems, taking responsibility only for my own outcomes.

When I am not implementing these techniques, I am effectively trying to win the Boston Marathon by running on a treadmill at the starting line. The miles tick by, but the scenery never changes. I think I have to keep running or I will get left behind. I don’t look down into the current moment to realize I am not going anywhere. It feels like the entire system is chaotic, when really its a self-created state of mind.

I remember a moment many years ago where I had an indication of how I create chaos in my life. One day a friend of mine said, “Dave, you predicted this situation would happen. Why are you angry about it?”

It would take me many more years to understand the depth of that question. The realization that has come to me in my life today is that in order for me to have success, I have to let go of attachment to outcome. Buddha’s comments about anger being based on attachment to outcome make more and more sense to me.

I have to let go of the idea that coming in on any given Monday, I can fix things for other people or have them fix things for me. I have to let go of my fantasy that by focusing on other people, I can improve my life, happiness, and joy. I have learned that I need to —

  • stop taking other people’s inventory
  • decide what is inside my control and what is not
  • determine what things I am going to commit to doing and do them
  • maintain my work life balance

When I abandon myself in an attempt to fix other people, I enter into the stream of chaos, losing myself in what feels like an unpredictable storm of events, a world where I cannot find happiness, serenity, or success, no matter how hard I seem to try. When I lose myself in Social Dynamics that do not serve my highest and best, I am effectively allowing myself to live in Chaos.

Today I desire a simpler existence where I do not create chaos in my life.

Thank you for coming to my blog today. I appreciate you. Go today with my love. I am on your posse.

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