Complexity: The Killer Of Contentment

“Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment,” said John Stott.

Whether it is a toppling stack of bills to be paid, an ungainly balance sheet to be managed, an overflowing email inbox to be processed, or a packed calendar to be hurried through, complexity rarely leads to a state of contentment. Have you noticed that?

Even if your bills are manageable, your balance sheet is well in the green, your inbox is filled with opportunity, and your calendar is populated by compelling people, it’s often hard to find peace in the midst of more, more, more.

There’s a reason—or reasons, really—why this is the case. Among them, the pursuit of more is inherently stressful, and that stress has a negative impact on the brain, even to include higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Furthermore, even peak performers only have so much peak performance to spend every day—around four-to-five hours. So trying to force ourselves to achieve much more peak performance ironically leads to lesser performance.

No, I’m not recommending we should only be working four hours a day, but I do think that if we have more than four or five meetings or complex tasks that require us to be at our sharpest on any given day, we’ll likely reach a point of diminishing returns. Indeed, you, like me, have likely attempted to do this many times, only to find yourself feeling surprisingly unsatisfied at the end of one of those stereotypical “long days.”

What I am recommending, therefore, is that you acknowledge your best effort is an exhaustible resource and that asking less of yourself is likely the key to accomplishing more.

Speaking of diminishing returns, I believe a similar syndrome takes place in financial planning as well. Most of us trained as comprehensive financial planners were taught to create comprehensive financial plans—only to learn that, however satisfying it was for us to hear the thud of a 100-page plan on the board room table, our clients’ eyes glazed over about three pages in.

And that brilliantly articulated, categorized list of 37 recommendations? It inspired a counter-intuitive lack of action or traction with our clients. We actually created an obstacle to action, more than a vehicle. It’s hard to admit this, I know, but the good news is that we can do better.

That’s why I think the departed English theologian, John Stott, was onto something when he said, “Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment.”

So, how do we simplify financial planning? Once you’ve done the most important work of finding purpose in your planning, expect less of yourself, more often. Instead of a plan that strives to dictate your financial path for the next 30 years, focus instead on accomplishing no more than three things rooted in your personal purpose over the next 12 months.

Creating a more achievable shorter-term plan is a huge step toward enhancing adherence in whatever you set out to accomplish, according to Dr. Moira Somers, author of Advice That Sticks, a must read for every financial advisor. And this is true whether you’re a do-it-yourself-er or an experienced advisor working with the most sophisticated high-net-worth clientele.

Contentment is worth it. In fact, I’d argue contentment is the highest aim any of us could hope for in financial planning. More is relative and insatiable. Contentment, while not opposed to future progress, is enough for today.

Originally published on

More about the author: Tim Maurer

Tim Maurer, CFP®, RLP® is Head of Wealth Management for Triad Financial Advisors. A graduate of Towson University, Tim taught financial planning at his alma mater for seven years. He is a CNBC contributor and also writes for Forbes.

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