Calm in the chaos: The power of accepting entropy in our lives
I love how "sudden realisation" can come upon us randomly whilst we go about our days. Yesterday was no exception. I had taken the kids cycling around our area earlier in the morning and was putting the bikes and helmets into their “place” in the garage. It dawned on me how much energy I willingly exert making sure things are relatively organised and well looked after in my home and work life, especially when compared to my childhood self. The gas braai (barbeque) has its home, as do the tools, the garden equipment, the toiletries and the kitchenware. At work, there are files and folders and lists. Despite our best intentions, no matter how hard we try, the moment we take our focus away from order, things seem to quickly move towards disorder. An insurance company in the UK (Esure) did a study of 3000 adults and concluded that the average person spends about 10 minutes every day of their lives looking for things! Keys, cellphones, wallets, paperwork and hairbrushes are just some of the offending agents, amounting to over 150 days of our lives spent in flustered searching. I'm sure we are all well acquainted with the fictional “Sock Island”, where socks once part of a happy pair mysteriously migrate to. What about our email inboxes, the endless WhatsApp groups and other social media profiles we may have that require attention? How much energy do they take from us, especially in a world where people expect instant responses?
Child-like spontaneity, comfort and calm in the chaos Lost in thought, I watched my children running into the garden with free abandon. I marvelled at how organic children are in their behaviours and how they love having fun and being spontaneous. Compared to adults, they not only tend towards disorder, they embrace it. Ask any parent how much energy it takes to get children to pick up their clothes or tidy up the playroom. Reward charts for doing chores are often required to teach them the value of putting energy into structure and order! Being responsible as an adult often means accepting accountablity and embracing order to fulfill some duty or obligation. We love the vibrance of children and often wish that as adults we could live our lives with more of that energy.
This need for order in adults can lead to feelings of worry, stress and anxiety which negatively affects our work lives and our overall happiness. So, what does this all mean? Well, it is clear to see that problems and disorder are a natural aspect of everyday life. It is only through our efforts to achieve goals that it is possible to overcome problems and to hold a sense of order in place. That is, until the next problem arises. Once again, disorder reigns and the cycle of goal setting and energy input continues. If we accept that this is how life is, then why do we often wish for life to be easy, comfortable and problem-free? Why does problem-solving bring about stress? Does wanting an easy life help us or hinder us from being happier and more content in our lives? How do we balance the need for control with the need for lightness, fun or spontaneity? So many questions abound…
Life lessons from the laws of thermodynamics The first two laws of thermodynamics can be so useful to give us perspective about our energy use and the natural order of the universe as a system. The first law of thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation, states that the total energy in the universe stays constant, and goes on to explain that “energy is neither created nor destroyed but only transferred” into one form or another. The importance of this in our lives is that whilst we spend energy on worry or anxiety we could be using it for something else more beneficial. By adopting this approach, we transfer our energy to more useful actions which will bring about ordered results towards goals we set. This links with the economic principle of Opportunity Cost, which attempts to measure the economic benefit we give up by choosing one course of action versus other alternative course of action we could have chosen. How often do we stop to question whether we are using our energy as we really would like to? Do we use strong enough goals that give us a direction in which to order our energy use to achieve success in what we do? The first law of thermodynamics gives us a good reason to do so.
The second law of thermodynamics is based upon an abstract principle called ENTROPY. Entropy is a measure of disorder within a system. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy of any system always increases. The thinking, therefore, is that the universe moves towards disorder in its natural state. A simple way of thinking about entropy is that any house will naturally move towards mess, disorder or degradation over time, even with efforts to clean and tidy it. And so, the perfectionistic ideals that drive us to control our surroundings are up against an over-riding principle of the universe.
Where we try to put massive energy into order and control to have an easier life it may simply lead to obsessive thinking and hyper-focus and eventual anxiety. No matter how hard we try we cannot order the world and death is a certainty for all of us. Does that mean that we should just not care? Not at all. Peace over perfection If we want to have happy lives we must accept that problems and disorder are part of the universe and we can never achieve the perfect life. By accepting this we can focus our energy more quickly on our goals and on the efficient use of our mental and physical energy. By trying to avoid some of the natural disorder of our world in all aspects of our lives we will be “swimming upstream” and this will require huge effort, reducing our available energies and leading over the long term to a state of energy depletion. This will suck the "inner child" right out of you. I don’t know about you, but my inner child is a lively being with a high level of excitement and hope. I will hold it dear until the end of my days.