We all have a desire for order.
When we were born, we cried naturally when something happened that surprised us unduly. When the shock was too much, we burst into tears. Crying has a biological purpose: it releases soothing and pain-killing hormones, and sends a signal to those around us that we need help (see this link). So our first chaos management strategy was to cry. Crying is a temporary help, but not a very good longer-term solution.
As we get older, we retain the ability to be shocked and worried by lack of order. This doesn’t necessarily make us tidy our rooms! In fact, we often get a perverse sense of order from leaving things exactly where they naturally fall. Hoarders, for instance, can experience their particular mess as a kind of comforting order of things, even though others might see an unbearable mess.
The problem here is that we get addicted to familiarity. Familiarity and order are not the same thing. We can be very familiar with our own local messes. Thus, individuals indulge in chaotic relationships, chaotic lifestyles, and chaotic ways of thinking. They are not mad. They are just familiar with the thought patterns that lead to such chaos. They perform the familiar patterns, and then, when those familiar behaviour patterns lead to chaos, they experience acute discomfort.
How can we keep chaos under control, if we are sometimes addicted to behaviour patterns which give rise to it?
Here are three suggestions, if you find chaos arising in your life:
#1 – GENERATE A PEACEFUL MIND
It’s not chaos itself that causes distress; it’s the mind’s inability to deal with it. Chaos can represent uncertainty, and therefore risk. The mind can become overwhelmed with the number of changes in, and permutations of, outcome. Although we cannot eliminate the uncertainty in life, we can learn to roll with the waves.
One of the best ways to generate a peaceful mind is, you guessed it, meditation. It works by training the mind to retain clear-sightedness and flexibility even when things change. More than that, we learn to expect change, and to a large degree cease to be surprised by it.
#2 – PREFER CHOICES WHICH LIMIT UNCERTAINTY
If you have difficulty with the uncertainty that chaos brings, then learn to choose options which are more likely to result in periods of stability. Examples might include:
- When in the middle of an argument, distance yourself from it for a while, so as to provide time and space. This increases the stability of the situation.
- When choosing accommodation, pick somewhere which is cheap enough for you to live without too much financial trouble. This reduces the possibility of disruption.
- When making appointments, allow a buffer of time before and afterwards. This reduces the likelihood of sudden logistical problems.
Mental health problems, such as anxiety, can be made worse by choosing unwise options which eventually lead to an increase in uncertainty, and ultimately make chaos more likely. Safe and peaceful planning can be a good tool to enhance wellbeing.
#3 – DEVELOP ROUTINES
Routines are extra-special strategies, because they have a two-fold effect.
- Routines help our inner minds, because they train us to expect a particular sequence of events. This is very calming, and conducive to self-development.
- Routines help our outer circumstances, because they train our environment to interact with us in particular ways. If a shop opens from 9 until 5, customers learn to arrive within those times. Be like a shop.
In summary, we all have a preference to keep chaos within manageable bounds. This is evident from the moment we were born, when we cried if things surprised us too much. Crying, though, isn’t a great long-term option.
As we get older, certain behaviours become familiar. Unfortunately, familiarity and order are not the same thing, and some of our familiar behaviours increase, not decrease, chaos in the long run.
These are three good ways of managing chaos:
- Train our minds to be clear-minded and flexible, even when things change. Meditation is an excellent tool for this.
- Make relational, space and time decisions which increase stability and reduce pressure.
- Develop personal routines. These calm our inner minds, as well as teaching the outer world to fit in with the regular patterns we have established.
It takes a bit of effort, because we are used to our familiar ways, but through meditation, good decisions, and good routines, we can begin to reduce unnecessary chaos in our lives.