Give Confusion the Slip and Cultivate Clarity

Give Confusion the Slip and Cultivate Clarity
Cultivate Clarity
Nicholas Gardens c. 1970 – 1990, John O Friend (1920 -) photographer via State Library Victoria.

Having had a recent temper tantrum when confronted by refrigerator chaos resulting in an inability to find an open packet of bacon, I realised that it was time to restore order and cultivate clarity.

When I think of clarity, I think of the characteristic of clearness, such as you see in crystal clear lakes and pools in nature. What I mean when I say clarity, is more along the lines of leaving no room for doubt, a complete lack of ambiguity.

Cultivate Clarity

According to Deepak Chopra, the lack of clarity is a direct result of internal confusion, distraction and disorganisation. You don’t set priorities, so you can’t focus on them, or think about them in a way that guarantees you will complete them. To create clarity, you have to set priorities, focus on them and do the important things first.

While the externals like a messy house, an overflowing to-do list, people and animals clamouring for attention don’t help, fixing them doesn’t automatically generate clarity. The secret is to learn to discipline your mind (through meditation) and learn to sink below the surface issues to focus on the important things.


If clarity comes from setting priorities, then we are back to goal setting. Or perhaps in the case of the missing bacon, a more disciplined approach to shopping and cooking.

I feel that modern goal setting focuses too much on rational thought (SMART goals), and not enough on passion (HARD goals), or just becoming more than you were (Better goals). Don’t get me wrong, I am a Philosopher at heart and therefore live according to reason (missing bacon being the exception that proves the rule). But I can’t live on reason alone, or I wouldn’t share my life with dogs or DB. Not would I live in nature. And so on. And any goal is probably better than no goal.

Rational thought does have its place in life, but it is not a useful motivational tool – for that, you need your Virtues and your big picture vision. They guide you as you choose what happens next.


While fixing the externals might not matter when you cultivate clarity, they do matter for focus – anyone who has ever tried to do anything remotely productive when a pet or child wants something can tell you that.

Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, argue in The One Thing (affiliate link), that the secret of achieving extraordinary results is focussing on ONE Thing. And they offer a focusing question “What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” The one thing that you can do right now to leverage your effort towards your goal.

Because it’s a business book, it doesn’t include things like feeding creatures, putting the washing away, or finding the bacon. But if they are stealing your focus, then I would argue that the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary, is those things. But then you need to ask yourself that question again and at some sooner rather than later point in time, get back to work on your goals.


Organisation is putting yourself in the best place to achieve your goals. I’m currently reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work (affiliate link), and he argues that you aren’t going to get any Deep Work (or your One Thing) done if you don’t create a scheduling system to support you to get it done. That might be:

  • Monastic: eliminate all or most distractions; be hard to contact, so that you have uninterrupted time to get work done.
  • Bimodal: split your time between contactable and not contactable. Be like Carl Jung, live and work for income in the City for part of the year, and live in your country retreat the rest of the year so that you can get the deep work done uninterrupted. Or you could batch your work, and focus on one thing each day6.
  • Rhythmic: do some work every day, like Jerry Seinfeld who famously writes a joke a day.
  • Journalistic: do the work when you can fit it in. For very experienced concentrators who work in on/off industries (like journalists).

I’ve been experimenting with the rhythmic approach and failed dismally, so I think it’s time for me to go back to a bimodal batching. But I’d like to go bimodal one day, maybe even monastic.

Achieving Clarity

Clarity is not a thing that you do once and tick it off your list; it’s a choice that you make every moment of every day. Sometimes clarity matters (like when you are driving) and sometimes it doesn’t (when you are watching reality tv). So here are my tips to cultivate clarity when you need it:

  • Know what you want to achieve.
  • Manage your long and short-term focus thieves.
  • Maintain a tidy, or at least organised home or workplace.
  • Develop habits that support your focus and organisation.
  • Be difficult to interrupt, and don’t interrupt yourself once you get started.
  • Meditate, eat healthy food, get some exercise and high-quality sleep.

Is there anything else you think is important? Let me know in the comments below.

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