How to get through the Mess of Life and Leadering

Life is complex, change is constant and we are drowning in information.

It’s no surprise we feel overwhelmed at times.

So how can we get through the mess and mayhem with a little less friction and a little more ease and grace?

I’ve found developing ‘life rules’ or heuristics to help me stay above the line, means I’m more often able to choose a pathway through my overwhelm when it grips me.

In my book Becoming Antifragile, I write about why heuristics are useful…
“In a volatile, complex environment, the impacts and consequences of decisions and actions are often unintended, unclear, or opaque; we just can’t, don’t, or won’t see them.

Rules are too narrow and prescriptive to work effectively in this kind of context. Instead, we need heuristics – practical guiding principles that help us solve problems and learn more about ourselves and others.

Heuristic principles are not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect but are sufficient to reach an intermediate goal; they are rules of thumb that we know are imperfect, but that simplify things and make them easier to implement.”

So what could heuristics for life look like?

Well when St. Augustine was asked how one should behave in the world, he is said to have responded, ‘Love, and do whatever you want!’

Now he was talking about Big Love or what the Greeks called ‘agape’.

This love is the highest form of love and is contrasted with eros, or erotic love, and philia, or brotherly love. In the New Testament of the Christian faith it’s described as, the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. In other religious faiths, the understanding of agape goes beyond human-God relations and applies to everything – animals, trees, the planet. It is understood as Universal Love.

You can see that by using Universal Love as a life heuristic – as a first principle and primary perspective – we can’t go too far wrong.

I have a life rule that speaks to what Augustine is inviting us to that I call Assume Positive Intent. 

Assuming Positive Intent encourages me to tap into my belief that people are inherently good, that they are showing up with good intentions to achieve outcomes that will make a positive difference in the world, and that they are doing the best they can with what they have available to them in this moment – whether that’s time, energy, attention or emotional regulation.

It means that I don’t second guess their agenda, I don’t fall into stories around their motivation and I take the things they say at face value.

It means that I operate in a space of what I call Ridiculous Naiveté until I am shown otherwise. And if that happens, I act accordingly.

And the clue is in the word Ridiculous.

Do I believe that every person I interact with has good intentions and no ‘second’ agenda – even if it’s one that they’re not even conscious of?


But choosing to take this orientation saves me the emotional energy of trying to second guess what that agenda might be and cuts through potential drama.

In fact, it’s the most effective hack I’ve found to circumvent the dynamics of the Drama Triangle.

Because as I Assume Positive Intent, it becomes increasingly hard for others not to step into that ‘universal love’ space. It’s an invitation for them to be the person that I’m (positively) assuming they are.

And why might that be?

Well, research suggests that when we experience or observe ‘virtuous’ behaviours, it expands our horizons of possibility for ourselves and we ‘elevate’ ourselves into the invitation that the virtuous behaviours and their ‘new’ possibility offers to us.

Am I ever wrong?
For sure.

But far less than you might think.

I reckon less than 5% of the time do I have to call out behaviour that is less than ‘true’. So overall the ‘return on investment’ for my naïveté is really high – not just for the space it creates for people to step into the best version of themselves (that is always there and available), but also because of the emotional energy and drama that it saves me!

The uncomfortable truth is Ridiculous Naïveté may be the smart way to live.

My Positive Intent life heuristic is how I bring my core value of Love into the world.

I have other life heuristics that help me live my core values of Truth and Honour and I draw on them every day to help me navigate the complexities of life in as clean and clear a way as possible.

I didn’t always have them.

They’ve emerged as I’ve ‘chewed’ my way through life; grappled with people and situations, and I know they will change as I continue to grow and expand in my experience.
But they serve me well.

When I’m tired, frustrated, at the end of my tether, my life heuristics create clarity and space for me to see other perspectives and make good choices about what comes next.

So, what might your ‘life rules’ be?

You’ll recognise them as they reconnect you to the best version of you and keep you out of drama … your own or others.

And I reckon that’s what good looks like.

Until next time…


Free Resources


Let’s Talk!