Are you “muddling through” your day, your tasks – your life? Well done! There’s a lot to be said for “muddling through”. As a life strategy, it usually gets a short shrift, being considered a poor second cousin to much grander-sounding strategies, such as “achieving goals”, “taking control” and “being proactive”. But it’s a strategy that actually has a lot going for it.
As you may guess, I’m writing this because “muddling through” is what I’m doing right now. I had lots of plans for today, and a list of what I wanted to get done. But I hardly slept a wink last night (do you ever do that thing where you go to bed tired and then lie wide awake all night? I tried reading, listening to the radio, getting up and having a warm milk , counting everything I could think of – but sleep was not my friend…). Anyway, this morning I’m up, but I’m not at my sparkling “let’s do this thing” best, so I’ve reset my day’s agenda and put myself into “muddling through” mode. I’ll just have to make the best of it and see what gets done.
And isn’t much of life like that? We have ideas, plans and goals, but often life steps in and says we are going to do things differently. Maybe we get sick, something unexpected happens, we have to respond to a crisis or just a more immediate task that needs attention. Perhaps circumstances aren’t favourable for what we want to do. Maybe others don’t respond in the way we want. Perhaps the timing is just not right.
The point is, there is quite a lot of life that is outside of our control. And that’s where “muddling through” shines as a strategy. Here a few of it’s benefits:
- It is sensitive to what’s happening in the present.
- It is responsive and flexible.
- It often leads to more creative ways of doing things. Having to think and respond to what’s thrown at us forces us to think outside the square, and be more creative with our solutions.
- It accepts and works with what is. We may wish things were different (as my mother-in-law says, ‘we can’t always have our d’rathers’), and we can work towards changing things. Ultimately, though, we need to work with what’s in front of us. And, surprisingly, often it is in these restrictions that we find our path. The obstacles and road-blocks can sometimes be the gold.
- It acknowledges that we live our lives in connection. We are not the sole arbiters of our destiny – the times and place in which we live, other people’s actions, circumstances beyond our control – all these affect us.
- It encourages trust. Allowing ourselves to be part of the flow of life takes a weight of responsibility from our shoulders. From where we stand, we can’t know all that is going on around us or even within us, or what lies ahead. But we can trust that a greater power will lead us where we need to go. We may not be able to see the destination, but we can trust, and “muddle through”.
- It allows for change, and for new possibilities. When achieving a goal is too focussed, it can become a linear progression – like a straight highway. Direct but perhaps a little boring. We can miss out on all the delights, adventures and unexpected discoveries that are in the twists and turns and meanderings of the side-roads.
Yes, “muddling through” is messy. But what’s so bad about that? Tim Harford, in his book Messy, encourages us to appreciate the virtues of the messy – ‘the untidy, unquantified, uncoordinated, improvised, imperfect, incoherent, crude, cluttered, random, ambiguous, vague, difficult, diverse, or even dirty’. That’s the way, he suggests, to fresh insights and better results.
So don’t be hard on yourself if, like me, you feel you are just “muddling through”. You might just be doing the best thing!