Complexity Bias: Living a Simple Yet Productive Life | Student Life

⏱️  3 min read

written by

vera c

August 4, 2020


A teacher assigns a complex essay two weeks ahead of time that requires hours of planning and thought process. You - a student - are aware that it is up to you to finish the assignment thoroughly and efficiently so you can focus on other assignments. As time passes, one look at the assignment triggers fear and dread that cloud your mind with negative thoughts. You proceed to do other tasks in order to trick yourself into thinking that someday, perhaps within 24 hours before the assignment is due, you’ll get to the essay.

Does the situation above sound familiar? Ever wondered why? That's because every student, no matter how motivated and efficient one may be, has experienced his/her own version of such a scenario.

The Complexity Bias Defined

You might ask yourself one day: Why do we do this? Why is it so difficult to move away from this habit of avoiding complicated tasks?

We have something called a “complexity bias” - the tendency to make the most simple tasks seem way more complicated than they have to be. As a result, we are more likely to overlook simple solutions and look for more complicated ways of going about the situation.

Essentially, the complexity bias takes over the voice in your head when we are about to do something big. It’s the nonexistent voice in your head that question whether or not we’re good enough to deliver a speech to a crowd. It’s also the voice that believes it would take you hours to find ingredients for a cupcake recipe.

Once you're faced with a difficult task, an alarm goes off in your heads, blaring something along the lines of “Warning: complicated task ahead. Escape while you can.” For students, the complexity bias hits when they are about to work on a long project or an essay. Our brains immediately imagine the many different ways to tackle the assignment. This, in turn, generally make the process much more complicated than it needs to be. Students then become more stressed, and the desire to procrastinate becomes stronger.

Using the Bias to Your Advantage

If you suffer from the trap of constantly allowing your complexity bias to take over, ask yourself: “what would this look like if it were easy?

Tasks that are “easy” come with elegance instead of strain. It is crucial to remember that a task may be simplified AND might still require work to be done. It’s not about being lazy - it’s about developing a more straightforward process that our brains have an easier time accepting.

You may have already tried this or may think this method is useless. Either way, try to ask yourself “what would this look like if it were easy?” Try to simplify the situation.

In addition to those mentioned above, some other questions you can ask yourself include the following:

  • What would this look like if it were fun?
  • What would this look like if it were quick?

When a situation or a task feels too complicated, stop yourself from running away. Don’t let your complexity bias get the better of you! Fight this fight or flight response and ask yourself the big question: what would this look like if it were easy?”


References: (1) Complexity Bias: Why We Prefer Complicated to Simple. 

(Featured photo courtesy of Odyssey)

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