“Everybody’s a complex person. Everybody. Everybody’s nuanced.” Jack Abramoff
I tend to believe this. Human beings are, by nature, extremely complex. We have the ability to think ahead, to dream, to love and to mourn the loss of loved ones. But this is in comparison to animals. What does it mean to be a complex person?
There are some people that like the simple life. They have a 9 to 5 job, a partner, and a couple of kids, live in a nice house and go on holiday once or twice a year. They don’t play mind games, they haven’t the need for extramarital affairs and are generally happy. That is a perfectly good life for them and I think most of us would agree.
So how does a complex person differ?
Ask a complex person a question and you won’t get a monosyllabic answer. Complex people will go into great detail and let their minds wander. A complex person will be able to multitask and have an eye for detail. Whether it is deciphering an email or breaking down a plot in a novel, a complex person’s mind is always whirring away.
Complex people are always analysing the finer details. They tend to be worriers. Unlike people who like a simple life who live in the present, complex people either dwell in the past or stress about the future.
Going back to people that are happy with simple life, there’s one psychologist that believes there’s a better way to understand complex people. By exploring what makes us happy.
Have you ever started reading a book at night-time and before you know it the early morning birds are tweeting? Or you were out walking your dogs and you had gone so far that you had lost your bearings? When you are in this mental state, you are not aware of it. Only when you come out, you realise that time has passed.
Athletes call this ‘being in the zone’. Psychologists call it ‘flow states’, where you are so absorbed in an activity that you forget where you are. So what has all of this got to do with complex people?
The five signs of a complex person
You might struggle to pronounce his name, but psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wanted to identify what makes us happy. He discovered flow states and inadvertently came to the realisation that people who were able to maintain these flow states typically had complex personalities.
He defined five major characteristics of complex people as “The 5 Cs.”
It sounds like an oxymoron, complex and clarity, but a complex person has a clear sense of what they want to achieve. They know exactly what they want, both at the moment and they have the ability to focus on how to get the best results in order to achieve them.
Complex people are able to shut out the ambient noise and distractions around them. They don’t let anything interfere with the task at hand and are ‘Buddha-like’ in their ability to focus and centre. This is also one of the key features of flow states.
Complex people are always asking different questions in order to get to the best possible outcome. They don’t take things for granted and are active in their own decision-making.
Their lives are dynamic, not stagnating because they constantly make different choices. Complex people don’t live out the same set of experiences every day.
A complex person will tend to commit and follow through a course of action, rather than fall at the first sign of trouble.
Commitment, however, does not indicate that they are simply ‘going through the motions’. A complex person will know why it is important for them to show up and commit to their course of action.
Complex people consistently challenge themselves and will regularly make their challenges harder. They also love to learn and like to prove themselves, whether it be further education and advanced goals or extreme risks in sports.
They are the ones that are striving for the next level and are never satisfied with what they have achieved.
What it really means to be a complex person
Now that we have a deeper understanding of complex personalities, what does this really mean? There are obviously pros and cons associated with being a complex person.
Pros of being a complex person
- Complex people tend to be associated with creative personalities.
- A complex person can have extreme character traits, for instance, they can be both naïve and knowledgeable, and stern and immature.
- They can adapt easily to changing situations.
- Complex people are able to utilise different strategies to solve problems.
- They do not accept failure easily and will try and find solutions rather than give up.
- Complex people are known for their logical and creative thinking.
- They are in touch with nature and love animals and nature.
Cons of being a complex person
- Complex people tend to overanalyse the slightest little detail.
- This over-analysing can lead to depression, anxiety and phobias.
- They can upset people with their blunt opinions.
- A complex person longs to find someone that understands them.
- They can find it hard to fit in with other people.
- Their thoughts can be overwhelming at times.
- They find it hard to work in a team.
- They tend to be idealists and can feel extremely aggrieved at wrongdoings in the world.
If you recognise the traits of a complex personality in yourself, then you’ll already know the kind of life you’ve experienced. It may have been troublesome, stressful, with anxious moments along the way. Or it might have been joyous, full of challenges met, soul mates met and cherished and masterpieces created. Whatever kind of life you’ve had, I’d like to end with this quote:
“Her complexity is a glorious fire that consumes, while her simplicity goes unapproachable. But if one takes time to understand her, there is something beautiful to find, something simple to be loved. But she goes unloved, for being misunderstood.”
Below is the TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where he better explains the psychology of flow states: