The Challenge of Complacency

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Complacency is a hidden cost of success. Whether you are gainfully employed, or a proudly independent entrepreneur, if you get good enough at what you do to get known for it, watch out for it because it’s coming for you.

It creeps in, and treads very softly. It begins with a casual lowering of the guard. A loosening of the habits that put you where you are in the first place. Under the guise of YOLO and “taking it easy” you let little things slide, that you know matter but seem to matter less in the moment.

And at first, nothing changes. You still get the job done. No one seems to notice any difference.

But you notice it. You begin to feel soft in places that were once firm. And your energy levels begin to dip, in tandem with the lowered need to call upon them.

The gentle slide may continue, unobserved, until something jolts you back to an awareness of the change.

It may be a physical shock, like when you bend down and realize you can’t get back up without pain. Or it may be a mental one, that hits you on a particular birthday, or when you run into an old acquaintance and suddenly realize that you may not be where you want to be in life after all.

One way I’ve learned to counter the inevitability of slippage, is to periodically check in with yourself and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is what I am doing right now related in any way to any of my goals?
  • Do I have a true grasp of my assets and am I leveraging them to the best of my ability?
  • Am I feeling energized and excited about possibilities in my life?
  • Or, do I feel, uninspired, foggy, unfocused?

I think, when I am feeling the latter, it’s usually because I’ve let myself go somehow. I’ve supplanted real action with false ones, like checking email or social media. I’ve skipped out on the routines I’ve learned are important to me (like working out, meditating, daily writing, etc).

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Rather than get hung up on the fact that it has happened (because it will), expect it and design your life with an awareness that complacency is more likely to set in when you are doing well, then when you are not. The more “successful” you are (however you define that term) the more at risk you are for developing complacent attitudes and behaviours.

If you know they are coming, you can be on the lookout for the telltale signs of their arrival and challenge yourself to resist their intrusion into your life. Here are a few ideas for what you can try to turn yourself back on and reverse the decline that happens when complacency takes hold:

Start something new:  New starts bring with them an activation energy that can be leveraged to inject new energy into everything you do. If you’ve grown tired of your regular workout, look to join a class or try a new regime that you’ve never done before. If you are creatively blocked, challenge yourself to do something creative in a completely different field. I.e., if you are a writer, try to paint or draw something, and vice versa. All forms of creativity create flow that helps all the others.

Get involved: If you are bored at work or in your business, look around you for projects to get involved with or a charitable organization or cause to put your effort into.

Meet someone new: whether it’s a new colleague at the office, or a stranger at an event, making the effort to meet new people always helps revitalize yourself. Networking isn’t just something you should do when you are looking for a new job. It can be even more effective if you do when you already have one. Making new connections with new people forces you into a making an effort, a bit like the idea behind dressing for success. When you set out to meet someone new you ask questions about who they are, what they do and how they got to where they are in life and you are likely to receive the same kinds of questions yourself. Listening, and answering honestly, brings a new focus and can recharge you in unexpected ways.

Take a trip:. Sometimes, if you’ve been in a deep funk or been feeling uninspired for a very long time, everything just seems hard. If you can manage it, take a trip (even a short one of a day or two will give you energy and new ideas). Travelling always brings us into closer contact with the present moment, which is a way out of complacency. Re-acquainting ourselves with what it feels like to be really involved and engaged in the present helps us shake off the dull-headedness that follows a period of life we may not have noticed we were sleepwalking through.

Go for a walk: walking is probably the easiest, safest, quickest and cheapest (free) thing you can do to motivate yourself and re-charge your body/mind/soul. All you need to do is get up and go. It is a wonderfully simple and effective cure all that is often overlooked.

Making change happen in your life is ultimately what keeps life exciting. When things have been going well, it’s easy to forget that and start to actually fear change, because it is viewed as a threat to our comfort and security. But the opposite, ultimately is true. When change is the one constant you can count on, the best security you can have in life is to be the one behind it, rather than waiting for it to happen to you.

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