Working Through Complacency

Perhaps you’d like to hear a familiar story?  Once upon a time following April 15th, I committed to delivering my extended client tax returns this summer rather than enduring another stressful busy season in September and October.  I also started a home improvement project and a summer exercise program with whole-hearted enthusiasm.  So how am I doing?

  • Client service – My new client is unhappy with me. The promised delivery date of August 15th has been missed.  This is now holding up a bank loan application to purchase a new property.  The stress I hoped to avoid has become a reality. I must complete delivery this week ASAP!
  • Brick Patio Project – The patio is complete and in use, but the yard around the patio was torn up in the process. My “dirt patch” still remains an eyesore to my wife and neighbors and winter is approaching.
  • Exercise – In May, June and July I was training for the RABRAI® - bike ride across Iowa. I put in over 1,000 training miles and completed the 457 mile 7-day ride.  Definitely a positive accomplishment!  But since then, my exercise commitment has been sorely lacking.

Somehow, along the way, I lost my momentum, fell off the wagon, and became discouraged. Now I feel like a failure, ready to quit and never try again.

But does my report really need to end there?  Isn’t there a way to work through whatever it is that makes us feel “stuck” in failure? I say “YES” there is.  Consider the following three steps.

  1. First, take note that everyone fails. It is not a matter of if you will fail, but when. Failure is an age-old human condition.  In his ancient letter to the Romans, Paul makes this candid, very vulnerable personal confession:

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  Romans 7:18-19 (NLT)

You and I are not alone in this failure thing!  We all get started on our goals and projects, do well for a while, and then fail.  Everyone failsYet while all of us fail, we don’t have to remain “stuck” in failure. Tamera Loerzel explores this concept a bit further in her Failure is not Fatal blog.

Perhaps a better word for “stuck” is complacency, which according to involves “self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.”

Complacency is, in fact, a false sense of contentment.  (See Jen Wilson's blog, Is Complacency Holding You Back?On the surface, these two look the same, however, with contentment all is actually well.  While with complacency we are “pretending” that all is well.  Complacency leads to becoming “used to” unsatisfactory conditions, and lacking the commitment to take the action needed to get “unstuck.” 

  1. Second, don’t beat yourself up. Or get angry at yourself or others. Or “hide” away in fear of being called out. After you’re done with that “get angry, beat yourself up thing” you still have to sort out your game plan for getting restarted anyway.  It’s simply not productive or useful in moving out of your complacency. Don’t do it.
  1. Third, analyze and think through your complacency. Work to understand the “root cause.”  Ask the following questions about your goals and projects that have gone “off track”:
  • Does this goal or project need to be done? It is possible to have languishing items on your agenda, calendar or to-do list that are not relevant and reasonable to your situation or life stage.  You don’t want to be focused on goals you really aren’t passionate about, that aren’t a good fit for you, and that don’t actually need to be on your list. Remove non-essential items from your list and stop wasting time and energy on them.  
  • Does this need to be done now? This is a question of priority and timing.  The goal or project is valid and worthwhile, but can it and should it be moved to the “back burner” or “parking lot” for future consideration.  Do this to create time and space for goals and projects that have higher immediacy and priority.
  • Does this need to be done by me? This is a question of ownership and delegation.  You can’t always wait until you have the proper time and bandwidth to work on the goal or project, as this time or bandwidth may never appear.  Can you ask someone else to take over for you or hire someone else to take the task?

If the answer to all of these is ‘YES’ – the goal or project should be on your list, should be done now, and should be done by you - then take the following steps:

  • Admit your complacency. First to yourself.  Then to the person or persons you have let down. Difficult conversations are likely in your future. Take 100% responsibility. Ask for help. Commit to remedy the matter.
  • Look into the reasons for your complacency for purposes of understanding “root cause” and getting things moving again. What are the “real” hold-ups and obstacles to be addressed?  Don’t look for reasons to justify your complacency.  Be “unreasonable.”
  • Rehearse the reasons why your goal or project was important to you and to others in the first place. This can help address your lack of excitement or motivation about the goal or project and generate the energy needed to get unstuck.
  • Update your work plan or create a new work plan. Identify ONE action you can take todayright now – to get moving forward again.

Getting “unstuck” from complacency requires all the attention and energy you can muster. So don’t put your energy into reciting your reasons, defending old behaviors, or beating yourself up.
Instead, put your energy into getting unstuck and starting over.

Don’t remain complacent.  Get started again.  Be unstoppable.  We will continue to help our clients to succeed as leaders by working through their complacency and getting restarted on their important goals and projects.  If you have ideas or experiences to share, please post them so others can benefit.

Best regards,