Complacency is a Killer – Kill it Instead


The old adage is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I couldn’t disagree more. I’m not talking about your car or government (where they fix things that aren’t broken). I’m referring to your life.

“The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.”

Benjamin E. Mays

We may think our lives are moving along swimmingly. We have a nice home, nice family, nice job. We go to the same restaurants, do the same things on vacation. We’ve been in the same career for years. What’s the problem with routine?

The problem with routine is that it is often a sign of complacency. We just move through our lives without asking ourselves if our behavior is supporting our growth, or avoiding it.

Complacency is a killer. We go through life with the same routine, never challenging ourselves. We are worse off for it.

We get up at the same time of day, drive the same way to work, do the same tasks day in, day out. We eat at pre-scheduled times, as well as go to bed. Heck, we even have “bio-needs” at the same time of day.

We shouldn’t worry about robots taking over. They have already. “They” are WE.

If you live an unscripted life, full of change and diversity, keep reading anyway. Then go out and model your behavior to someone who needs it.

Standing still is falling behind…


When we don’t continue to grow and learn and challenge ourselves, we are really falling behind. Not only will we be less competitive because there will be someone else who continues to push themselves, knowledge becomes stale. What I learned in college largely doesn’t apply today.

Complacency also lulls us into a false sense of security. If we continue to get adequate results, such as at work, we may not see how at risk we really are. The world changes around us at an increasing rate. There will be somebody to take your place that has current, fresh knowledge. Experience may count for something, but not when a new technology comes along to make your work easier to do, cheaper.

You may have heard of the story of the Luddite’s:[1]

The word Luddite has an interesting origin in pop culture of the early 1800’s. Legend has it that a young man name Ned Ludd broke an expensive knitting machine in Nottingham, England. Because Ned was considered to be “feeble-minded” by his boss, he wasn’t held financially responsible for the broken equipment. Afterwards, when factory equipment broke, the damage was always blamed on Ned Ludd.

During the Industrial Revolution, when factory workers organized to express their dissatisfaction with work conditions, the legend of Ned Ludd was politicized. One well-known method of protest was for workers to dress up in disguise and visit a factory owner late at night. The workers, claiming they had been sent by General Ned Ludd, demanded changes in the workplace. The invocation of Ned Ludd’s name made it clear to the factory owner that if the demands weren’t met, the owner’s expensive machinery would be destroyed. The Luddites enjoyed a kind of Robin Hood reputation and the movement was generally supported by the public until a protest at a Lancashire mill went terribly wrong and several people were killed.

Today, I hear the term Luddite most often referring to people who are technologically challenged. Change happens rapidly. If we don’t keep up, we get left behind.

Though this is a funny little story, but the fact remains that more jobs are being lost due to technology, outsourcing, increasing productivity, etc.

Not keeping your knowledge up to date, keeping your mind sharp, is putting you at risk.

…and Personally

Not only does complacency have vocational, professional, even financial repercussions, it also has a personal cost.

“If you look around, complacency is the great disease of your autumn years, and I work hard to prevent that.” Nick Cave

Continual learning improves brain function, creating new neural pathways. If you aren’t learning, you aren’t keeping your mind sharp.

I don’t just mean reading on a different topic. I mean learning something entirely new, such as taking up guitar, or learning how to play tennis. This type of newness challenges the brain and keeps it healthy.

People that continue to learn and seek new experiences can delay age related brain deficiencies.

Ways to Break Your Routine

Challenge Yourself

Try pushing the boundaries. You may have goals, but try to set goals that are higher than you can easily obtain. Yes, you may think you are setting yourself up for failure, but think of it as really challenging yourself.

If you run, make a goal of running a marathon. Apply for a job two steps higher than you are now.

Always be pushing. If you are comfortable, you are stagnating. Learn something new. Take a cookbook and make every dish in it. Learn Chinese.

Just keep an open mind and be curious. My toddler is in a constant state of pushing his boundaries and learning new things. It’s a good model for us as we get older. We know how to walk, when it used to be a huge task.

Learn how to walk in other ways by continually learning.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Do things that you normally would shy away from. If networking is hard for you, go to a meetup and connect with new people. Or join Toastmaster’s and increase your skill at public speaking.

Do something outrageous. Noah Kagan tells people to ask for 10% off the next time you are at Starbucks. Sounds easy until you try it. Or give a high-five to a random stranger. Make eye contact for a full three seconds (again, sounds easy until you concentrate on it).

Whatever challenge you take up, keep a mental attitude of always thinking of ways to push your comfort zone just a little bit.

This also builds confidence and pushes aside fears. You never know, you may find yourself doing things that you never imagined yourself doing.

Small changes can add up to big results.

Change Your Patterns

Don’t approach life in the same routine manner. Try changing your schedule and habits.

If you are not a morning person (I’m not), try getting up an hour early and doing something that is important to you. I started doing that and my entire day goes better if I get done something that is important to me.

If you watch TV at night before bed, try doing a puzzle, playing a game or go for a walk.

Take a different way to work, shop at a different grocery store. Take a different sort of vacation.

Whatever you do that is routine, try to change it slightly.

Try wearing a different style of clothing or change your hairstyle. Keep changing by keeping your mind open to alternatives. Don’t judge, just approach it with a lighthearted sense of wonder, like a child.

Challenges Improve Us

Complacency can sneak up on us. We want to be efficient, fit more into our day, increasing our productivity.

This approach, though, can lead to monotony, boredom and diffidence. Who wants that?

I find when I am challenged, especially at the beginning of a project, my energy level spikes. My mind is focused on the creative and I become highly productive. Although I may work harder during these times, I feel a greater sense of satisfaction.

Changing things up pushes our mind and keeps us young. We make connections in our brain that didn’t exist before, keeping our mind sharp.

We also learn a great deal, helping us maintain a competitive edge and build up skills we didn’t previously. Doors will open that wouldn’t otherwise.

By breaking our routine, we learn, we grow, we become more well-rounded, more capable.

Keep changing.

Image Courtesy of Sylvain Moreau



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