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Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light – Dylan Thomas

Setting out to achieve your goals, to make the cut or get ‘that’ promotion requires a significant amount of effort, commitment and determination to see things through.

Which is why, in our time-pressured, super busy, super-connected world we sometimes run out of steam and get stuck. It’s been estimated we make anywhere between 30-35,000 decisions every day and spend an average of about ten and a half hours online. Just thinking about that is enough to give us decision fatigue.

The problem is it’s easy to fall foul of mental exhaustion, overwhelm and distraction which can lead to the biggest obstacle to our success.


Yes, that uncritical satisfaction of our achievements, where near enough becomes good enough, where we give ourselves permission to cut corners, take risks and forgive ourselves for our lackluster performance.

It’s dangerous because we lose sight of reality. We rationalise, justify and lose the initiative to seek change.

Complacency can kill.

In Australia it’s illegal to use your mobile phone while driving yet almost 60% of drivers surveyed admit to texting while driving.
You might not choose to drive blindfolded, but that’s essentially what is happening when you text and drive.

Scientists believe between 95-99% of our cognitive activity occurs at a subconscious level. Driving (once learned) is an automated behaviour, though we retain the ability to consciously intercede if something unexpected happens like a car pulling out in front of us or the vehicle in front unexpectedly coming to a halt.

But we do need to be paying attention first for this to happen, and if we are distracted, we’re not looking or noticing.

In a new documentary about this hazard (see the trailer below) what is perhaps most shocking beyond the lack of awareness by the perpetrators is their acceptance that even with the evidence before them, their expectation to successfully change their behaviour is low.

Multitasking or task switching in this way doesn’t work because the brain isn’t designed to operate this way. What it does do, is rapidly exhaust the prefrontal cortex, slows down the processing time for new information and leads to more mistakes being made.

Behavioural change is hard and won’t happen unless you want it to.
Being given the cold hard facts isn’t enough either because we don’t relate the information to ourselves. The brain is really bad at future forecasting and abstract thought. We believe bad stuff happens to other people, not us.

As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most adaptive to change.”

As humans, the difficulty we face is that brains hate change. It feels dangerous, there’s no certainty of reward, and it stinks of effort.

Alan Deutschman in his book Change or Die revealed how studies have shown that up to 9 out of 10 people don’t change their lifestyle or behaviours even when their lives depend on it.

Complacency at work hurts the individual because it leads to an acceptance of the status quo and loss of desire for things to be different. Change initiatives are harder to get off the ground; there’s a reduction in discretionary contribution and collaboration.

Why do we get stuck in complacency?
This can boil down to a variety of factors including boredom and fear.

To learn we have to apply our full and undivided attention, and as John Medina author of Brain Rules reminds us, the brain does not pay attention to boring things. Without attention, we fail to learn and engagement drops. Our attention span is already under attack from the barrage of information we attempt to deal with everyday, our social media that feeds our need for instant gratification and our never-ending internal chattering dialogue of thoughts.

Your brain is also a scaredy cat, hyper-alert to anything new or different in the environment. With the default setting to assume danger first, it takes more time and effort to weigh up all the pros and cons and determine that it’s safe to proceed. Which can lead to the thinking “Why take the risk if you’re in familiar territory and happy that the ways things are being done while not perfect are acceptable overall?”

Complacency is a problem when it becomes a collective because it leads to team and organisational dysfunction.

What helps to overcome complacency and feeling stuck?

  1. Connect with your purpose. It’s important to know WHY you want to get unstuck and do things differently.
  2.  Commit to your chosen goal.
  3.  Map out your plan and timetable to follow.
  4.  Find an accountability buddy, a pit crew of support, and or a mentor. Create your own community of those you know you can trust for support.
  5.  Expect setbacks as normal rather than a reason to quit.
  6. Review progress regularly.
  7. Celebrate all wins big and small to keep the momentum going.
  8. Stay on the path because change is a continuum. Repeated experience helps to shape your beliefs, makes it easier to reframe your world perspective and lays down new neural pathways for habits and skills.

If you understand how change works and keeps you out of the dangerous corner of status quo, it’s easier to discover the right tools for you to effect the desired change that becomes more readily achievable, sustainable and effective to lead you to achieve your goals.

For organisations reducing complacency and the associated status quo bias in decision-making is vital for future business growth and success.

Is complacency holding you and your business back?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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