That’ll Do..

Good is good enough.. Right?

Advertisements

Complacency.

The above is a word I am likely to write many times as I develop posts for this blog. Complacency is the Big Bad Wolf to my Little Red Riding Hood. It is an ever present evil that attempts to disguise itself in order to trick me away from my best interests. At times, it masquerades as contentment. Other times, it presents as doubt. Regardless of what mask it wears, complacency constantly threatens to relegate me to a life of the status quo.

To understand my experience with complacency, I’ll give a bit of background about myself. I am a 28 year old white guy from a middle class family. I was raised in a small town, but went to a big university. I graduated with a Bachelor degree in Computer & Information Technology and I’ve worked as a software developer for the last 5 years. I have always maintained an active lifestyle and my physique reflects that. I have a good circle of friends and I am very close to my family. All in all, life is pretty good (barring the aforementioned break-up. That was not neat).

So you might be wondering, “Why I am bragging about my life?” Well, I’m not. I’m telling you these things to give context to this post. For most of my life, I had a firm grasp on how to perform well in everything “important” in my life. I did well in classes, maintained healthy eating and exercise habits, and kept up with my personal relationships. The problem with everything in your life being “good enough” is that once you have accomplished certain things in your life, it’s hard to find the motivation to do more. For me, it was graduating from college and landing a well paid career in software development. In my mind, I had made it. This was the goal that I had in mind since I first decided to spend my college years with my nose pressed to a computer monitor.

Though complacency had already begun to manifest within my satisfaction in my career accomplishments, I hit an all time low in terms of motivation when I found myself in a relationship with the woman of my dreams. I was completely satisfied by simply laying with this woman and spending an evening scouting out Netflix. I did not realize it, but I had stopped challenging myself. I had stopped growing.

Well, as I’ve mentioned before, that fairytale relationship recently came to a screeching halt. I won’t go into details on how this happened, but I was definitely not without fault. Reasons aside, two months ago I found myself sitting in a half empty apartment, my only company being the creeping realization of how far I had let the vision of myself slip away. I had many things that I knew I needed to be working on, but I became so complacent with life that I half assed every single one of them. Among other things, I had let my vices become stronger, I stagnated in my career progression and I had stopped putting real effort into romancing my mate. I did what was necessary to keep living my comfortable life and stopped pushing for more.

I am sure that last line is something you can relate to. Have you ever gotten to that place where you’ve been met with success and some part of you decided that it was enough? Or perhaps you have that one thing that you -know- needs to change, but it just seems like too much work? That is complacency playing it’s very best trick. In fact, complacency works best when it operates in the shadows of our minds. While you are distracted with enjoying life, complacency is robbing you of your potential.

The interesting thing about complacency is that it is not that hard to battle once you have discovered that it is a problem. It is realizing and catching yourself becoming complacent that becomes the struggle. The fact is, we have a hard time truly maintaining a status quo. Often times, keeping things “as they are” turns into letting things slide backward. For example, if you are not pushing yourself to achieve new levels in your career, it is all too easy to allow your work day to become simple routine. Once it becomes routine, it becomes easy. Once it becomes easy, it begins to be taken for granted. Before you know it, you’re simply going through the motions and your aptitude begins to decline.

This happened to me. For the last year or so, I had stopped having much of a passion for my workouts. I was happy with my body and I was on a routine that had me work out every day. The thing was, I didn’t have drive during those workouts. I showed up, exercised, and left. I didn’t throw myself into my workouts as I had previously. And the entire time, I thought I was staying on top of my game. You see, I was steadily gaining weight during this time. I thought to myself “Wow, I’m putting on some real muscle!”. What I hadn’t realized, though, is I wasn’t putting on muscle at all. I had gained 10 run-of-the-mill pounds of fat.

You see, complacency didn’t set in all at once for me. It hid behind my satisfaction with my fitness level and quietly ate away at my drive. But complacency doesn’t stop at workouts. You can become complacent with your work, parenting, friendships, and honestly it can happen within any facet of your life.

I think it is essential to revisit the things in your life that you care about and make sure you haven’t begun to take them for granted. Look for things that you can improve and run with it. It doesn’t have to be a big change. It can (and often should) be something small. For instance, I am a whiskey lover. While I have cut my drinking back over the last few years, I was still having a glass of whiskey before bed. I realized that I no longer had a good reason for doing it night after night. It was a crutch picked up to help myself sleep (breakups are hard, man!), but I never reevaluated the practice after my emotions stabilized. By nipping that habit in the bud, I have prevented a potentially damaging routine from taking hold.

My message here isn’t all gloom. In fact, there is a bright side to discovering the tendency toward mediocrity that most of us have. It was through this discovery that I have begun to experience the thrill of challenging my standards. Self improvement has the potential to give a sense of fulfillment unmatched by other pursuits. Once you start moving in a positive direction, it becomes exciting to see where you can push yourself.

The big takeaway to all of this is to realize that complacency doesn’t only exist in people who obviously have things they need to change. Even people who are fairly successful in a particular area have to remain vigilant so that they don’t allow their hard fought successes to slip away. Find a reason to continue to push forward in those areas that are important to you. Find out what characteristics define you as a person and never stop refining those.

Above all, love who you are now, but love yourself enough to keep pushing to be your best.

Spinning Plates

If you’re like me (and I assume you are since you are taking the time to read this post) you have things in your life that you want to change. How many things you want to change, and how strong your desire is to achieve those changes, will vary quite a bit; but we all basically want better for ourselves.

There are a lot of common cases: I want to stop smoking, I want to lose weight, I want to get out of my dead-end career, I want to be more social.. These are things that countless people struggle with.

Sometimes we get so fed up with the way life is going, that we decide that there is no one thing we want to accomplish. Instead, we look at wide array of unsavory habits or lifestyle choices and decide to do away with all of them. We set our sights on the person that we know we can become and rush headlong into the fray.

Sometimes this approach is wildly effective.  Especially if you are currently in a position of extreme motivation. More often than not, though, this drive only lasts a short while and before you know it, we’re back to our same old selves. To see examples of this, most of us need look no further than last December’s New Year’s resolutions.

The reason for this urge is pretty straightforward. The idea of becoming this ideal self overnight is incredibly appealing! In our modern world of instant gratification, we desire for self improvement to be no exception. But the thing is, undergoing personal change is one of the hardest things we can do in our lives.

So why do we fail when trying to undergo so many changes at once? The reason is complex and varies from person to person, but it boils down to willpower and our limited supply of it. When you first start to make a change in yourself, each time you choose to work toward that change, a big portion of your will is put into achieving that goal. Perhaps you are trying to start getting into an exercise routine. For the first few weeks, it will often take a great deal of energy to get yourself to pick up that first weight.

This would not be such a bad thing if we had an unlimited supply of willpower.  But that is not the case. Every time we must use our will to act against our base desires, we use up a bit of willpower from that day. This is often referred to as decision fatigue. Some decisions (like figuring out what socks to wear) may not drain much of your willpower, but others (like remaining fully engaged at work or school) may take a great deal more. At the end of a long day of effort, we often feel completely drained and unable to exert any further energy. It is during times like these that we start to feel less attached to our new commitments. Why go to the gym when Netflix is right here? Why cook a meal when there’s a McDonalds on the way home?

When we attempt to make too many changes at one time, we tend to find ourselves hitting that decision fatigue wall prematurely. We get to a point where we are so tired that we cannot imagine making another decision. We simply want to relax. It is during times like these that we often back off from one or even all of our new found commitments. When we fail in something we set out to do, we often become overcome with hopelessness. We feel defeated and give in. This can cause a cascade effect that can lead to being right back to the proverbial “square one”.

This is where the analogy of spinning plates comes in. I imagine all of the positive changes I’ve made in my life as plates spinning on the tips of narrow rods. Some of these plates spin effortlessly. They have been spinning for years and years without incident. They sit farther away from me and require very little attention. Other plates are closer. They wobble from time to time and need a bit more care. Then there is the plate I just set on its rod and have begun to spin. It requires a great deal of my concentration to keep it level. I am able to focus my attention on it because the other plates whirr on passively in the background.

Some look at me and see a lot of spinning plates and think “Gee, that must be nice!” or “Wow, he must have a lot of discipline”. But what many don’t realize is how long it has taken me to get all of these plates spinning. At one time, every single one of these plates was like the one I am currently tending. I once stood in an empty room, surrounded by broken plates and cursing myself just to get a single good thing going.

That’s the point. I don’t believe most of us can simply start in an empty room, spin up six or so plates and keep them going. Outside of the aforementioned “extreme motivation”, it’s a noble cause to simply work on one thing at a time. Focus hard on that one thing and eventually, it’ll become easy. It won’t require constant care and you can move on to something new.

With practice, you can get better. With time, you will be able to tackle more than one thing at a time. But that may not be how you start. Be patient with yourself and realize that slow progress is always better than no progress at all.