Rejecting Complacency While We Still Have Time

Complacency — a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.

In other words, you’re settling. How many of you can admit there is some aspect of your life you are guilty of this in? Now how many of you will admit complacency? It’s okay to do and there are many of us that are at fault of this whether it be within a relationship, work, or even yourself. It’s one thing to say it, but the willingness to change it and the opportunity we have to reject such complacency is what I want you to put to action so how?

Eliminate “good enough” standards.

When we strive for “good enough,” we will inevitably continue to fall in the middle of the pack in almost everything. If you’ve ever heard the quote, “if your dreams don’t scare you, then they aren’t big enough?” It’s kind of like that. When I sit down to write to you all, I want to push to the side a mediocre mindset and put to paper exactly what will change a person’s first thought tomorrow morning — maybe even their next thought today.

On the days I lack the time necessary to formulate something meaningful and of resonance for each of you, I choose to postpone and I accept the delay because life lessons can’t be encapsulated into paragraph sentences. This is how I begin to eliminate the “good enough” standards in my writing, but I understand this has the potential to lack relation to your life so where is your beginning?

Grab a pen and paper and write down your goals. Now take it a step further and put reasons next to each; why are these your goals? When you run out of reasons, start writing down why you will continue to force yourself to complete these goals anyways and then ask yourself if it is truly something you want to accomplish. Could your time be spent better elsewhere? Now what will happen if these goals aren’t achieved? What will be the impact?

Now look at your responses to these questions. Do you have answers that spark your excitement to the first question? Did you talk yourself into achieving this goal on the second question or did you find a million reasons why you shouldn’t do it? Could you find consequences such as a failed dream or miss opportunity that you need to take when you answered the third question?

If you want to stop being complacent, you have to know your purpose behind the goal. If you don’t have a solid purpose, it’s time to move on and find a new goal, because complacency will always follow those who lack purpose. Complacency likes to reside in those who don’t understand their “why”.

When we know why we are getting up every morning and the long term impact its attainment will be, waking up becomes a more exciting part of the day.

Complacency is the enemy of progress. As you can imagine, the next step to come would be incorporating the work into your day-to-day that will inevitably fuel progress. In other words, actions of repetition and dedication — the two actions that will stop complacency in its tracks in every aspect of life.

Establish a commitment to yourself that is unbreakable. This commitment should require higher standards of you. In order to rid your life of complacency, you have to implement standards that clearly define what you will and will not accept. You will not make exceptions to these self-created rules and you will not allow for any “grey area.” After all, at that point it is much easier to stick to these standards 100% of the time, than just 98%.

Be relentless.

Allow for no future distractions and exercise a sense of tunnel vision that will not permit you to steer off course. Be accountable by nature and self-aware of the goal you have put in place and the acknowledgement you made in the actions necessary to achieve. Put a note on your desk, tape a post-it to your bathroom mirror, slide a card in the visor of your car and be reminded of the goals you have set and what you will not allow to alter that path to procurement. Complacency will thrive in those who do not have personal standards.

Is your fear of dying or of living?

The truly wise know that both those mindsets are misguided. The secret is known that death is not something to be avoided or fought, but embraced. Furthermore, in doing so, there can actually be the formula for great insights, breakthroughs and wisdom.

Memento Mori: the reminder that you are mortal.

Death does not make life pointless. Instead, knowing it is there can create priority and thinking about it gives you perspective, motivating you to focus on what’s important.

Below are seven reminders adapted from “The Daily Stoic” to help you find inspiration in your own mortality in the hopes it will short your mentality about death.

Spendthrifts of time.

“Were all the geniuses of history to focus on this single theme, they could never fully express their bafflement at the darkness of the human mind. No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”Seneca

Each day there will be endless interruptions: phone calls, emails, visitors, unexpected events. Booker T. Washington observed that “the number of people who stand ready to consume one’s time, to no purpose, is almost countless.”

A philosopher, on the other hand, knows that these intrusions prevent us from doing the thinking and work we were put here to do. This is why they so diligently protect their personal space and thoughts from trespassers and needy neighbors. They know that a few minutes of contemplation are worth more than any meeting or report. They also know how little time we are actually given in life — and how quickly our stories can be depleted.

It was the passing of a friend that reminded entrepreneur and investor Tim Ferris how “too often, we spend time focusing on the trivial with people who contribute nothing but their own self-interest.” We must resist this and instead, prioritize and shun distractions, as I mentioned before. One of the greatest business minds, Peter Drucker, advised, “Force yourself to set priorities. Do first things first — and second things not at all.”

Why would you do that if you think time is infinite? If you think you have time for it all, you’ll end up doing a lot of things you don’t need to do.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca reminds us that while we might be good at protecting our physical property, we are far too lax at enforcing our mental boundaries. Property can be regained because let’s face it, there is quite a bit of it out there — some of which is still untouched by man. Time on the other hand; Time is our most irreplaceable asset. Instead of striving to make more of it, we can far more easily just stop wasting so much of it.

The prophecy that never fails.

“Let each thing you would do, say or intend be like that of a dying person.” — Marcus Aurelius

Have you ever heard someone ask: “What would you do if you found out tomorrow that you had cancer?” The question is designed to make you consider how different life might be if you were suddenly given just a few months or weeks to live. There’s nothing like a terminal illness to wake people up.

But here’s the thing: You already have a terminal diagnosis. We all do! As the writer Edmund Wilson put it, “Death is one prophecy that never fails.” Every person is born with a death sentence. Elon Musk joked after his near-death experience on a vacation, “That’s my lesson for taking a vacation: Vacation will kill you.” You never know when it will happen, but you carry the awareness that it could at any moment.

In his commencement speech, Steve Jobs said that “death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent.” He goes on to say, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

So to simplify, the people who were given a wakeup call about their mortality tend to squeeze more life into those remaining years than they had in all the others before.

Pretend today is the end.

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” — Seneca

“Live each day as if it were your last” is a cliché. Plenty say it, few actually do it.

Let us live today the same way. Because as Steve Jobs put it, “If you live each day as it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” And even if somehow, you weren’t, it would still be a better existence than the person who makes the risky bet on living forever.

Coming to terms with the ‘Tragic Triad.’

“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can, become good now.” — Marcus Aurelius

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, observed three universal facts about human existence. He said, “There is no human being who may say that he has not failed, that he does not suffer, and that he will not die.” It is this “Tragic Triad” that defines every one of our lives, does it not?

Without death, life just is. Without failure, there is no learning. Without suffering, there is no pleasure or purpose.

Instead of judging this reality or trying to cheat it, we should say instead, “Ok, if that’s how it is, I will try to make the most of my allotted time.” If we do this, we will find that it is from failure, struggle and death that meaning is produced. Your “why,” if you will. It is death that gives life urgency. It’s failure that teaches us lessons. It’s suffering that shows us who we are.

Do not run from these facts, face them.

You could leave right now.

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” — Marcus Aurelius

Earlier this year, I felt myself getting a little complacent. I felt like I was stuck in my routine, that I was doing the same things over and over as if my life would go on forever or like I would find a way to accept the end if it came sooner than expected.

Marcus Aurelius’s quoted: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

The point is urgency. Appreciation. Humility. The present moment. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many things you have left to be done, because even if life was radically lengthened, you could still be killed in some way and then that would be it.

Too many people realize the preciousness of life only at the end of their lives. This is why today, before you go on living your life, I encourage you to think about how short it really is. The Stoics understood how critical it is to remind ourselves of our own mortality. Why? It helps us reorient our priorities, realize how petty our concerns are and how wasteful we’ve been with our time. With death constantly on our minds, or as Shakespeare said, “with every third thought on our grave, we have an easier time rejecting pointless trivialities and we develop a keen sense of priority and time.”

Feeling sorry for yourself is unnatural.

“It’s better to conquer grief than to deceive it.” — Seneca

Furthermore, there is a quote that states the observation: “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever have felt sorry for itself.”

The Stoics talk a lot about grief. They know that it is real and they certainly wouldn’t pretend that avoiding it in its entirety is advisable or even possible. But there was the sense of comfort and reminder that self-pity and getting overly emotional, while trying to change what has already happened has never, and will never, be productive. We have to find inspiration for strength and fortitude everywhere.

Cherish what you have.

How did reading those make you feel? I hope invigorated and inspired to seize each and every day, while wearing the reminder of how fleeting our time really is. I tap into that feeling each and every morning I awake.

“Whatever you do, keep death in mind.”

The poet Lucretius described it in haunting language: “Never again will your dear children race for the prize of your first kisses and touch your heart with pleasure too profound for words.” This, although, is not what we forget. What we forget is “You will not care, because you will not exist.” Jack London, speaking like a Stoic, has an equally clever and profound line. With death, he says, man “does not lose anything, for with the loss of himself, he loses the knowledge of loss.”

Written by

Writer. Poet. Philomath. Dog Mom. Traveler. Creator. Wanderer. Teacher. Empath. Author of “Unapologetically Human” - available on Amazon

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