By Jon F. Merz
Let’s talk about complacency.
I found a definition online that I particularly like: “A feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy.” This one, for me, really hits home about how dangerous complacency can be. Complacency isn’t something that jumps out of the closet and shouts, “Boo!” and scares the crap out of you. Complacency is subtle. It’s covert. And it’s highly infectious. Think of a creeping vine that slowly and inexorably wraps itself around you, slowly suffocating you until you’re dead. Everything you’ve been working toward, every dream you’ve had, every wish you have yet to fulfill – all of that is destroyed by complacency.
I should know; I’ve been there.
Starting last Fall, I had a series of medical “issues,” that mandated me being scrutinized more rigorously than I had been so far in my life. As a result of the stress and testing, I let my exercise regimen fall by the wayside. Yeah, I was still in the dojo training, but that was about all I was doing. I did this partly because I didn’t know what the hell was happening with my body and didn’t want to exacerbate any issues until I got the all-clear. And the stress of uncertainty weighed heavily on my mind. So I let things slip.
By the end of March, I was free and clear. But instead of picking up my exercise regimen again, I continued to let it lapse. And I now had results to show off for my lack of exercise in that I had a few extra pounds around my midsection. (And if you know me, then you know that I gain weight at about the same speed as a glacier moves – so for me to say I put on a few pounds is saying a lot, lol)
I’d grown complacent.
I certainly wasn’t self-satisfied with my level of fitness; and it wasn’t a conscious decision that I made to simply stop exercising. It was complacency’s sneaky, slow march toward shattering all of the self-discipline I’d worked so hard to build and maintain for so many years. That’s why complacency is so dangerous. You don’t often realize you’re in trouble until it’s too late.
Or nearly so.
I’ve done extremely well with my ebook sales since going the indie route in January 2011. Each month I sell thousands upon thousands of ebooks to new readers and established fans. And I’ve been incredibly grateful for that success. But when I started doing the indie thing, I had a goal in mind that I wanted to reach: a certain income level derived passively from sales of my ebooks each and every month. Now, granted, trying to establish analytics and stats on such a new market is daunting, to say the least. And it wasn’t all that possible to know about the ups-and-downs of the market until after I’d been in it for a while.
But I did have a goal.
And here’s where complacency gets even more dangerous. Having infected one area of your life, complacency will then infect other areas as well. The cumulative effect of complacency is simply going through the motions. You might say the right things, you might do the right things, you might play the script, but if you’re not reaching forward and challenging yourself every moment of every day, then you’re inviting complacency to come set up shop. And once there, it can be tough to get rid of.
This past Saturday, I was taking an afternoon nap, as I like to do each and every day. But I was unable to sleep. I kept thinking about that goal I’d had with my ebook sales, I kept drumming over and over in my mind how great it would be to reach that goal and then set an even loftier goal after that. I started taking a long, hard, and honest look back at the preceding ten months.
And what I saw wasn’t all that appealing. I was still writing, I was still selling, and I was still doing well with ebook sales. But I wasn’t trying to break new ground. I wasn’t actively trying to reach that goal.
Then I looked at my overall state of being and realized that as my exercise regimen had fallen into non-existence, so too, had my drive in certain other areas of my life. I was still powering forward in some very important areas, like the development of THE FIXER TV series, but I was really dropping the ball in other areas. And if I wasn’t careful – if I didn’t take immediate steps to remedy my condition – I was in danger of losing all of it.
It’s a hard lesson. There’s no easy way around it. Ego aids and abets the stalking onslaught of complacency by whispering sweet nothings in your ear about how you’re still in shape, or you’re still doing great sales wise, or you still look like you did when you were twenty years old, or that you can still train for six hours, go drink your ass off, and then bounce out of bed the next morning ready to train again.
But the reality of the situation is far different. The mirror that I held up to myself showed the truth as opposed to the soothing falsehood that ego and complacency have tried so hard to drape over me.
So, today started the remedy. I was up at 0500 and went for a run/walk. This is the first time in a long time I’ve gone running.
Have I mentioned before how much I loathe running? I do. I seriously hate it. About the only time I ever loved running was back in the first grade, when right before recess, my buddy Robbie Murphy and I would try to be the first at the door and upon hearing the bell we would blow the doors open, spill out into the recess yard, and zoom around shouting “Moose Cycle!” I have no idea, to this day, what a Moose Cycle is, or if it even exists. But we would tear ass all around that recess yard and laugh every single second of the time we did it.
That was the last time I enjoyed running. In recent years, I usually tell people I only run when I am being chased by overwhelming numbers of foes. But walk/runs have always been part of my routine. So today, I got back out there. It hurt and it sucked and it was a sweaty, steaming pile of goopy mess that finally made it back home here about an hour later. My cats greeted me with a meow that said, “Oh great, you’re home. Feed us, you sweaty bastard and don’t drip in our food bowl.” They’re cats. If nothing else, they can be counted on to not stroke your ego.
I’m also on a new schedule in terms of productivity. I’ve got a plan to reach that ebook sales goal I set for myself nearly eighteen months ago.
Which brings me to the topic of this blog post. We’ve talked about complacency and how dastardly it can be. Now, let’s talk about a possible solution.
Having recognized that I had grown complacent, I had two choices. One was to continue being complacent. I could conceivably continue to not work out and possibly live pretty long life. I could probably continue to sell ebooks as well as I have, bringing out one or two new titles every year. And things would probably be…okay.
The second choice was to take immediate action.
Immediate Action is a term hostage rescue units use to denote the plan they put into effect as soon as they arrive on-scene and have gotten the first briefing of information about what is going on. IAs are usually not perfect; they are rapidly conceived to bring about a fast resolution in case things suddenly go to hell and the bad guys start executing hostages. Immediate Action plans are in effect until the team has had a chance to get better information, set up their own observations posts (usually manned by the sniper teams), and get to grips with every possible variable and plan out a better course of action.
Sometimes, however, the situation demands the IA be implemented; there’s no time to plan things out better. That’s how I was feeling upon realizing what I was letting complacency do to my life. I wanted to take drastic, immediate steps to shake off the yoke of complacency and get back on track.
So I wrote out a new schedule. And now I’ve got my basic route for getting to my goals. I’m looking at it right now – and if I stick to it, my daily output of writing should be around 8,000-10,000 words. I know I can do it, since I’ve done upwards of 16,000 words in a day before. But that level of output wasn’t healthy, frankly, and I burned out after a week. 8k-10k is doable and a good solid output level for me. My day is now highly regimented and I’m channeling my military days to get this thing cranking.
It would have been nice to sleep in this morning. Especially since I only had five hours of sleep last night. And when my alarm went off, I groaned and thought about snoozing for a little while longer. That’s complacency for you. Sneaky. Subtle. Soothing.
Kill it. Kill it dead.
If you’ve been allowing complacency into your life, draw up a plan and execute it. It doesn’t mean you have to suddenly get up and run five miles on a Monday. It might just mean that you have to choose to get up in the first place. Take that first step toward ridding yourself of settling for how things have been. Go outside and walk two hundred yards and then run one hundred yards. Repeat. Make a deal with yourself: for every hill you run down going in one direction, one the way back, you have to run UP those same hills. Use landmarks on the side of the road to measure distance – reach the fire hydrant and then you can walk again. Or maybe push it a little further than that. If it took you twenty minutes to reach the midway point, try to finish in a shorter time. And keep track of what you’re doing so you can see tangible evidence of how you’re moving forward and progressing toward your goals. Keep a journal. I started a new one this morning with my distance, times, speed, and any extra thoughts I had while doing it. Today’s extra thought was this: “God, I hate running.” But the side benefit was that that I wanted to write this blog post and hopefully, you might find it useful.
A lot of people talk about setting goals and how to reach them. The reality of the situation is that there are no short-cuts to doing it. And any journey to reach a goal must inevitably start first with an honest assessment of where you are prior to starting the journey. You’ve gotta be honest, though. Lose the ego and the accolades of past accomplishments. They’re in the past for a reason; they don’t matter in your pursuit of a progressively awesome future. You’ve already reached those waypoints, so instead of looking back, move forward.
Hollywood likes to show hostage rescue units storming a room while the commander is shouting “Go-go-go!” over their communications headsets. In reality, the word “go” isn’t used. It sounds too much like “no,” or “hold,” and can lead to confusion at a moment when the last thing you want is any confusion. You want a clear, crisp command that your instincts and skills have been taught to recognize as the cue to do what you have been trained to do. “Execute!” is the phrase that is used more often than not. In the same way, make sure your own plan has no room for confusion, no room for maybe, no room for “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
No room for complacency.
Take a few minutes today and think about your own goals. Are you marching ahead to reach them or have you allowed complacency to enter your life like I did? If so, draw up an immediate action plan. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be a plan that you can refine as you get further into it. Once you have your IA, get yourself into position, feel your heart rate increase, hear the sound of your own breathing, the drumming of your pulse, and then…
Have a great week everyone!