5 Steps To Avoid Complacency

Championship could mean complacencyRemember the fire in the belly you felt on the way to achieving a goal? The goal might have involved a project execution, career advancement, or a sports championship. You came to work each day focused and energized. Yet as you reached your goal, it’s likely that a subtle process began to take hold, one that I commonly see as a performance coach. Did you start to relax and enjoy the trappings of success? Find you weren’t working with the same “edge”? Feel like the hunted rather than the hunter? Probably nothing seemed wrong or broken. Often in these situations, you won’t perceive any major alarms or warning signs. But then one day you realize you are no longer at the top of the heap. Complacency has now insidiously set in.

Let’s look to professional sports for examples of why it’s difficult to remain at the top of the mountain you’ve climbed. In over fifty years of Super Bowl history, only eight teams have claimed the trophy two years in a row; no team has ever won the Super Bowl three years in a row. Or how about Major League Baseball? With the exception of the New York Yankees, only eight teams have won back-to-back World Series, with the Oakland Athletics achieving a three-peat from 1972-74. Including the Yankees, repeat championships have been won by only fourteen teams in the 120 years of the sport in our country.

Why is it so unusual for major sports teams to claim two consecutive championships? Why is it practically impossible to win top honors in any field more than twice in a row? The answers are complicated, but at least some of the blame can be attributed to complacency. Teams reach their pinnacle, bask in the glory, and lose that gnawing hunger that drove them to success in the first place.

The same principles apply to any type of performer, not just athletes. Businesspeople, artists, and leaders are a few other examples.

Here are five steps to avoid complacency once you’ve achieved your dream goal.

1. Start every day from scratch.

Sustainable excellence is about getting better every day. Great performers don’t think about past accomplishments. They don’t take days off when they show up to work. They come to work every day with the goal of getting better. The best performers I’ve worked with have trained themselves to set goals for every practice session, important meeting, or presentation. Continuous improvement is not a cliché, but rather is a way of life.

2. Surround yourself with people who will tell you like it is.

Successful people often attract followers who want to be associated with success but aren’t willing to pay the price to achieve it themselves. Their fawning attention feels flattering, but it carries a big price. Because they’re motivated to stay in someone else’s limelight, these adulators will not risk (or are not capable of) giving honest feedback. They fear that by telling the truth, they will be replaced in the success circle. Relying on these individuals as a barometer has caused the downfall of many successful individuals, teams, and organizations. Notice that I began this paragraph with “successful people” rather than “excellent people.” Sustainably excellent people recognize this potential trap door in advance and resist falling into the hole, while people who are solely motivated by success often do not. (See ‘The Difference Between Success and Excellence’.)

3. Focus on process instead of outcome.

Excellent people and organizations develop a process for achieving and sustaining excellence. They follow this established approach with discipline. If they don’t achieve their goals, they adjust the process. People who focus only on outcomes may achieve limited success, but it will not be sustainable. There is no way to repeat success consistently without a method, formula or approach — that is, a process.  (See ‘Understanding Process and Outcome‘.)

4. Continuously learn and adapt.

Many successful people and organizations rely on the same methods that brought them to the top to keep them there. This is often the beginning of the complacency cycle. While you do need core philosophies and values to guide decision-making, you must also adapt techniques and approaches to remain current with best practices and market trends in order to be sustainably excellent. For example, even the most conservative companies in the world have a social media strategy. They may have been hesitant when the phenomenon first began, but excellent organizations understood that their employees and customers communicate through social media and expect the organizations they patronize to do the same.

5. Recharge the batteries.

Excellent people are extremely driven. They do not work a 9-to-5 day, and often they endure long periods of time without what most people would call “work-life balance.” To reach the top, an imbalance may be necessary at times. But in order to avoid complacency you must build in time for rest, relaxation, hobbies, reflection, and quality time with family and friends. This fuels necessary energy to continue to innovate and succeed. Otherwise, you become the proverbial hamster in the wheel. The wheel — or the hamster — ultimately breaks down.

Success does not have to turn into complacence. Accept the challenge to be excellent rather than merely successful and you won’t have to worry about staying on top once you get there!

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