5 Steps To Avoid Complacency

Championship could mean complacencyRemember the fire in the belly you felt on the way to achieving a goal? It could have been a project execution, career advancement or a sports championship. You came to work each day excited, committed and motivated. Yet as a major goal is achieved a subtle process often begins to take hold. You start to relax and enjoy the perks that go along with success. You don’t quite work with the same “edge.” You are now the hunted rather than the hunter. Nothing seems wrong or broken.  You don’t perceive any major alarms or warning signs, but you soon find yourself no longer at the top of the heap. Complacency has now insidiously set in.

Let’s look to professional sports for statistics on how difficult it is to remain at the top of the mountain once it’s climbed. In the fifty years of Super Bowl history, we can count only eight instances when a team 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, statistics show just eight instances of one team winning the World Series twice in a row — and never three times in a row — over the course of a 103-year history. The Yankees are the sole outlier, having won two or more World Series in a row six times.

Why is it so unusual for major sports teams to claim two consecutive championships? Why is it practically impossible to win top honors 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, whether in the arts, business or nonprofit world.

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 a way of life. (See ‘Do One Thing Better Today‘.)

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

Successful people 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. This has been the downfall of many successful individuals, teams and organizations.

3. Focus on process instead of outcome.

Successful people, organizations and relationships 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 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. While you do need core philosophies, principles and values to achieve sustainable excellence, you must also adapt techniques and approaches to remain current with best practices and trends. 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 successful organizations understood their employees, customers and fans communicate through social media and expect the organizations they patronize to do the same.

5. Recharge the batteries.

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

Excellence does not have to turn into complacence. Accept the challenge to stay on top once you get there!


  1. Thank you for this article. Gives me a good sense of the word, complacency. I don’t want to be the hamster on the wheel.

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