How to Avoid the Complacency Trap

There’s something to be said for having the ability to tolerate discomfort and dissatisfaction in our lives. To be able to handle the little things and not let them get in the way of our happiness and well-being is a great skill. However, when we confuse overlooking small nuisances with avoiding dealing with them, not so  much.

When hardship strikes others, we comfort them as best we can; and we comfort ourselves by comparing their hardship to our own problems and say, “At least things aren’t that bad,” or “Things could be worse.”  These events could be a death, illness, accident, financial or relationship woes.  And while it is helpful to put things in perspective, it often returns us to a place of complacency, a place where we settle for the way things are because, after all, they’re just not that bad, instead of being motivated to make them better.   

Why don’t we continuosly address the problems in our lives until they become unbearable?  If a quick trip to the doctor can set our elbow straight, what is stopping us?  If the same issue with our spouse has been replaying now for months or even years, what are we waiting for? 

We have become numb to the mediocrity of our lives in the interest of tolerance.

While some situations have a sudden onset like an accident, others build up over time, like chronic unrest.  Then those petty nuisances that were once easily overlooked become the elephant in the room that you just cannot ignore.  Some circumstances are unforeseen while others are truly of our own making.  Like it or not, we choose the “not so bad” over and over again.

Try this exercise:

Think of someone who’s been dealt a blow (aging parent moving in, child with diabetes, infidelity, etc.).  In imagining their pain and difficulty with this situation, think of the day-to-day gripes in your own life that seem petty in comparison.  Of those things, choose the one whose disappearance would have the biggest impact on your life.  Now fix it.  Whatever it takes, devote some time and energy to making that problem better. 

Because some problems involve other people, you may not totally resolve them all.  However, you are always able to improve the situation by changing your relationship to it.  Whether it’s simply understanding it better, detaching from the outcome, or accepting things as they are, all will effectively pull the plug on the problem.  When that happens, the danger of complacency goes with it.