When was the last time you stretched yourself?  Not physically (thought that too is important), but rather in regards to pushing yourself to reach for a new goal or milestone.  Has it been a while?  If so, it might be time to ask yourself if you have unknowingly begun to slide towards complacency, a dangerous state which can threaten to undo all of your previous success.

Humans, arguably, are naturally lazy.  While there is nothing wrong with taking time to rest and enjoy the fruits of your labor (and you certainly should), our tendency towards laziness means that the more we succeed (personally, professionally, or otherwise), the easier it becomes for us to lean back and become satisfied with our previous gains.  In some cases, that may be perfectly acceptable.  A one-time stretch goal of running a marathon, for example, may not be a task you wish to repeat anytime soon.  But in other areas of your life, such as in business, complacency can destroy you.

An example of such can be seen in the story of Cameron Martel, who in the early 2000s created a successful online affiliate marketing website while in his early 20s.  After a high degree of initial success, he grew complacent, and over the course of the next few years his business entered a slow decline until it eventually closed in 2009.  As Cameron later said, “In my complacency, I stuck to what I knew.  It didn’t take long for the bottom to fall out from underneath me, and in so doing I learned my first painful (and expensive) lesson in business: complacency and success cannot go hand in hand.  In reality, the death of the business was due to the simple fact that I forgot what it meant to innovate; to be hungry.”

Cameron’s message about the failure to innovate can be seen in the failure of many once successful businesses.  Just think about Kodak, Blockbuster, Sears, and Toys “R” Us, just to name a few.  These businesses failed to adapt (arguably due to complacency), and ultimately paid the price.  Research conducted for a study spanning three decades has found that such results are not uncommon for large businesses.  Companies with a high level of success tend to become complacent with the status quo.  And when they (or you) begin to ignore the technological and cultural changes around you that are driving and altering how people interact with you and your business, failure to innovate and adapt will give your competitors the opportunity to surpass you.

So how do you prevent complacency?  Consider the following:

  • Take risks.  As entrepreneur Tony Robbins has acknowledged, the more we risk, especially when stakes are on the line, the harder it pushes us.
  • Seek out new opportunities.  Get out of your comfort zone.
  • Have a sense of urgency, especially in regards to your job or business.
  • From leadership coach Darren Hardy: Develop systems, habits, and disciplines to protect yourself from your own laziness.  In other words, find the triggers that encourage your complacency and laziness, and find ways to distance yourself from them.
  • Stay grounded.  Success today does not make you better than your fellow man, nor does it promise he/she will not one day surpass you.
  • From Bill Gates: keep in mind that “Success is a lousy teacher.  It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

In closing, keep in mind that while much of this article has been in regards to business, the same ideas apply to all areas of your life.  As educator Benjamin E. Mays stated, “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacity.”  Spend some time thinking about areas of your life (personally or professionally) where you may have unintentionally become complacent due to past success, and then address those areas.  If needed, consider asking a trusted advisor or peer to give you their opinion as to whether or not you’ve become complacent in different areas (as we are often blind to our own shortcomings).  It may be painful to get back into gear and stretch yourself, but it is ultimately far better than the alternative.


Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is a healthcare IT consultant with six Epic Systems certifications.  He is also the co-owner of Appalachian Digital, a website development agency.  You can contact Jeremiah at or connect with him on LinkedIn at Jeremiah Clark.