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How To Be Content Without Being Complacent

I can proudly say that I currently am in the best place ever in my life. And still, despite knowing this, I struggle with understanding how to be content in the present moment. Even though I managed to embody my younger self’s dream life, I catch myself thinking, “Ok, what’s next?” visualizing the next exciting challenge or project without slowing down, always hungry for more. 

I personally believe it is extremely important to be a dreamer and muster the courage to realize your deepest hopes and desires for the future. But, at the same time, the ability to step back and be anchored in the present moment is also essential if we want to feel content with our very existence. 

I can’t help but wonder how to marry the two while avoiding the risk of becoming complacent? 

Is it possible to do both: be content with what we already have and constantly strive for more? What to do if you fall into a rut, satisfying yourself with whatever comes your way, “half-assing” your job, all of a sudden doing the bare minimum, and convincing yourself it’s good enough and that it could have been worse? 

The question that has been brewing inside me is: How can I be content without being complacent? 

Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?

Contentment vs. Complacency

The line between contentment and complacency can get very blurry at times, which is precisely why knowing the difference between the two is essential on the journey of personal development. 

Contentment could be described as a sense of satisfaction and happiness in regard to our current state. Being content means appreciating life as it is in the present moment, with all its blessings and hardships. It’s essential to understand that contentment does not rule out the yearning to develop and grow as a human being. On the contrary! It is the content person who enjoys the magic of ‘here and now’ while relentlessly going after their dreams. It is the content person who’s able to grasp the beauty of the work in progress, the magnetic power of overcoming challenges, the liberating taste of constantly reaching one’s full potential.

On the other hand, we have complacency. It is essentially a limiting belief that stops us from striving for more, making us settle for something just because it’s “good enough”. A complacent person tends to blame the external world for all the obstacles and drawbacks in their life, using them as excuses to stay passive and jaded. Their mindset says: “I am stuck here, and there is nothing greater that life has to offer for me”. Complacency creeps in silently and keeps us locked inside our comfort zones where we don’t challenge ourselves in any shape or form. Being complacent is single-handedly the biggest enemy of progress. It makes us choose mediocrity over the learning process, growth, and opportunities to experience new things. 

Why do we become complacent?

I assume that, in theory, the majority of people, if not all, would like to attain their dreamlife and go after their one big goal. Unfortunately, whether it’s starting a family, having your own company, finishing a marathon, passing a challenging exam, getting married, learning a new language or something else, there always will be mental blocks and adversities holding us back from realizing our deepest desires. When I come to think more of the nature of complacency, the tendency to settle for less, even though we deserve the world, makes a lot of sense.

On the most fundamental level, our brains have a singular task to fulfil: keep us safe. Thanks to evolution, we’ve been equipped with the negativity bias – a tendency to pay a lot more attention to the negative aspects of life, assign immense importance to them and mostly disregard the positives. While it kept our ancestors alive and aware of different dangers in the past, nowadays the bias can sometimes do more harm than good. It shapes the way we interpret various stimuli and react to the external world. 

Stepping out of your comfort zone literally means leaving the metaphorical safety blanket behind. No wonder our brains panic, and we produce hundreds of reasons (or should I say excuses) not to pursue our dreams. At the basic level, it is the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure talking. This might come across as a hard pill to swallow, but here it goes: Every single one of us is born in a specific environment with a particular set of obstacles to overcome. Now, some of these circumstances are indeed more challenging than others. Nevertheless, we all have them. Most of the time, it is entirely up to us how we deal with our reality. To be more exact, it’s all about our approach and what we believe in.

two women enjoying their time together smiling and taking a selfie

Fixed vs Growth Mindset 

Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, known for her work on theories of intelligence and research concerning motivation and development, found a continuum ending with two different categories of beliefs that people adopt regarding their intelligence and ability to succeed – fixed versus growth mindset. 

People with a fixed mindset believe that one’s personal qualities are innate, like a set that cannot be altered – “you are who you are” kind of thing.

That belief impacts the behaviour and decision-making process in a profound way. A fixed mindset is considered to be a significant obstacle in personal development. At the base of this mindset lies a destructive thought saying: “You cannot grow, you cannot develop”. 

The behaviour then is oriented towards proving one’s worth compared to others, performing well while being observed, and avoiding criticism at all costs since it’s seen as an attack. Therefore when individuals with a fixed mindset pick a goal, it cannot be too hard, rather safe to pursue – in the end, failure is not an option. 

On the other end of the continuum, there are people with a growth mindset. Their fundamental belief says that improvement is possible for everyone and everything when achieved by great efforts and gaining experience. That posture encourages development through learning and working on a particular skill. It is much easier to stay focused and motivated when your core belief says: “I can do this, I can improve over time”. 

These people tend to work hard, persistently overcome challenges, and compare themselves to no one but themself. Progress is defined by a self-set standard, and constructive criticism is welcome since it’s seen as valuable feedback and a piece of advice for the future. Growth-mindset individuals choose the risky option. They set the bar higher and higher on a journey of self-actualizing.

a woman sitting at a desk looking over her laptop with a big smile on her face content with her work

Growth comes at the point of resistance.

We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.” 

– Josh Waitzkin

I’d like to caution a friendly warning. The growth mindset is most welcome in conjunction with the contentment of the present moment. They complement each other. When one part is lacking – the other takes on an unhealthy form. 

If, for instance, we are in a constant “go-go-go” mindset, hardly ever slowing down, with our thoughts set on future goals, then we deprive ourselves of witnessing the richness and beauty of life as it is right now. In a world of freelancers, hustlers, go-getters, and achievers, that phenomenon, named shiny ball syndrome, can even lead to anxiety or burnout if it’s not appropriately addressed. 

How to be content, then, without obsessive hustling or settling for the bare minimum? 

Tips on getting unstuck, overcoming complacency and fostering contentment:

  1. Determine your “why”:

Knowing and understanding the purpose and meaning behind your dreams and desires is a game-changer. It is the “why” that sparks and feeds the fire inside us. It is the “why” that motivates us to keep going, even when life is testing us. 

Think of your passion and its purpose as a lighthouse. Trust it to always guide you in the right direction, to remind you of your priority, of your values. It will be there as a reminder and a source of motivation. Essentially, figuring out your “why” leaves no room for complacency. 

  1. Put flesh on the bones of your goal:

What are the details of your dream? What is the colour, texture and taste of your project? Visualise it. Breathe it. Live it. Talk about it with your loved ones, or write it down in your journal. 

Most of all, try to give it a solid structure. When your goals are tangible and precise, it is a lot easier to pursue them. Fortunately, in 1981, a genius named George T. Doran published a paper with a brilliant method with criteria for setting realistic goals called SMART. Here’s a great resource that explains it very well.

  1. Memento Mori

Remember that you are mortal. Your time on this planet is limited. Yet, so often, we can take our existence for granted. What the future holds is a mystery to all of us without a way to control it. All that we have is the present moment, so make sure you use it wisely. Appreciating it in a mindful manner can help you snap out of the numbness of complacency. 

a woman dressed in workout clothes sitting on her yoga mat with arms stretched in the air enjoying the present moment
  1. Find opportunity in adversity

Our growth hardly ever happens linearly. Most of the time, we go through different periods in life: struggling, succeeding, failing, starting over etc. 

One thing I know for sure is that there will always be an obstacle standing in your way. Sometimes small and easy to manage. Other times it will feel like an unsolvable issue. You might feel like quitting and giving up on your goal. 

That is precisely when it is best to stay grounded in the present moment, sit back and try to look at your problem from a different angle. It often turns out that there’s a growth opportunity in the adversity waiting for you to be discovered. Ryan Estis talks about the nature of the pivotal, defining moments and his experience of bouncing back from rock bottom and transcending the hardships at an accelerating speed. He says:

“they’re the catalysts that propel us forward, further and faster toward becoming more of who we are capable of being – in the direction of our dreams.”

  1. Treat Yourself with Kindness 

This is a vital yet so often neglected point. Perhaps your goal is already clearly defined and tangible. Perhaps you already work your butt off every single day. It all doesn’t matter much if you’re not being kind to yourself. 

Sooner or later, you will experience a setback. That’s when your inner critic will start causing damage. Try to treat yourself in this situation as you would treat your loved one – with empathy, compassion, and kindness. Instead of holding a grudge against yourself, learn to forgive yourself and be grateful for this journey. Don’t let the complacency turn you into a victim – take charge of your dream in a loving manner. 

“You don’t need to be the best version of yourself to love the version that you are today.

The life you want does not negate the value of life that you have right now.

– Cassie Hager 

  1. Make a Daily Commitment 

Looks like I’m in the habit of saving the best for last…

Committing to your goal seals the deal! Make a personal pact with yourself and stick to it. Hold yourself accountable. Make it official and unbreakable. Take the metaphorical bull by the horns and follow your passion. Not tomorrow, not in a week, but today.

Step number one?

Open your journal and write down:

  • 3 things that you love about your life right now
  • 3 goals that you’re hoping to achieve in the future; make them as scary and big as possible

Put it in your house in a strategic place where you can see and read it every day. Use it as a grounding reminder of how to be content without being complacent.


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