Catching Foxes: Complacency

You have to challenge yourself. If not, complacency sets in. And bad things happen when people become complacent – Henry Spencer

When Safe Becomes Dangerous

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once told a parable about a wild duck. One Spring, as he was flying north with his flock, he spotted a barnyard and tame ducks below. Noticing the tame ducks had corn to eat, he abandoned his flock, flew down, and joined the tame ducks. After spending an hour with these ducks, he decided to spend a day. Because the barnyard was safe and the corn was free and readily available, he decided to spend the summer there. One day, the duck looked up and noticed some of his friends flying above. Filled with delight, the duck summoned all his might and began flapping his wings, intending to join his friends. To his dismay, he couldn’t soar. The corn made him too heavy for his wings to support his body in flight. After several failed attempts, he dropped back to the barnyard and said to himself, “… my life here is safe, and the food is good!” He decided to spend the winter at the barnyard. 

From then on, each Spring and Fall, the duck would hear wild ducks quacking as they passed overhead. He’d start flapping his wings almost without realizing it, but a day came when those others would pass overhead uttering their cry — the wild duck who was now tame would not pay the slightest attention. 

Diagnosing Complacency

Kierkegaard’s parable highlights the danger of complacency, which at times disguises itself as contentment. What is the difference? A side-by-side analysis reveals that complacency is born out of indifference while contentment is born out of peace within oneself. Complacency causes regression, while contentment encourages progression. Complacency blinds us to actual dangers or growing deficiencies. Like the duck, we end up losing our ability to fly and reach dreams and goals we once set but now see through the lattice of phrases like “I used to _____”  and “There was a time I _______.” 

Regret-filled words like these can be avoided by shedding the weight of complacency off our lives. With an investigator’s eye, identify areas in your life where complacency is getting in the way of the capacity you need to reach the heights you were born for. 

Do The Hard Things authors Alex and Brett Harris derived this remarkable assessment of complacency from the magazine Bits & Pieces:

“Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes, and causes a drain on the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things as they might be. ‘Good enough’ becomes today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard. Complacency makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried, and abhor the new. Like water, complacent people follow the easiest course — downhill. They draw false strength from looking back.”

A Treatment Plan for Complacency 

Along the path to complacency are all the trappings that simulate a safe life. Similar to the wild duck, the “easy and readily available” takes the place of the “difficult and some assembly required.” A “meh” attitude develops. 

Unbeknownst to us, the pernicious little fox of complacency seeps in, clips our wings inch by inch, and grounds our life. We concede our dream to all the reasons why it cannot happen. Best-selling author and top podcaster Michael Hyatt says, “When you decide that the dream warrants it, you have to take a stand and play full out.” Treating complacency combines elevating our perspective with rediscovering our passion. They are the allied forces we need to crush the enemy of complacency.


Perspective is a function of thought and choice. To elevate your perspective check the places and people you spend most of your time with. Our perspective is massively influenced by the places we frequent and the people with whom we surround ourselves. Over time they hold a great deal of sway on our thinking and decisions. The wild duck turned complacent as his perspective was restricted to the barnyard and the company of the tame ducks.


Rediscovering your passion is similar to relighting a wood fire. Without wood, the fire continues to die. An injection of wood ignites the dying fire, and it roars back to life.  Passion, like the fire, requires wood. What is the wood for passion? I believe urgency is the wood that reignites passion. Where a sense of urgency is absent, complacency creeps in. To introduce urgency, set a deadline (a specific date) to accomplish small tasks or actions that are important and contribute to your goal. Sans urgency, complacency becomes the default mode. With it, we remain in the challenge zone and out of the comfort zone. We operate at the edge of our abilities, and there our passion comes back to life. 

Final Thought: Has complacency tamed your expectations and tied down your resolve? The good news is with an elevated perspective and a reignited passion, you can shed the corn of complacency, flap your wings, and soar to your destiny.

Keep on keeping on!


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