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How to Counteract Complacency

A simple but effective way to motivate yourself to do almost anything

By Julie Shifman

Remember the story about how to cook a frog? If you drop a live frog directly into a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump right out. But if you place him in a pot of comfortably warm water and slowly turn up the heat, he’ll relax and stay put, eventually getting himself cooked. The gradual increase in temperature fools the complacent frog into believing that everything is just fine — until it is too late.

My client Barb was a complacent frog. A full-time mom with grown children now in her mid-50s, Barb had felt no compunction to change until two things happened: She heard me give a talk and got an invitation to her 40th high school reunion. She decided she was ready to do something different with her life — but had no idea what that might be. So she called to set up some coaching sessions, and in advance of our first coaching session, she emailed me to give me a sense of her situation.

“Next year is my big high school reunion,” she wrote. “If I start comparing myself to women I graduated with, in no way, shape or form will I measure up to a majority of them. I’m not really unhappy, yet I often think I should wait to try something new in my life until my children get married and settle down. I figure up until then, they might still be need me.”

It’s obvious that Barb’s self-esteem needed some bolstering, but she had felt no compunction to change until now. In my coaching work, I bump up against this issue all the time: how to counteract complacency when there is no crisis. At first, this stymied me; then I hit on a solution: Turn up the heat in your own life by manufacturing a "crisis," which is really just a way to see where you're feeling unfulfilled in your life.

I created an exercise to counteract complacency, and most of my clients tell me it has been very effective in helping them move their stuck needle. Close your eyes and picture yourself as a 90-year-old. Imagine that in all the years in between you have been living your life exactly as you are doing now. Now imagine the 90-year-old you reflecting back on your life. Has it been fulfilling? Did you accomplish everything you wanted to or make the difference you had hoped to?

If not, how does this make you feel? When you open your eyes, write down what you felt and allow yourself to really feel it. This is the well from which you will draw the motivation needed to counteract complacency.


Keep this image with you at all times. The next time you have an opportunity to do something new or challenging — and which in the past you would have shied away from — call up the feelings of the 90-year-old you and push yourself a little harder. Do it for her. Practice this exercise a few times and see what happens to your complacency.

As for Barb, the complacent frog, I am happy to report that we did the above exercise several times, and she was able to manufacture her own “crisis.” Now, two years later, she has edged herself out of her comfort zone and has realized a longtime dream to become a docent at the local art museum. And she finally acted on her passion for gardening and is leading an inner-city community gardening effort and helping others become more fulfilled in their own lives.

You can also follow Julie on Twitter @actthree, join the Act Three community on Facebook or visit her website,

Julie Shifman is an inspirational keynote speaker, career coach and the author of Act Three: Create the Life You Want, which is available on and in bookstores. You can buy a signed copy at her website. Read More
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