Overcoming complacency – It’s all about helping others

Overcoming complacency – It’s all about helping others

Complacency is a mental process which occurs in the automatic part of the brain. It originates from many repetitions of an action, which build neural connections in an area  in the back of your brain called the cerebellum. Importantly, actions stemming from our automatic processes require little to no conscious thought. Resulting in very low awareness of this action occurring.

The fact this mental process is automatic thinking, creates a new problem for us.  We are NOT very good at monitoring automatic thinking. Daniel Kahneman explains our automatic thinking (System 1), occurs without full engagement of our conscious thinking (System 2). System 2 really only takes notice of major divergences, like trying to kill someone, and lets most of the decisions and actions in System 1 occur without intervention.

From a thinking systems perspective, this means is we need a very high level of self-awareness or have developed some habit to recognise we are in or about to enter automatic thinking! This is not impossible but not very probable given our cultural constraints.

A more effective way, is the second mechanism I wish to propose. Looking for complacency in others.

A better way – help from others

It appears we have a highly developed ability to identify when others have a reduced awareness of hazards and feeling comfortable with what they are doing. How many times do you spot other drivers texting or on their mobile phones. I can’t seem to travel more than 50 metres without seeing someone!

Why this occurs is not immediately obvious, however it appears our mental processes see it in others. It may originate as an evolutionary survival strategy, when we relied on others in our group for hunting food or protecting against foes. Being able to see this behaviour would’ve been useful. Whatever the purpose, it is beyond doubt we are better at observing complacent behaviours in others, than in ourselves.

How can we use this ability?

The big question is, how can we use this? Working in teams or groups of people we know, on some level, is important. Although, helping a complete stranger sitting in the car next to you on their mobile phone, is also possible.

It’s all about engagement. How we go about communicating with the other person. And what is most important is how you make them feel. Their perceptions and feelings from what you are saying.

Open and friendly, gets the best response. Telling and aggressive is worst. No-one wants to engage with the teller.

So seeing complacency in others is easier than in ourselves. It’s an automatic response. Sharing those observations positively is the key to breaking complacency.

To overcome complacency, ask others to look for it in you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.