(MoneyWatch) You may not know it, but you have a tolerance meter -- an internal gauge that tells you when enough is enough. The problem for many is that their tolerance meter is set too high -- that they put up with far too much for far too long. We stay at jobs we hate because it is "comfortable enough," and because changing requires so much more energy. We'll endure critical bosses who never have nice things to say about us because we tell ourselves that they're not "that bad." We'll live paycheck to paycheck for years because we fool ourselves into thinking it's the "best we can do."
It is easy to fall into the mental trap of mediocrity. Because it doesn't take much to get by, we grow complacent. We stop growing and seeking challenges. We don't push ourselves to succeed. We cultivate a lifestyle well below our potential, but one that is just good enough that it doesn't require much challenge or action.
Tolerance is critical for survival. It has allowed us to endure horrific conditions by helping us quickly adapt to the situation. Our ability to adapt to our surroundings is both a gift and a curse. There are some life forms that cannot survive unless their conditions are ideal. Vary their environment even a little and they perish. We don't have this problem. We can tolerate, and even flourish, in wild extremes.
But when it comes to our careers, relationships, health, and lives, tolerance and adaptability are also curses. It's amazing how much we can tolerate when our environment changes slowly. Incremental change is our worst enemy. It permits us to gradually accept living standards that we never would have accepted in the beginning.
The best way to determine if you have settled is to take an honest look at your present situation. Are you where you want to be? Have you forgotten once vivid dreams and aspirations? Success has been defined as the progressive realization of a worthy goal. Based on this definition, are you successful?
There is a dark side to not "settling." I'm sure there is at least one person in your life that suffers from the belief that nothing is ever good enough. No matter how successful they become or how much money they make, they are never satisfied with their lives. This mindset is a guaranteed formula for frustration and unhappiness. So while it is healthy and motivating to work for and dream about reaching your goals, it is imperative to be thankful for where you are and what you already have. Regardless of your situation, you have a thousand things for which to give thanks. Do not lose sight of these aspects of your life. Don't lose sight of how far you've come and of what you've already accomplished on your journey in life.
The solution is to demand more from yourself (and often from others!). Draw a line in the sand and make a commitment to progress. Look at your situation with a set of fresh eyes and ask yourself, "How can I do better?" The moment you realize getting by isn't good enough is the moment your life can start to change.