“Of all the people I know, you have suffered so much in your life. I’d give you an excuse to bail out any day,” a male friend once said to me.
From his perspective, my long list of physical challenges — from kidney disease to Celiac Disease — gave me a lifelong excuse card that would make me exempt from attaining success.
My thought on his comment? Well, isn’t that nice? No, that isn’t helpful. Bleah. Yuck. Give me a moment to wipe that thought from my mind.
This kind of thinking, the Excuse Card, sounds surprisingly similar to the word, “Resistance,” which is the topic of a book a friend and presentation coach Dr. Michelle Mazur recommended me to read. The book is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and the primary focus of the first section of the book is resistance. Resistance is that excuse card, the many various rhymes, reasons, and rationalizations we give to ourselves on a daily basis to keep us from engaging in the activities, dreams, and passionate work of our lives. Rather than doing that work, we often chase other activities which present less fear, superficial but acceptable gains, give us the illusion of busyness and productivity, yet distance us from our ultimate goals.
Pressfield’s book is a powerful “kick in the ass” for helping you overcome your personal resistances, so I’ll refer you to check out his book if you want to get the big picture on identifying key ways you allow resistance to keep you from attaining your deepest wants in life. For this post, I’d like to bring you in a little closer to my world by giving away my top five ways I deal with excuses in my life.
Do yourself a favor, and steal these. I give you permission.
Five Way To Deal With Excuses
1. Ask if this excuse gets you closer or further away from getting your goal finished.
Each time I have created a goal for myself, I have a million and one excuses that get in between myself and that goal. I can’t think of a single substantive goal where this has not been the truth. More days than not, I simply have to ask if I’m making any progress, and to select activities that get me closer to my goal, while delaying, limiting, and sometimes eliminating activities that keep me further from my goals.
“I’ll just spend fifteen minutes checking out my Facebook feed,” I say to myself. And when thirty minutes go by, I notice I just gave myself an excuse to not attend to the thing I had really wanted to do.
Oh, you too?
You can learn to tune into when your mind’s excuses take you closer or further from your goals. When you hear your brain rattling off the usual excuses, you can decide if you want to listen. Most of the time, it’s the same boring song.
2. Ask if you are whining. If you can’t tell, you probably are.
When whatever I am delivering as an excuse for not working on my goals starts to sound like a whiny complaint, my spouse will ask, dryly, “Is that a complaint?” I honestly found his question annoying the first time he asked it, but I quickly realized that I was more annoyed with myself for not noticing my whine than I was annoyed with his question!
You see, when it’s pouring down rain outside and I have a run to put in to keep on track with my training goals (trail race, Ironman training, etc), I will try to use the rain as an excuse to not run. Yet the last time I checked, I am not afraid of rain. I don’t rust! But I am afraid of attempting to do something new and failing. A sure way to fail at a race is to not train well for it. And a lovely way out of feeling like a failure is to not even show up for the race in the first place. “Oh, I didn’t have enough time to train, and the weather was so yucky.” Blah blah blah. Whine whine whine. Excuses are made of a lot of words. Completion of your goals are made of two words: fun, and done.
It sounds so reasonable. And it sounds so pathetic. But if you actually give in to your whining mind, you can whine yourself into a place where you are so far behind, you’d rather quit than double down.
3. Do whatever task you are trying to put off right now, and ask questions later.
I know this part of me really well. I will tell myself that I will do X thing I am making excuses for, just later in the day. Next thing I know, it’s 8 o’clock in the evening, and I’m too tired, too busy, too comfortable at home in my pajamas while petting my cat.
Instead, I often place the most important task of the day in the early part of the day and give it focused attention. I must make either complete or make a significant dent in that task right now. I can always ask how I feel about doing it later, because if I ask myself if I feel like doing that task right now, sometimes the answer comes back, “Meh, I’d rather sit around and do nothing.”
4. Run your excuse by a no-nonsense friend, and ask your friend to see right through the crap.
Sometimes the reason I fall prey to a particular resistance is because the resistance touches on something of which that I am feeling emotionally connected. That’s when I call in on a friend, like a game show contestant calls out for back up on a decision. Your friend may help you see right through the bullsh!t/crap excuse to help you kill that little darling and get back to the work you need to do.
5. Tell your excuse that you know what it is trying to do… and it won’t work.
Name the excuse for what it is: a pitiful resistance that has no power over you. Laugh in its face. You see exactly what it is trying to do — undermine your resolve, move you further away from your goal, keep you complacent with underachievement, whatever — and you will not let Resistance win this day.
Naming the demon allows you to pull out the weapons in your toolkit that you can use to slay it.
Trying to lose weight? Resistance says, “Ooh, cupcakes are on sale today!”
Want to write a book? Resistance says, “Wouldn’t it be more fun to watch a movie right now?”
Want to take an online course to learn how to become an awesome professional photographer with her own business? Resistance says, “Anybody can learn this, so you have plenty of time to do it, whenever. And it won’t matter, because you really won’t be able to compete anyways. Oh look! There’s a cute cat photo…”!
Resistance is tricky, but you have your own bag of tricks. State Resistance’s excuses aloud, and then say, “Hah! I’m not falling for that one!” And then, get moving on the very action that Resistance says you don’t need to do.
I find that if I start to throw any sympathy towards Resistance’s excuse-making machinery, I get thrown off my path like a new rider on an unbroken pony. Instead, tell that pony that you will simply find another horse to get you to your destination, and suddenly, the Resistance is not so strong.
Last week, I found myself shaking with anxiety as I stood in the rough surf of DT Fleming Beach in Kapalua on Maui. This beach is the site for the Xterra World Championship swim event of a challenging off-road triathlon; swimmers must navigate an M-shapped swim and survive the shore break four times for the 1.5 kilometer swim. And here I was, having trouble just floating in the surf without getting flung around like a piece of seaweed.
One of my secrets to successful living is create large, meaningful goals in life that are big, hairy, and challenging enough to fill me with doubt at some point in the journey. So as I stood in the surf and heard my brain saying, “No, I am not getting back in there because the surf is too rough,” I rallied. I said, “No, that is not true. It is not too rough. You can do this. You have prepared for this. Get back in there and float around. You will not die. You’re just making excuses. Get out there and swim. This is what you came here for.” And I got back in the water, duck dived under the surf a few more times, got dragged out and flung back up on the beach on my tummy, lather-rinse-repeated that a few more times until I was satisfied, and then spent the next few minutes laughing and removing sand from my ears!
Over the following days, I ended up spending a least thirty minutes each day swimming, floating, and learning how to swim with and against the current until I transformed my Resistance into Accomplishments. I learned that The Mighty Ocean was this neutral body that I could learn to be with, and the anxiety became less and less.
What did facing the rough ocean surf do to any Resistances I face that remain in my Task Box on my computer? It made me say, “If I can take on The Mighty Ocean, and it didn’t kill me, I can take on my goals and press through those excuses!”
Perhaps your list of tips on dealing with excuses will have some clever hacks of your own. Feel free to share your tips with this community by sending me a private email, and I can anonymously post your ideas in the comments.