I don’t have to tell you that excuses hold you back. Excuses stand between you and the thing that you need to do. If you can’t overcome them, you never get where you want to go.
I guess the more accurate title of this post would be “How to Combat Your Excuses.” What I want to talk about today isn’t so much not making excuses at all but preventing your excuses from getting in the way.
I will admit that excuses cross my mind all the time. Any time I need to do something that I don’t want to do, the chances of an excuse crossing my mind are pretty high. The issue here isn’t that the excuse is made, the issue is whether or not we let the excuse win.
When excuses win, they prevent results. You can’t accomplish your goals if you’re always excusing your way out of taking action. Action is the only thing that results in progress. If you stop letting your excuses win, you will start seeing results.
Create a step-by-step guide
If you’ve ever read my step-by-step guide to getting past gym anxiety and into a gym, you’ll know what I’m talking about. As one reader said to me after reading the post, “excuses don’t stand up to a well-formed plan.”
Often, the reason why it’s so easy to make so many excuses is that we haven’t taken a moment to think them through. When faced with a bit of thought, excuses rarely hold up.
So often, we’re so busy looking for a reason to avoid action that when we come up with even the flimsiest excuse, we run with it. Even excuses that may seem legitimate typically aren’t all that difficult to work around if you put a few minutes of thought into your plan.
By creating a step-by-step guide, you force yourself to think it through. You have to confront your excuses and think through every step of the process. This thorough approach helps you to preemptively counteract your excuses.
Essentially, creating your own step-by-step guide helps you to think through the process of what you need to do, giving you a complete and realistic plan while also giving you something to reference when excuses start to arise.
If it helps, imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes while you create your guide. If you were walking someone else through the process of doing this thing, what would you tell them? Include as many details as you can, and, if necessary, look to other people for advice.
Because the plan doesn’t involve actually taking action, merely planning what actions to take, it’s much easier to get started. Taking 10 minutes to create a plan is much easier than working your way through the plan.
It’s no substitute for action, but planning in this way can be a great way to get the ball rolling. You’ve conquered the excuses before they’ve arisen, and, more importantly, you’ve decided what actions to take, which leads me to:
Decide in advance
Say that you’ve decided to start eating healthier. Typically, you have the habit of grabbing takeout on the way home from work and inhaling the whole box, followed by some ice cream.
If you decide you’re going to start eating healthier, but you don’t decide when this plan will start or what you’re going to eat, it’s extremely likely that at the end of the day, you’ll decide, “oh, I’ll start tomorrow,” and grab your usual takeout on the way home.
You’ve waited until too late to make your decision. You let your hungry, tired, end-of-the-day brain decide.
You’ll find more success if you make your decision while your willpower is high and then commit to that decision. No changing your mind.
When you’re feeling good and you’re feeling motivated to make a change, that’s when you should make your decisions. Maybe this is in the morning after breakfast, maybe it’s Sunday afternoon while you’re hanging with your partner, maybe it’s right now as you’re reading this blog post.
Whenever you’re feeling motivated, that’s when you need to make decisions. Decide at that point that instead of picking up your takeout after work, you’ll go to the grocery store to get ingredients for a healthy recipe that you’ve been meaning to try. Write down your list and keep it somewhere convenient.
Then, at the end of the workday, there’s no space to reconsider. You’ve already decided; don’t think, just act. Don’t allow space for excuses. Your aim is to build a habit, and the more you argue with yourself about it, the more difficult it will be to build that habit.
Make your tough decisions in advance, and then stick to them. Don’t make yourself use willpower at times when your willpower tank is running low.
Take only the first step
One of my personal rules is that on the days I’m supposed to work out, I just have to go to the gym. The workout is not required, but getting myself to the gym is. If I make it to the gym and I still really don’t want to work out or I’m just not feeling it, I’m allowed to leave. I’m also allowed to leave mid-way through a workout.
With this rule in place for nearly a year, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned around and gone home without doing a workout. Without this rule in place, though, I’m sure the number of times that I skipped a workout would be much, much higher.
This rule takes away the pressure of having to do an entire workout. It’s easy to make excuses to get out of doing a workout. Whether you don’t have time or energy, or just don’t want to, we’ve all talked ourselves out of a workout and know it can be pretty easy to do.
But talking yourself out of the first step is much more difficult. Going to the gym takes less than 10 minutes and involves little physical effort, so it’s much harder to make excuses when I know that the task is easy.
Rather than committing to cooking a whole healthy meal, just cut up a vegetable. If you still aren’t feeling it after it’s cut, put the vegetable in a container in the fridge and save it for later. (You’ll probably find that it comes in handy later.)
Rather than sitting down to do your entire homework assignment, commit to just doing the first problem. If you’re still really opposed to working after that, you can take a break.
If these suggestions seem to difficult, make them smaller. The first step of working out could just be putting your gym clothes on. The first step of your healthy meal could be getting a pan out and putting it on the stove. The first step of doing your homework could be reading the problem and spending one minute jotting down any insights that come to mind.
The aim here is just to get started. It doesn’t have to be significant progress, you just want to trick yourself into starting.
If you can get the ball rolling, it’s typically not too difficult to keep going. Momentum, not motivation.
It’s much harder to excuse your way out of a smaller task, and you’ll be less tempted to make excuses when the task doesn’t seem so painful.
And if you complete your first small step and really, really don’t want to keep going, you have permission to stop. (But I think you’ll surprise yourself with how easy it is to keep going. Try just five more minutes!)
Check in with yourself
It’s always good to stay in tune with how you’re feeling so that you can take whatever action is best for you at any given time, but sometimes it’s difficult to know what to look for. Depending on what situation you’re in, there are different clues to look for and different solutions to solve the problem.
If you don’t typically make excuses...
If you don’t typically find yourself making excuses and lately you’ve been making lots of excuses and really struggling to do what needs to be done, ask yourself if you’re burned out.
Burnout typically happens after periods of high productivity. If you got a lot done in the last few days or weeks or you’ve been particularly busy and now you’re struggling to do anything at all, you’ve likely burned out.
You’ve reached your limit and your body and mind are forcing you to take the break that you need. Rather than fighting it, embrace it. Work with yourself, do some self-care, and in a couple of days, you’ll be feeling back to normal.
If you’re finding yourself making more excuses than usual, but burnout isn’t the culprit, it could be a lack of focus or progress, or that you’re not heading in the right direction.
Often, when our focus is unclear, it’s easy to make excuses. We don’t want to move forward because clarifying a direction seems like an insurmountable task. It’s not nearly as difficult as it seems, though.
When your excuses stem from lack of direction, take some time to clarify where you want to go. Ignoring the work that it may take to get there, what is the result that you would like to see? Clarify your goal first. (And if you don’t have a goal yet, check out this post.)
Once your goal is clarified, check in with your Why. If your Why is nonexistent or isn’t resonating, it’s time for a new one. After your Why is clarified and your goal is set, it should be much easier to get excited, stay focused, and keep moving forward.
If you’re an excuse maker…
If you’re a long-time excuse maker, well versed in the ways of getting out of what you need to do, it’s time to figure out why.
Typically procrastination and excuse-making happen because you’re trying to avoid a negative experience or emotion. By trying to avoid the activity via excuses, you’re hoping to spare yourself that experience.
Start by asking yourself what it is that you don’t want to do and why that thing sounds so unpleasant. Dig deep and be honest with yourself.
Have you done this thing before? Was it truly as bad as you thought it would be? How did you feel when you were finished with it?
Chances are, the thing isn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be, and you’ll feel so much better when you’ve finished it. By procrastinating and making excuses, all you’re doing is drawing out the discomfort, and potentially even multiplying it.
When we realistically face the idea of what will happen when we stop making excuses, it often becomes clear that the excuses and procrastination are worse than just doing the thing.
If you’re still struggling, see if there’s any way that you can drum up some excitement to make the daunting task more bearable. What’s on the other side of this task? How will this benefit your future self?
When you’ve explored why it is that you don’t want to take action, it can also become easier to use some of the other strategies in this list to help you move forward.
It wouldn’t be a Life By Grit post if I didn’t bring up self-discipline, so here we go.
You don’t have to listen to your excuses. You have the option to make them, notice them, and totally ignore them. This skill comes with building self-discipline.
One of the most important realizations in my life was that I don’t have to listen to my feelings. Just because I don’t feel like doing something doesn’t mean that I can’t do it. You can hate something with every fiber of your being and still push yourself to go through with it.
And chances are, the things that you’re making excuses about aren’t things that you hate with every fiber of your being.
Start small. Practice doing the tiny little things that you make excuses about. Instead of “five more minutes,” get out of bed now. Put down the second candy bar.
As you practice ignoring and overriding your excuses with smaller things like this, you’ll get better and better at it. The more you build the habit of acknowledging and letting go of excuses, the easier it becomes.
With practice, you’ll be able to consistently ignore your excuses and go after your goals without resistance.