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  • Abby

On Excuses


Well, 95% of the time, excuses are just lies. You’re straight up just lying to yourself, and if you want to develop discipline, you’ll need to learn to recognize your excuses, call yourself out on then, and then go do the thing. What excuses are you making? Recently, someone in my life who has been trying to build a gym habit for months told me she was planning to go to the gym after work. The next day, she tells me she didn’t go to the gym after work yesterday because “it was dark outside”. Uhhhh… yeah. You leave work at 6, and it’s the dead of winter in Pennsylvania. Of course it’s going to be dark. I could have told you that. Unless your gym closes at sunset, that isn’t a valid reason not to go to the gym. (Disclaimer: our work, her gym, and her apartment are all in very safe, well lit areas, so not going after dark was not a safety concern. Don’t go outside after dark if it is unsafe. That’s a valid reason.)

In the same vein, I recently went to the gym on a snowy Sunday morning. The vibe of the gym was totally different than usual, and I quickly realized that nearly every single person at the gym at 9 a.m. on that chilly morning was a regular. The vibe was different because everyone knew each other, so there was lots of talking and laughing, rather than everyone silently minding their own business as usual. After that observation, I noticed that everyone at the gym was in good shape. Usually there are lots of people at the gym who are pre-fit, aka those trying to lose weight or gain strength or flexibility or any combination of the above (and massive props to them, it’s not an easy change to make). However, these people were nowhere to be found.

The snow had kept them at home. They had used it as an excuse. We had only gotten 3 or 4 inches of snow, it wasn’t currently snowing, the roads were clear, it was sunny, and I drove a Honda Civic to the gym and managed the drive just fine. There was no real reason that the snow would prevent everyone from getting to the gym. And the fit crowd didn’t think anything of it. We were all at the gym. Disciplined people don’t listen to their excuses. I’m sure some of the pre-fit crowd worked out at home, and true, one missed Sunday workout won’t make a difference in the long run, but this mentality of finding excuses will. If you skip the gym when it’s snowy, or rainy, or dark, or cold, or you’re tired, or you’d rather just sit at home on the couch, those 18 missed workouts will make a difference.

Stop making excuses. Don’t tell me you can’t afford healthy food. Beans and rice are dirt cheap. Meal prep them. Don’t tell me you can’t study because The Bachelor is on. Don’t tell me you can’t get up early because you’re tired. Don’t tell me you don’t have time to work on your music every day. Stop. Making. Excuses. If you really value these changes and really want to become disciplined and improve your life, there is no room for excuses. Stop lying to yourself. Call yourself out on your excuses, tell yourself that they are lies, then go do the thing you need to be doing. Have no patience for your excuses. They are not your friend, and those excuses may make your life easier in that exact moment, but they prevent you from getting to your long term goal. And though it may be hard to believe in that moment, getting to your long term goal will be much more rewarding than spending the night eating chips on the sofa.

A few tips for facing your excuses:

1. Write them down. Like, on an actual piece of paper, in big letters, with a real physical pen. Pretend someone else wrote that down and told you that this was their reason for not doing whatever it is that they know they need to do. Would you accept it? If your friend had decided to start working out but said they weren’t going to the gym tonight because “it’s dark outside”, would you accept it, or stare at them like they have 3 heads? Really face whatever excuse you’re trying to make, and chances are, you’ll realize it’s absolute BS.

2. For bigger decisions, hit up /r/makemychoice. Reddit definitely isn’t always the best source of input, but the people of /r/makemychoice typically make good decisions. Are you debating going back to school in order to change careers? Get some input. Chances are, everyone’s going to tell you to do the thing that will improve your life and deep down, you know they’re right. Don’t let them down.

3. Use the 5 second rule. In short, the 5 second rule is making a decision, counting down from 5, and taking action as soon as you get to 1. Don’t think about it. Without giving a single brain cell of thought to the possibility of making excuses, decide right now that you are going to do that thing you need to do. Then immediately count down from 5, and go do it. No time for excuses.

4. Accept that not every second of life will be 100% pleasurable. Pursuit of constant pleasure isn’t a healthy way to live, and won’t actually lead to happiness. You can read more about this in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, but for now, just trust me. Going through something uncomfortable, or sometimes downright terrible, will often lead you to the most long term happiness. That’s just the way the world works. Accepting and embracing this is key to building a life that you are genuinely excited to live. Knowing this, reevaluate your excuse. Are you making excuses because you’re trying to avoid being temporarily inconvenienced or uncomfortable? Then it’s likely that ignoring your excuse and going to do the thing will bring you significantly more happiness than whatever bit of superficial happiness you would get from not doing the thing.

5. Start a streak. I guess today is a subreddit plugging day because I’m now going to plug /r/theXeffect. The basic concept of the X effect is deciding on something you’d like to change in your life, then keeping track of how many days in a row you’re able to keep up that new change using rows of Xs written on a card. Essentially, this gamifies your new habit. If keeping up a streak sounds satisfying to you, the X effect can help you to overcome whatever excuses you’re making for the sake of upholding the streak.

6. Think back to times in the past when you did the thing and how the outcome made you feel. I do this all the time, with everything from hanging up my coat when I come home from work, to getting my tired ass to the gym in the morning. If I think about it for a bit, I know that I feel much better when my coat is hung up instead of thrown on the couch. And I know that I love being at the gym, and I love the feeling I get after working out. So even if it doesn’t seem all that appealing right this second, I’m able to convince my present self that my future self will be very glad I did the thing instead of making excuses. So I do it.

I want to wrap this up by saying that yes, 5% of the time, that excuse is valid. If your shoulder hurts (actual pain, not just being sore from a previous workout), don’t do that shoulder workout today. That is a real and valid reason to skip that workout. If you need to go pick your sick child up from school at the time you normally meditate, that’s a valid reason to skip that session. Just don't skip it the next day. Be honest with yourself. If you really look at the excuse you’re making, you’ll be able to tell if it’s a valid reason or if you’re just trying to get out of making progress. Don’t skip the gym because “it’s dark”.

Also, for more on the 5 second rule, I recommend this interview with Mel Robbins.

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