You've been wanting to do something for a while, but are yet to get round to doing it. Perhaps it's something you must do, but you procrastinate, knowing full well that you're only wasting valuable time.
Eventually, you reflect and end up talking yourself out of doing precisely what you wanted or needed to do in the first place. You use all kinds of excuses disguised as perfectly sound logic.
Unfortunately, this is something we all do.
Making excuses for not doing something, disguising it as perfectly sound logic is very dangerous. It often means we don't follow up on ideas or accomplish the very things we set out to do in life.
It's too painful to admit we were responsible for our failures, so the excuses we make shifts the responsibility, making us feel better about ourselves and validating our failures.
Excuses are harming your progress and development and give you a reason to be satisfied with your failure.
You may have noticed that it's always those who fail to achieve something that have excuses. People who failed to complete degrees, people who failed to make their grades, people who failed to lose weight. They will all have excuses disguised as "sound reasons" for their failures. They will fail to accept the responsibility that the reason they were unable to achieve their goals lies with themselves and not some external factor.
Winners don't have excuses.
I'm not saying excuses aren't valid - quite the opposite. But these reasons shouldn't be fatal. They're hurdles, which should not stop you from achieving your goals. People who accomplish great things NEVER have excuses. One thing they all have in common is hurdles and challenges, which they have been able to overcome.
Take someone like Charlie Munger for example, who by the age of 31 had lost everything following his divorce, was broke and is in the process of burying his 9 year old son, who had died from cancer. His misfortune continued as he went on to develop cataracts, leading to a horrific operation that left him blind in one eye. He eventually had to remove this eye as the pain was excruciating.
Munger goes on to become a billionaire philanthropist and is often credited as one of the most successful investors of all time. What's your excuse?
Every successful person has survived, despite the odds being stacked against them.
One of the most common excuses I hear is "I'm too tired to go to the gym". Actually, you're not too tired to go to the gym. What you're really saying is that the gym is not important enough. If going to the gym was the most important thing for you to do today, you will find a way to make it happen.
If we were to take that statement literally, it doesn't take much to "go" to the gym. Going to the gym consists of, leaving your home, travelling to the gym and entering the gym. It's pretty simple. Taking the statement literally, the only time you can never be too tired to go to the gym if you summer is suffering from a severe medical emergency. You should never be "too tired to go to the gym".
The Man Who Took Going to the Gym Literally
To bring the above point into life a little, I'll share a short story about a man who took "going" to the gym literally and the result of his actions.
A man once set himself a target of going to the gym every day. He figured, motivating himself to leave his home was the tricky part, so he decided to drive to the gym daily, to overcome this initial mental hurdle. As soon as he arrives, he walks into the gym, then he immediately leaves and returns home. Although he didn't do a workout, he's now able to tick off "going to the gym" from his to-do list.
It may appear odd at first glance, but there is some logic to this man's madness. Each time he attended the gym, it was becoming easier to motivate himself to attend - breaking down biggest barrier to attending the gyy. This method allowed him to motivate himself to get to the gym in the first place. He's now building the habit of attending the gym.
Within a few weeks, since he was already at the gym, he decided to start some simple 2-minute exercises once he arrived at the gym to make the trip worthwhile. Following the 2 minute exercise, he'd walk out of the gym again and drive home as usual. It means that he's now completed a 2-minute exercise at the gym.
Over time, this quick 2-minute workout increased to 5 minutes, then 10, 30 and 60 minutes and so on. By starting small, with modest ambitions, the man was able to break down the mental barrier of motivating himself to go to the gym. Eventually, he had been able to build the habit of attending the gym and worked his way up to having a full session.
I wish I were able to say this man is Arnold Schwarzenegger; it would have made for a cracking story.
Unfortunately it's not...
The Benefit of Taking Action Today
For so long, I wanted to improve my fitness, so I decided that I will run 15 minutes into the office and back each day. I procrastinated for over a year and never ran to work. I came up with several excuses for not getting started, disguised as "perfectly sound logic" to avoid this reality.
- "I could benefit from 15 minutes of extra sleep to improve my productivity."
- "I could make myself a decent breakfast with this extra 15 minutes."
- "I would have to go into the office on the weekend to bring clean clothes."
Eventually, I convinced myself that getting up 15 minutes earlier for a run is not a good idea and reached this conclusion with what I thought was perfectly sound logic. It was a fallacy (see article). I had talked myself out of something I wanted to do.
At the time, I didn't realise I was only making excuses. If I wanted to run to work, I would have just run to work. I'll figure out the details later and will find a way to make it work. The hard part was getting started.
I wasted over a year contemplating running to work, which could have improved my fitness. A year I'll never get back. A year I could have spent doing, taking action and not thinking about it.
Eventually, I decided to take action on one Monday morning to run into work and commit to it for the rest of the week. I had taken a bunch of clothes to the office the evening before, so I had everything I needed for work. It took a few weeks for me to get all the details correct, such as finding a system to separate clean and dirty outfits, but I did it. After a year, I stopped thinking and finally began taking action and running to work.
Now, I've become very efficient. I don't even need to think about it. It's become a routine which is part of my day, and now I can't even imagine ever not running to work. It sets me up for my day nicely.
It's been 9 months now, and I've maintained my habit of running to and from work every day. It was something I had been thinking about doing for years, but never actually took action until I decided to do it one day and figure the rest out.
We need to think less and do more.
Time spent procrastinating or making excuses is wasted time. I spent a year procrastinating my run to work. It only takes 15 minutes. I could have tried, failed, learned and eventually succeeded during that year. Instead, I guaranteed my failure by not even starting. I thought about the process and made excuses.
Our prefrontal cortex is to blame for a lot of our procrastination, overthinking and excuses. The ability to think has helped humans become the dominant species, but it has its drawbacks.
Less developed species don't overthink. If they want to climb a tree, they just do it. If they want to go hunting, they just do it. If they want to take a nap, they just do it. If they want to run to work every day, they do it.
They don't think and analyse for over a year like I did, before taking action. What makes us human is also responsible for what makes us procrastinate.
This tendency to overthink often results with us doing nothing. To make changes, we need to tap into our monkey brain, stop thinking and do it.
We need to stop talking ourselves out of things. The hardest part is getting started. Once I had started running to work, I had a blueprint, which I could refine through each run/iteration until it was perfect for my situation.
Next time you find yourself putting off something you want or need to do, realise that you're just making excuses, it's just that.
If you wanted it bad enough, you would do it, without procrastinating.
I'll leave you with this.
It's the little decisions we make daily that determines our success and outcomes in life because over time, everything in life compounds.
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