The mind is a wonderful thing.
Its also a complete liar that constantly tries to convince us not to take actions we know are good for us, and stops many great changes in our lives.
Ive had to learn to watch these rationalizations and excuses very carefully, in order to make the changes Ive made in my life: a healthier diet, regular exercise, minimalism, writing daily, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and so on.
If I hadnt learned these excuses, and how to counter them, I would never have stuck to these changes. In fact, I failed many times before 2005 (when I started changing my life), because these excuses had complete power over me.
Lets expose the cowardly minds excuses and rationalizations once and for all.
First, the main principle: the mind wants comfort, and is afraid of discomfort and change. The mind is used to its comfort cocoon, and anytime we try to push beyond that comfort zone very far or for very long, the mind tries desperately to get back into the cocoon. At any cost, including our long-term health and happiness.
OK, with that in mind, lets go into the excuses:
1. I cant do it.
It seems too hard, so we think we cant stick to the change. We dont believe in ourselves. This can be countered from the fact that many other people no more capable than us have done it. For example, Oprah ran a marathon a little before I started training for my first marathon, and so I told myself, If Oprah can do it, so can I! I was right.
2. He/she can do it, but that doesnt apply to me.
Just because someone else can do it, doesnt mean we can, right? We look for reasons they can do it but we cant maybe he can be a minimalist because he has no kids, or is a freelancer rather than someone with a real job. Maybe shes way, way fitter than I am, so she can run a marathon. Maybe she doesnt have all the obligations I have, or has a supportive spouse, or doesnt have a crippling health condition. OK, fine, its easy to find excuses: but look at all the other people who have worse obstacles than you whove done it. I have 6 kids and still managed to change a lot of things in my life. Stories abound of people with disabilities or illnesses who overcame their obstacles to achieve amazing things. Your obstacles can be overcome.
3. I need my ___.
Fill in the blank: I need my coffee, my cheese, my soda, my TV shows, my car, my shoe collection … these are things we convince ourselves we cant live without, so we cant make a change like becoming vegan or eating healthier or unschooling our kids or simplifying our lives or going car-free. And Ive made these excuses myself, but they all turned out to be lies. I didnt need any of that. The only things you really need are basic food, water, clothing, shelter, and other people for social needs. Everything else is not a real need.
4. Life is meant to be enjoyed.
Sure, I agree with this statement (as many of us would) but the problem is this is used to justify all kinds of crappy behavior. Might as well scarf down those Doritos and Twinkies, because hey, life is meant to be enjoyed, right? No. You can do without junk food and still enjoy life. You can exercise and enjoy it. You can give up pretty much anything and still enjoy life, if you learn to see almost any activity as enjoyable.
5. I need comfort.
This might also be true, but we can push ourselves into more discomfort than we let ourselves believe. We can be a bit cold, instead of needing to be at the perfect comfortable temperature. We can do hard exercise, instead of needing to lay around on the couch. We can write that thing weve been procrastinating on it might be hard, but we can push through that. When our minds seek comfort, dont let them run push a little bit outside the comfort zone, and begin to be OK with a bit of discomfort.
6. I dont know how.
This is also true, but you can learn. Start with a little at a time, and learn how to deal with this new change. Do some research online. Watch some videos. Ask people online how they dealt with it. This is easily overcome with a little effort and practice. In fact, if you do it now, and learn a little at a time, then youll be able to do away with this pesky excuse.
7. I can do it later.
Sure, you can always do it later … but your later self will also feel the same way. Why should the later self be more disciplined than your current self? In fact, because youre allowing yourself to slide now, youre building a habit of procrastination and actually making is less likely that your future self will be more disciplined. Instead, do it now, unless theres something more important that you need to do … dont let yourself slide just because you dont feel like it.
8. One time wont hurt.
This is so tempting, because its kind of true one time wont hurt. Assuming, that is, that its only one time. One bite of chocolate cake, one missed workout, one time procrastinating instead of writing. Unfortunately, its never actually just one time. One time means your brain now knows it can get away with this excuse, and the next one time leads to another, until youre not actually sticking to something. Make a rule: never ever believe the one time excuse. I did this with smoking (Not One Puff Ever) and it worked. If youre going to allow yourself a bite or two of chocolate cake, decide beforehand and build it into your plan (I will allow myself a fist-sized serving of sweets once every weekend) and stick to that plan, rather than deciding on the fly, when your resistance is weak.
9. I dont feel like it.
Well, true. You dont feel like working hard. Who does? Letting the rule of Ill do it when feel like it dictate your life means youll never write that book, never build that business, never create anything great, never have healthy habits. Create a plan thats doable, and execute it. When the rationalizations like this come up, dont believe them. Everyone is capable of doing a hard workout even when theyre not in the mood. Everyone can overcome their internal resistance.
10. Im tired.
Yep, me too. I still did my heavy squat workout today. There is truth to needing rest, and resting when you need it (listen to your body) but this is usually the mind trying to weasel out of something uncomfortable. Theres a difference between being exhausted and needing some rest, and being the little tired we all feel every afternoon. Push through the latter.
11. I deserve a reward/break.
We all deserve that tasty treat, or a day off. Im not saying you shouldnt give yourself a reward or break. But if you make this rationalization your rule, youll always be on a break. Youll always be giving yourself rewards, and never sticking to the original plan. Heres what I do instead: I see sticking to my plan as the reward itself. Going on a run isnt the thing I have to get through to get a reward the run is the reward.
12. Wouldnt it be nice to stop?
This again is our mind wanting to run from discomfort, and of course its true it would be nice to stop if youre pushing into a discomfort zone for too long. The thing is, the implication is that it would be better to stop, because it would be nice … but thats a lie. It would be easier to stop, but often its better to continue pushing. This excuse almost beat me when I tried to run my 50-mile ultramarathon last December, because honestly it would have been much nicer to stop and not finish the race, especially in the last 10 miles or so. I pushed through, and found out I was tougher than I thought.
13. The result youre going for isnt important.
If youre trying to run a marathon, this is phrased like, Its not that important that I finish this. Ive used this excuse for learning languages (it doesnt matter if I learn this) or programming or any number of things I wanted to learn. Ive used it for writing and exercise and eating healthy food. And while the result might not be that important, the truth is that the process is very important. If you stick with a process that will be better for you in the long run, then you will be better off. But if you let yourself go just because you are uncomfortable and at this moment care more for your comfort than the goal you set out for, youll have lots of problems. The goal isnt important, but learning to stick to things when youre uncomfortable is extremely important.
14. Im afraid.
Now, this is the most honest excuse there is most of us dont want to admit were afraid to pursue something difficult. But its also a weaselly way out of discomfort just because youre afraid doesnt mean you cant do something. You can. Ive done tons of things Im afraid of mostly creating things that I was worried Id fail at. And while the fear sometimes came true I didnt do too well sometimes the act of pushing through the fear was incredibly important and I learned a lot each time.
Awareness & Practice
Ive used all of these excuses hundreds of times each, so dont think Ive overcome them all. And you can use them in the future too. Theres nothing wrong with giving in sometimes.
The key is to learn whether theyre true, and see your pattern. Heres what Ive done:
- Notice the excuse. It has way more power if it works on you in the background.
- Try to have an answer for the excuse beforehand anticipate it.
- If you give in, thats OK, but recognize that youre giving in to a lame excuse. Be aware of what youre doing.
- After giving in, see what the results are. Are you happier? Is your life better? Was it worth it giving in to discomfort?
- Learn from those results. If you pushed through and are happy about it, remember that. If you gave in to excuses, and didnt like the result, remember that.
If you consciously practice this process, youll get better at recognizing and not believing these lies. And then, bam, youve got your mind working for you instead of against you.