We are all prone to making excuses. There is always a seemingly good reason why we shouldn’t work out today or put off that business idea a little longer.
But this way, life passes us by. Only when we have no more time left to waste, do we realize what a blunder we have committed.
Don’t let that be you.
This article will show you how to stop making excuses. Learn why there is never a perfect moment to start, and how you can trick yourself into action, even when you don’t feel like it.
- Why People Make Excuses
- How To Stop Making Excuses — A Game Plan
- 1. Take Responsibility
- 2. Say, “It’s My Fault”
- 3. Toughen Up
- 4. Stop Fixating on the Past
- 5. There Is No Perfect Moment
- 6. Get Over Perfectionism
- 7. Learn To Get Up
- 8. Introduce an Element of Punishment
- 9. Trick Yourself
- 10. Think of the Future
- 11. Gradually Build Up Your Pain Tolerance
- 12. Find Your Purpose
- 13. Define the Next Step
Why People Make Excuses
There are five reasons why people make excuses:
- Lack of purpose
Let’s look at these in turn.
Often, we are afraid to do what needs to be done.
We keep putting a certain action off because we feel we are in over our heads.
Many people are lazy. They have never learned that to get somewhere, you have to forego immediate gratification.
Sometimes, with a certain project, you don’t know what the exact next step is. That leads to inaction.
4. Lack of Purpose
If you are not passionate about your work, you will put it off as much as you can.
Often, we let get perfectionism in the way. By insisting on unrealistic standards, you weasel out of doing anything at all.
How To Stop Making Excuses — A Game Plan
Here are 13 strategies that will help you to stop making excuses.
1. Take Responsibility
People with a disposition towards excuses all have the same underlying issue — they don’t want to take responsibility for themselves.
On some level, they are all hoping for a savior to come along, someone to do the hard work for them.
Here are some variations of this:
- Attractive women might bank on the help of men. “Hey sweetie, could you fix my computer?”
- Follower types will look to political demagogues. “Donald Trump will do away with all problems.”
- Some people will demand systemic change. “Get rid of capitalism, and all injustices will disappear.”
- Nerdy types will fall for the hack mentality. “I don’t need to work, I will just invest in crypto.”
All of these lead nowhere.
Understand — when you give up responsibility for yourself, at the very least, you will waste your time. At the worst, you will get taken advantage of. Others will exploit your passiveness.
Embrace the fact that you are by yourself. No white knight is going to come along on a horse and save the day. Either you make it happen, or it won’t happen.
2. Say, “It’s My Fault”
The way to reclaim responsibility for yourself is to always say, “It’s my fault.”
When you have a fight with your partner about their spending habits, say, “It’s my fault.” You already knew they were irresponsible with money. You should have put systems in place for damage control. Or you should have left them.
When you hate your job, say, “It’s my fault.” You applied for it. You could have applied to a hundred different places in the meantime. Better yet, you could have started your own business.
When your car breaks down on the highway, say, “It’s my fault.” You wanted to save money and had to buy a used car. You didn’t get it checked in the last six months. You ignored that weird noise this morning.
Even when something is objectively not your fault, you must still claim responsibility. You must at least control your emotional reaction to the event, i.e., how you process it.
That is the deeper meaning of “It’s my fault” — absolute ownership. Whatever happens, it is up to you — and only you — to make it better. Other people do not play into it.
I like to think about it in terms of weather. If the sun is shining bright, and I get sunburned, I don’t blame the sun. It’s my fault. I should have put sunscreen on.
If I get rained on, I don’t shake my fist at the clouds. I should have brought an umbrella.
Life is no different. You don’t control others. You only control yourself.
3. Toughen Up
Growing up, we have been cuddled.
That’s because the more prosperous a society gets, the less adversity there is. And never has a society been more prosperous than the West.
For example, many people in the West have never been in a physical confrontation. They have never gone hungry. They never had to work really hard for anything.
Never facing any of these obstacles means you never developed an edge. You never developed the ability to push through.
Eventually, this will cost you.
There will arise a tough situation that you cannot be protected from by your parents, your teacher, or the government. And then you will be helpless.
That’s when you take refuge in excuses. You can simply not fathom that it might be your lack of grid.
Fortunately, even later in life, there are things you can do to toughen yourself up:
- Start a full-contact martial art. Getting punched in the face on a regular basis (or taken down or choked) are all good ways to stop being so sensitive.
- Overcome social anxiety. Make it a habit to talk to strangers on a daily basis. The inevitable rejections will force you to grow a thick skin.
- Face your fears. For example, if you are afraid of heights, walk around on the rooftop of your apartment building for half an hour each day.
- Do uncomfortable things. Have a daily routine of habits like taking a cold shower in the morning or working out first thing.
4. Stop Fixating on the Past
Thinking about the past to understand yourself better is an extremely useful endeavor. That’s why I always recommend therapy.
However, there is a difference between becoming more self-aware and playing “What if.” Imagining how your life would have been better if your parents had been more supportive or if you had a better economic start is not a useful endeavor.
At some point, you must take your learnings and apply them to the future.
If your parents didn’t provide enough encouragement, make a point to become very encouraging yourself. If you were poor growing up, make a point to become wealthy.
When your past learnings inform your future decisions, there will be no need for excuses anymore. You are in charge now.
5. There Is No Perfect Moment
Do you catch yourself thinking, “Once X is in place, I will finally start with project Y”?
“Once I feel a bit more rested, I will finally clean out my closet.”
“Once I lose some weight, I will finally start talking to girls.”
“Once I have $ 50,000 in the bank, I will finally start my own business.”
There is no “once” — no perfect moment when all the stars are going to align. There will always be “something” — an unexpected obstacle in your way. Count on it.
Life is now and you must start now.
That’s the mindset you must adopt when you want to learn how to stop making excuses.
6. Get Over Perfectionism
One of the biggest reasons why we keep making excuses is perfectionism.
At its base is an all-or-nothing logic. “Either I am going to write a bestseller or I am not going to write a novel at all.”
That is the perfect way to rationalize remaining inactive.
To beat this attitude, it can be helpful to study the biographies of famous people (writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, etc.). What you will discover is that at some point, their output, too, was crap.
Nobody is born a bestseller author or a genius virtuoso. You fail your way into it.
You start by writing your first crappy book, that you might or might not publish. Then you write a second one. And a third one. Gradually, they become less worse.
You cannot skip these intermediary steps. You might choose to not make them public. But they still need to happen.
Insisting on instant perfection is like saying, “I will walk across a tightrope” when you have never done so before.
Who would you rather trust to get it done — the perfectionist who wants to get it right on the first try? Or the person who practiced for a year, falling off many times?
On a deeper level, perfectionism is about fear. We don’t want to be ridiculed for our incompetence by others. If there were no spectators, we wouldn’t care.
You must become like a child again. Children don’t worry if their watercolor painting is going to make it to the Louvre. They focus on the act.
7. Learn To Get Up
Another common excuse is to give up after you experience failure.
For example, when I was younger, I was really into music. I was already playing the guitar in several bands when a new band project came up.
However, they needed a singer.
I had always secretly wished to be the lead singer of a band, but knew from recording myself that I was no good. Yet, somehow, I got the job.
It took one concert for me to get kicked out of the band. Someone took a video of the gig. As the keyboardist put it, “When we watched the video, people in the next room asked us to stop, as it was so painful to listen to.”
After that, I was done. I never tried my hands at singing again. In my mind, I had proven to myself that I was crap.
But in truth, it was an excuse. I could have gotten lessons. I could have kept at it. Today, I am positive that becoming a good singer was well within my power.
It was my fragile ego that kept me from doing so. I had been knocked down once, and I chose not to get up again.
Only much later did I learn to embrace such failures.
The trick is to reframe the experience. If you are hurting because of a failure, that’s a good thing. It means you care about the thing; I cared about singing.
Congratulate yourself. You have found something you are passionate about. Many people never do. Now move heaven and earth to get better at it.
Also, do not worry about talent; it is vastly overrated.
Whatever I tried in the last few decades — BJJ, entrepreneurship, creating content — I cannot tell you how many prodigies I saw come and go.
But those who succeed are rarely the most talented. It’s those who always get up.
8. Introduce an Element of Punishment
As a culture, we tend to overemphasize positive reinforcement, aka praise, and to downplay negative reinforcement, aka punishment.
While positive reinforcement undoubtedly works, it has its limits. Getting applause is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. We can do without it. That’s why many people ultimately opt for laziness over praise.
Negative reinforcement is much more compelling — provided the punishment is strong enough.
Let’s imagine there was a device implanted in your body; if you skipped a workout, you would get electrocuted. How many workouts would you miss in the future? Exactly, zero.
The challenge with negative reinforcement is how to implement it. For it to work, ideally, you would need an enforcer watching your every move.
One good workaround is to go public.
For example, post your habit list on social media. Then promise to do daily check-ins.
To increase the pressure, add a monetary punishment, e.g., “If I don’t habit X, I will pay amount Y to anti-charity Z.”
For example, anytime you break your push-up streak, you must pay $50. If you are pro-choice, you must pay to a pro-life organization (or vice versa).
This works on two levels.
First, we don’t want to lose face. We hate being on record for promising, “I will do X,” but then not doing it.
Second, people will want to see you pay. They get a kick out of it. Also, if you fail, it means they don’t have to feel so bad about being such deadbeats themselves.
This all works in your favor.
You are now under the microscope and less likely to make excuses. Such excuses might fly with a single person; but with a group of gloating bystanders, you will only get ridiculed.
9. Trick Yourself
We are lazy. Just thinking about studying for an exam or cleaning the apartment makes us feel tired. So, we come up with an excuse to not do it.
The problem is that in our head, we are anticipating the whole of the work. We are imagining reading three chapters and taking extensive notes. Before our inner eye, we can see how we will first clean the living room, then the kitchen, then the bathroom, etc.
To overcome this, you must dramatically lower your expectations.
Instead of thinking, “I must read three chapters,” tell yourself, “I just need to open my books and study for 2 minutes.” That’s it.
Instead of thinking, “I must clean the whole apartment,” tell yourself, “I just to take out the vacuum cleaner and clean for 2 minutes.” That’s it.
Now, you might think, “But if I only study or clean the apartment for 2 minutes, what’s the point?”
The thing is, once you have your books out or your vacuum cleaner in hand, many days, you will keep going. On good days, you are going to study or clean for 20 minutes instead of just 2 minutes. On excellent days, you might end up studying or cleaning for 2 hours.
It’s a case of “I am already here, so I might as well just do it.”
For this to work over the long run, it’s important to start early and to do the activity each day. So, with studying for an exam, you can wait until the last minute. Then you won’t have a choice but to study all day and night.
You must study every day, starting at the beginning of the semester. Then it won’t matter much if you regularly have 2-minute days. Over the long run, the 20-minute days and the 2-hour days will make up for it.
Same thing with cleaning your apartment. Don’t put it off until the grime on your bathroom sink is turning brown. Have a daily cleaning habit.
10. Think of the Future
Another great method to combat laziness is to imagine the emotional rewards.
With many activities, there is this strange dichotomy between how we feel before doing it and how we feel after doing it. You might dread the activity at this moment, yet, it will become pure fun once you start.
I often notice this with training BJJ. Before class, I will feel lethargic. I just want to stay at home and read.
But once I make it to class, I enjoy it like few other things in the world. And especially after class, I am positively brimming with energy.
This is true for many things — working out, dating, entrepreneurship. When you get going, it becomes fun.
The trick is to remind yourself of this dynamic. Think to yourself, “I just have to schlepp myself there, but then I will feel amazing.”
In this way, your mind can come to dominate your emotions. It will break you out of your current homeostasis.
11. Gradually Build Up Your Pain Tolerance
Laziness is at the heart of most excuses. Fortunately, you can unlearn laziness.
For example, when I started working on this blog, I had an extremely low pain tolerance, especially when it came to writing. A few sentences, and I would be done for the day.
But I keep at it. And, over the course of months, my pain tolerance started to go up. Now I typically spend 4–6 hours per day on the blog, 7 days a week.
The interesting thing is — even though I am now doing much more work than I did before, I dread it much less. In fact, on many days, I can’t wait to get started.
This works best with a quota approach.
Set yourself a certain quota per day like, “I am going to write 50 words” or, “I am going to write for 10 minutes.”
The quota must be so low that even on days when you are not feeling it, you can easily go through with it. So, if 10 minutes is still too much, do 1 minute.
Don’t beat yourself up for doing too little or being so weak-minded. Don’t get impatient and set yourself an over-ambitious quota. For this to work, the quota must feel ridiculously easy.
Then you execute the new behavior, without fail, every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s the weekend, your birthday, or if your Aunt Laurie died. You keep at it, just like you brush your teeth every day. No exceptions.
After a few weeks or months, the new behavior has become deeply ingrained. You don’t stress about it anymore. It’s just something you do.
Now, but only now, do you increase the quota. And you only increase it minimally. So maybe you go from 5 minutes of daily writing to 7 minutes of daily writing.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Do this for long enough, and before you know it, each day, you will spend an hour writing, practicing the piano, or doing cold outreach. Keep this up, and it will revolutionize your life. Instead of making excuses, you will enjoy results.
Note that this process only works for a specific activity. The knowledge of the process transfers, but not the specific pain tolerance.
So, if you build up your pain tolerance to an hour of daily writing each day, you won’t automatically spend an hour working out too. To increase your pain tolerance here, you will have to start small again.
However, having gone through this process before will help tremendously. You know how it works and you trust it. That makes it much more likely you will see it through again in this new context.
Reserve this process for a few, valuable behaviors. You can’t build out your pain tolerance for too many activities at once. At some point, your willpower reservoir is going to be depleted, no matter how gradually you go about building activity X. So, choose, wisely.
12. Find Your Purpose
Often, when people make excuses, it is because they haven’t found their purpose yet. They will procrastinate with a certain project since they are not inspired by it.
Here are some tips to help you find your purpose:
- Most people think there is some magic activity out there that they don’t know about yet. Once they come across it, they will have found their purpose.
- But in truth, your purpose, or some variation of it, has already manifested itself, usually during your childhood. So, start digging. What got you fired up back then?
- It can help to involve other people and ask them what they think would make you happy. Where we are blind to ourselves, others see right through us.
- Once, you have formed a hypothesis about your passion in life, test it out for 6 months. Your first hypothesis will rarely be right but it will inform your next one.
However, be careful to not turn your quest for purpose aspect into another excuse. You can keep yourself indefinitely busy hunting down shiny objects. At some point, you need to pick something and commit.
Also, even once you have found what inspires you, you will still have to do the work. You will still have to overcome your inertia and put the hours in.
Even with the best strategy for “How to stop making excuses,” there are no shortcuts.
13. Define the Next Step
When people are not making progress with a project, and are starting to make excuses, it is often because they don’t know what the next step is.
This is usually the case with complex projects like, “I want to start my own business.”
What do you do with that? Where do you start?
The first step is to become more clear about your objective. You do so by breaking the very general goal of starting a business down into several sub-goals:
- Define what kind of business you want to start.
- Define how much money you would like to make.
- Define how that business should accommodate your lifestyle.
Do not worry about coming up with the perfect vision yet. We are just aiming for decent hypotheses. We can refine those as we gather more experience along the way.
So maybe your sub-goals look like that:
- “I want to offer freelance copywriting.”
- “I would like to make $60,000 per year.”
- “I want to be able to travel while working.”
Now, this is already much better. You have somewhat specific parameters now.
Based on these, you can now start doing research. Deduct a couple of questions from your sub-goals, e.g.:
- “What skills do I need to have?”
- “Where do I find clients?”
- “What do other copywriters typically charge?”
- “What are cheap destinations to travel to?”
As you do your research, new areas of inquiry will pop up. Note them down and research these as well.
Essentially, the whole process works like a tree diagram. You break down a complex goal into its subgoal and then move along the branches of each of these trees. You keep moving until you arrive at a clearly defined action, e.g.,
- “Take copywriting course X.”
- “Apply to a new project on a freelancer job board each day.”
- “Invite copywriter Y for a coffee to talk about their pricing strategy.”
- “Book a flight to Vietnam in November.”
The key is to do all of these steps in writing — something most people don’t bother with. That’s why they get confused, as juggling even just a few of these tree diagrams in your head is already too confusing.
Write it down, or better yet, create a sketch. Then update your outlines regularly, as you add more information. Now you’ll just have to take one look, and you will know exactly what to do next.