How To Stop Making Excuses

We are all prone to making excuses. There is always a seemingly good reason why we shouldn’t work out today or have that difficult conversation.

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

There are five reasons why people make excuses:

  1. Fear
  2. Laziness
  3. Uncertainty
  4. Lack of purpose
  5. Perfectionism

1. Fear

Often, we are afraid to do what needs to be done. We keep putting off a certain action because we feel we are in over our heads.

2. Laziness

Many people are lazy. They have never learned that to get somewhere, you have to push against your comfort zone.

3. Uncertainty

Sometimes, with a project, you don’t know what the next step is. This uncertainty leads to inaction.

4. Lack of Purpose

If you are not passionate about your work, naturally, you will procrastinate.

5. Perfectionism

By insisting on unrealistic standards, we 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 who make excuses all have the same underlying issue — they don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. They are all hoping for a savior to come along, someone to do the hard work for them.

Some variations of this:

  • The attractive woman banking on the help of men — “Hey sweetie, could you fix my computer for me?”
  • The Fox News viewer placing all his hopes on Trump — “The Donald will make everything right again.”
  • The social justice warrior fantasizing about systemic change. “Get rid of capitalism, and all injustices will disappear.”
  • The nerdy type buying into the hack mentality. “I don’t need to work, I can just invest in crypto.”

All of these lead nowhere.

Understand — when you give up responsibility for yourself, nothing will change. Most likely, you will get taken advantage of. Others will exploit your passiveness.

Embrace the fact that you are by yourself. No white knight in shining armor is going to 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. So, 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 took 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, say, “It’s my fault.” You wanted to save money and had to buy a used car. You didn’t take it to the garage for a check-up. You ignored that weird noise this morning.

Even when something is objectively not your fault, you must still take responsibility — you must control your emotional reaction to the event.

That is what it comes down to — radical ownership. Whatever happens, it is up to you — and only you — to make it better. Other people do not play into it.

3. Toughen Up

Most of us have been cuddled growing up. 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 hard for anything.

Never facing any of these challenges 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. That’s when you take refuge in excuses. You can simply not fathom that it might be your lack of grit.

Fortunately, you can still toughen yourself up later in life:

  • Start a full-contact martial art. Getting punched in the face on a regular basis is a great way to develop resilience.
  • Talk to attractive strangers on a daily basis. It will teach you to deal with rejections and 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.

4. Stop Fixating on the Past

Analyzing the past can help you to understand yourself better. However, there is a difference between becoming more self-aware and fixating on your past. At some point, you must take your learnings and apply them to the future.

If your parents weren’t supportive of you, make a point to become supportive yourself.

If you were poor growing up, make a point to become wealthy.

If your teenage self felt undesirable, make a point to become more desirable.

When your past informs your future, there will be no need for excuses anymore. You are an adult now. You are in charge.

5. Stop Hoping for the Perfect Moment

Do you catch yourself thinking, “Once X is in place, I will finally do Y?”

“Once I feel a bit more rested, I will finally clean out the garage.”

“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 business.”

But there will never be a perfect moment. There will always be an unexpected obstacle, 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

A major reason 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.”

But nobody is born a bestseller author. You fail your way into it. You start by writing your first crappy book. 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.

In truth, 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.

To counteract this, 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 of painting. You must too.

7. Learn To Deal With Failure

Faced with failure, we are more like to resort to excuses.

For example, when I was younger, I was really into music, even though I had zero talent. Yet somehow, I ended up as the lead singer of our high school band.

It took one concert for me to get kicked out of the band. 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. It was my fragile ego that kept me from doing so.

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. 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, content creation — I cannot tell you how many prodigies I have seen 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.

Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, 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.

The solution is to go public. For example, post your list of habits on social media. Then promise to do daily check-ins. To increase the pressure, add a monetary punishment, e.g., “If I don’t do my 50 daily push-ups, I will have to pay $50.”

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.

So, you are now under the microscope. With that large an audience, your excuses won’t fly anymore.

9. Trick Yourself

By default, we are lazy. Just thinking about studying for an exam or cleaning the apartment makes us feel tired. “All that effort!” So, we come up with an excuse not to do it.

The problem is that we are anticipating the work as a whole. We are imagining reading ten chapters and taking extensive notes. We are imagining cleaning the living room first, then the kitchen, then the bathroom, etc.

To overcome this, you must dramatically lower your expectations. Instead of thinking, “I must read ten chapters,” tell yourself, “I just need to open my books.” That’s it. Instead of thinking, “I must clean the whole apartment,” tell yourself, “I just need to take out the vacuum cleaner.” That’s it.

The thing is, once you have your books out or your vacuum cleaner in hand, chances are, you will keep going. It’s a case of, “I am already here, so I might as well just do it.”

Now, the time will vary, depending on your motivation and energy level that day. On some days, you might only study or clean for 2 minutes. On other days, you might end up studying or cleaning for 2 hours.

For this to work, you must do the activity each day. So, with studying for an exam, you can’t 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 2-hour days will make up for it.

10. Think of the Future

Another method to combat laziness is to imagine the future emotional rewards.

With many activities, there is a strong contrast between how we feel before doing it and how we feel while doing it. I often notice this with training BJJ. Before class, I will feel lethargic. I just want to stay at home and relax. But once I make it to class, I enjoy it like few other things in the world. Suddenly, I am brimming with energy.

This is true for many things — working out, dating, entrepreneurship. Once 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.” You must teach your mind to overrule your emotions.

11. Gradually Build Up Your Pain Tolerance

If you choose, you can unlearn to be lazy in certain areas of your life.

For example, when I started working on this blog, I was very lazy when it came to writing. A few sentences, and I would call it a day. But I kept at it. And, over time, my pain tolerance started to go up. Now I typically spend 4–6 hours per day on the blog and it often hardly registers.

To make this work, use a quota approach. Set yourself a daily quota, e.g., “Write for five minutes.” The quota must feel so ridiculously low that even when you are having a bad day, you will still go through with it. So, if five minutes seems too intimidating, go with one minute.

Then you execute the new behavior, without fail, every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s the weekend, your birthday, or if 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 will have become deeply ingrained in you. You don’t stress about it anymore. It’s just something you do.

Only now do you increase the quota. And you only increase it minimally. So maybe you go from five minutes of daily writing to six minutes of daily writing. Then, once that feels easy, you go up to seven minutes. And so on. Before you know it, each day, you will spend an hour writing, practicing the piano, or doing cold outreach. It will revolutionize your life.

Note that this process only applies to a specific activity. If you build up your pain tolerance to an hour of daily writing, it won’t translate to an hour of working out at the gym each day. To increase your pain tolerance here, you will have to start small again.

Reserve this process for a few, valuable behaviors. You can’t build out your pain tolerance for too many activities simultaneously. At some point, you will burn out, no matter how gradually you go about building activity X. So, choose, wisely.

12. Find Your Purpose

Often, people make excuses because they haven’t found their purpose yet. They will procrastinate with a project since they feel uninspired by it.

Here are some tips to remedy that:

  • Most people think there is some magic passion project that they don’t know about yet. But once they come across it, they will have found their purpose. That’s wrong.
  • In truth, your purpose — or some variation of it — has already manifested itself during your childhood. So, start digging. What were you excited about back then?
  • It can also help to get other people involved and ask them what they think would make you happy. Where we are blind to ourselves, others tend to see right through us.
  • Once, you have formed a hypothesis about your passion in life, test it out for three 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 into another excuse. You can keep yourself indefinitely chasing shiny objects. At some point, you need to lock something in. And once you do, you will still have to put the hours in.

Sounds like a lot of effort? Well, it is. A big part of, “How to stop making excuses,” is understanding that there are no shortcuts.

13. Define the Next Step

Sometimes, people make excuses, because they don’t know what the next step is.

Let’s say you want to start your own business. That’s a highly complex project. What do you do with that? Where do you start?

The first step is to clarify your objective. Break the general goal of starting a business down into specific sub-goals:

  • Define what kind of business you want to start, e.g., “I want to offer freelance copywriting.”
  • Define how much money you would like to make, e.g., “I would like to make $60,000 per year.”
  • Define how your business should accommodate your lifestyle, e.g., “I want to be able to travel while working.”

Now, look at your sub-goals and determine what information you are still lacking. Come up with research questions, e.g.:

  • “What skills do I need to become an in-demand copywriter?”
  • “How do other copywriters bill their clients? By the hour? By project?”
  • “What are interesting, affordable destinations to travel to?”

As you do your research, new areas of inquiry will pop up. Note them down and research them next.

Essentially, the whole process works like a tree diagram. With each sub-goal, you keep moving along the branch until you arrive at a clearly defined action, e.g.,

  • “Take copywriting course X.”
  • “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. Write it down, or better yet, create an actual diagram. Then update your notes regularly, as you add more information. Now, you’ll just have to take one look, and you’ll know exactly what to do next.

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