Excuses can show up in several forms, especially when it comes to following through with goals and commitments. The biggest excuse often comes in the form of procrastination. We say we will do something later and then we never do it.
Other forms of excuses show up as a reason to let yourself off the hook. Maybe you feel like you’re too tired, too lazy, too unmotivated, or you just hate doing something.
First, I am going to talk about big picture excuses- excuses that we make to avoid bigger life changes. Next, I’ll talk about how to decide if the commitment we made is true commitment or just an interest, and how to make stronger commitments.
FIGURE OUT WHAT’S REALLY HOLDING YOU BACK
Here are some common excuses I hear or that I’ve caught myself saying. Try to notice your own narrative around excuses and the broader meaning behind those excuses. Here are a few examples.
- I’m too old to start (I hear this a lot with mountain biking… NOT true! My dad started in his 60s. My father-in-law is in his 70s and mountain bikes!). If you listened to my podcast with Ian Marshall, he started ultra-running in his mid-40s and is running and traveling the world full-time as someone in his 50s.
- You’re really saying “I’m afraid I’ll get hurt” or you have a fixed mindset about improvement and aging thinking “I don’t believe that I can improve as I age.” Hire a coach, take babysteps, realize that you are looking at worst-case scenarios and it’s probably not true.
- I don’t know how to do it.
- You’re really saying: I don’t know how to do it right now. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to figure it out. I’m afraid I’ll waste my time trying to learn if it doesn’t work out. I don’t want to spend the time. Meet the internet. You can learn how to do pretty much everything if you’re willing to put in the time. If you’re not willing to put in the work to figure something out or seek help from someone, you may not be as interested in the goal as you originally thought. It’s okay to not know how to do something, but the only way to make forward progress is to start. We also worry about imperfect progress and wasting time as we try to figure out how to do something. The time spent is part of the investment.
- It’s too cold, hot, I’m too sleepy, I have too much to do… excuses not to exercise, do housework, or a project. What are you really worried about? Are you tired, stressed, burnt out, or injured? Those are times you might need a break. You probably are really saying that you don’t want to be uncomfortable. Change your momentum to find out. There are so many times you don’t feel like doing something and wait for motivation to strike. You’ve probably heard me say this many times but motivation follows action, not the other way around. Get started and then decide if you’re too cold, too sleepy, or too overwhelmed instead of letting those excuses stop you from starting in the first place.
- I have already spent years in school or in my career dedicated to this path. I can’t change now.
- You’re really saying that it is hard to start over and you’re afraid of the sunk cost of time and money, but you can always change. You also might be avoiding discomfort, temporary loss of identity, fear of not knowing what to do next, but you can almost always change. Change is hard and it takes work, but it’s worth it.
- I don’t have time
- You’re really saying you won’t make time. You might have to cut something else out, but if it’s important you always have time. Sometimes you have to be brutally honest with yourself.
Some of the excuses I just mentioned are for bigger picture things. But what about smaller things too? I am the worst about procrastinating with writing: blog posts, articles, books. I also have been known to procrastinate getting out on my bike, meditating, going to the gym, cleaning the garage, listing stuff on craigslist.
What should you do to be stronger than your excuses?
MOTIVATION FOLLOWS ACTION: THE HARDEST PART IS GETTING STARTED
First, identify that you are in fact making an excuse. Just being aware that you are doing it helps, and try to figure out what the real issue is in the first place. The hardest part for most people is simply getting started. In chemistry, physics, or even an electrical impulse in the body, there is the activation energy, that is, a minimum quantity of energy required to get the process or reaction started. Once you apply some energy to it, you’ll get moving. Usually, applied to something we are trying to get ourselves to do, this activation energy is getting started and doing it for 1-5 minutes.
So- commit to getting dressed and riding your bike for 5 minutes. Do 1 yoga stretch. Meditate for 3 breaths. Do just 10 pushups. Put one plate in the dishwasher. Open a document and write 2 sentences. Read one article on how to do something you want to learn. It’ll help you get started to overcome that initial amount of activation energy. Tell yourself you can stop if you don’t want to keep going…but chances are you’ll keep going. The hardest part is getting started.
FOCUS ON THE FEELING
Another tip is reverse engineering how you’ll feel if you don’t do the thing. How will you feel after? I don’t know about you, but I have very rarely regretted getting out on that run or bike ride, even when I didn’t want to get started. You rarely regret doing something that you were trying to get yourself to do. All the times you overcome your excuses, focus on the feeling when you get it done, and revisit it each time you try to make an excuse. It’s a muscle you can strengthen as you build more trust and integrity with yourself. It’s really powerful when you actually do the thing you said you were going to do. And if you think it’s about willpower, listen to my podcast episode on How to Boost Willpower (linked in the show notes).
IDENTITY AND ENVIRONMENT
Making it easy to do the thing you’re trying to do helps you get started. We’ve talked about this before, but doing things like setting your clothes out the night before, having the meditation app on the front page of your phone, having the default main browser page on your computer as your compose page of your blog or an online course you’re working on. Leaving a fruit bowl front and center on your counter. You can also think about identity. What would a tidy person do? The tidy person would make their bed and fold the sock pile on the floor before leaving the room. What would a healthy person do? A healthy person would do meal prep with healthy meals on the weekend to make sure they don’t eat junk food or eat out during the week. What would an athlete do? An athlete would show up for their workouts, even if they don’t always feel like it. Each time you do something that fits that identity, you become that identity. I addressed identity and environment in my Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting.
WHAT IF THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOU ARE JUST NOT TRULY COMMITTED TO YOUR GOAL?
It’s not uncommon to be interested in doing something without knowing what you’re really committing to do. There’s a big difference between interest and commitment. We also sometimes have trouble saying no to ourselves or to someone else and commit to something we don’t actually want to do.
Here are some ways to decide if something is a commitment or just an interest.
- Learn to Say No
- Sometimes we make commitments that we didn’t want to do in the first place. We felt like we couldn’t say no in the moment. Time is our most precious asset and it’s not a renewable resource. Learn to say no to things that you really don’t want to do. You might feel bad about it in the moment, but if you told someone yes and then don’t follow through, they’ll feel even worse and you’ll have also wasted their time.
- Consider your Future-Self. i.e. Delay Gratification
- When the time comes to get started or even to keep going (like following through with this article instead of stopping in the middle), think of what your future-self would want. Sure, I could stop right now and go do something else that would gratify my present-self. But I know from experience that my future self will not be pleased if I don’t do the thing I committed to do and have to do it later when I’m feeling even less like doing it. This example can be made even as simple as making your bed. Your present self might just want to walk on by and say “I’ll do it later” but think of how your Future-Self would feel- even 1 minute into the future the next time you walk by the bed and feel better because it’s done?
- Strengthen Your Get It Done Muscle (how it feels)
- The Future-Self examples is a great lead-in to this point. I just said “think of how it will feel for your future self.” Follow-Through is a muscle and it also builds confidence. When you do the thing you said you’d do, you trust yourself more. It feels good to identify as someone who honors their commitments. How does it feel in your body when you actually did the thing you said you would? How does it feel in your body to procrastinate? If it’s hard to pinpoint how it feels, ask yourself if it makes it a little easier to breathe or a little harder to breathe. If you can bring executing on your intentions to the physical realm of your body, it might be easier to delay gratification and do the thing right now.
- Use Mindfulness to Stop Excuses
- The alarm clock goes off at 6 AM because you said you were going to get up to exercise. Your first thought is “I’ll hit snooze once” or maybe it’s “I’ll start tomorrow.” Meditation and mindfulness practices take you off autopilot and help you be more aware when thoughts pop in your mind. If you can stop the excuse train in its tracks- with the first excuse you made, it’ll prevent them from multiplying. Stop the excuse and get moving. Take one small step to stop that excuse. If you think your excuse may be valid, go back to the commit to getting started model. For exercise, if your excuse is “I’m too tired to ride my bike” which has been an excuse I have had almost every day of being pregnant by the way, commit to starting. If you’re still too tired after you start and feel awful, then stop. But by doing this, you didn’t let your excuse win. It’s a muscle to overcome excuses and it gets easier.
- Write it Down
- There are many productivity apps and tools out there. Pick one that works for you. Personally, I’ve tried a lot of them and the best one for me has been a simple spreadsheet I made for myself. I have each day of the week listed and at least a couple days in advance, I list what I want to get done for the week. I also map out that time on my calendar. Seeing it written down and checking it off can be satisfying. The hardest part is not listing too many things. If you find you are never getting through your daily to-do list, keep reducing it until you through it. And don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t getting it all done every day.
- Reduce Distractions
- If you aren’t getting that to-do list done, is it because you are doing other things instead because you are distracted? Did you check your email 3 times while reading this article? While writing this article, I closed ALL browser tabs, put in headphones so I couldn’t hear anything, and put my phone in the other room. Otherwise, it’s too tempting to be distracted and it would take me 5x as long to get this done.
- You don’t start things that take a lot of time
- Another hidden iceberg that could be stopping you from follow-through is you choose to do the easy tasks first. These are the tasks that take little time and you feel like you are doing something. Start your day by tackling one time consuming, bigger task first and I guarantee you that you’ll feel like you got more done.
- Having a system to measure if you’re doing what you said you would will help with follow-through. Sometimes we don’t even realize we aren’t performing well. For me, it’s my spreadsheet. I can go back and see what I accomplished by the end of the week and ask myself realistically if I’m sticking to my commitments. Everyone’s motivation comes from different places. Some are internally motivated while others need external motivation. I’m usually internally motivated which is why holding myself accountable works. But if you are externally motivated, find a person to help keep you accountable. You could have a weekly check-in where you help each other. If your lack of follow-through is with exercise, sign up for a class, group ride, or group run so you have that external accountability.
“THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTEREST AND COMMITMENT. WHEN YOU’RE INTERESTED IN DOING SOMETHING, YOU DO IT ONLY WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT. WHEN YOU’RE COMMITTED TO SOMETHING, YOU ACCEPT NO EXCUSES, ONLY RESULTS.”
– KEN BLANCHARD
I hope that the tools I’ve given you to overcome excuses and how to follow through on commitments will help as you navigate your goals into 2022!