Lets say we have a person who is holding several people hostage and they will only give up the people if the police grant him immunity against the incident. Why might those police officers reject his offer, even though it is a relatively small price compared to the safety of the hostages?
The answer is in setting a standard. If other criminals learn that the police are willing to concede to demands made by hostage takers, they might start doing it themselves. In other words, the consequences of this act are less than the repercussions of breaking a standard.
On a smaller scale, this a dilemma people encounter a lot of times in their own life. While the consequences of taking a particular action are less, if you break a standard, then it can create far more damage along the line.
This is something that has happened to myself today. As some of you might know I set an 30 day exercise goal for myself, not too long ago. Today, however, I woke up late with a splitting headache and congestion . The last time I was sick was over two years ago, so I’m not used to the feeling. While I am feeling a little bit better right now, I still feel far below what I would consider to be optimal.
The question that comes up in my mind from this incident is whether I should reset my exercise goal, or continue forward despite the illness. Physical exercise might make my condition worse, increasing the duration of my temporary illness.
If I take the day off, I might recover more quickly and be ready to try the challenge again relatively soon.
If I continue through the day, I might aggravate my condition and do damage to my health.
But the problem is, that if I take this day off, it will open the door for future excuses. If I take this day off, I might allow myself to take time off when I’ve had a lousy day or am really busy. In other words, this one action could create significant repercussions along the line.
So my choice is clear. The short term repercussions of aggravating an illness are far less than opening the door to future excuses.
This, I believe is one of the fundamental reasons most people fail to achieve their goals or change their habits. As soon as a minor difficulty arises, the person rationalizes in the short term but forgets the damage that an excuse can cause to all future goals.
Every goal is going to have unexpected obstacles and difficulties. In almost all cases the damage caused by breaking a standard is far worse than the damage caused by not using the excuse.
By taking an excuse you cause massive damage to your self-discipline. You make it far easier to take that excuse in the future. However, there is an upside.
By avoiding the excuse and pushing through those conditions, you greatly increase your self-discipline. I mean, how could I quit on my exercise program just because I was busy, if I could push through it when I was sick?
Goals only have power if you allow them too. By setting a near unbreakable standard with your goals, you significantly increase the power they have to change your life. But if you are wishy-washy in their application, quitting whenever an obstacle comes up, they will be useless.
Most people when they decide to quit their goal ask this question:
“Is my excuse reasonable?”
Basically, they are asking whether or not they are justified in quitting. It doesn’t matter whether you are justified in quitting. The question you need to ask yourself is:
“What consequences would quitting have to my discipline and standards I set? How would quitting damage all the future goals I set?”
It is easy to justify just about any failed goal, but it is very rare that the justification makes up for the incredible damage it does to your self-discipline and goals.
The damage by a failed goal doesn’t just repair itself with a succeeding a difficult goal. It might take dozens of succeeded goals before you repair the damage. The damage will leave scars on your identity as well. One excuse can make you start to see yourself as someone who makes excuses. One excuse can make you believe that you are a person who will only succeed when things are easy.
My point isn’t to make you feel guilty if you have made excuses in the past and quit. My purpose is to get you to set that unbreakable standard for your life right now. Set that standard that means that you don’t give up when things get hard. If you haven’t been living by that standard until now, you can change that today. Realize that, from now on, you are going to live by that unbreakable standard.
When another difficult situation comes up that makes you want to turn back, look at it in a different way. This is a perfect opportunity to vastly improve your self-discipline.
If you are on a new diet and you go to a wedding where they are serving cake, take this as an opportunity to reaffirm your commitment.
If you are starting a new business or blog, don’t abandon it just because you don’t get much attention for six months.
As for me, I am going to exercise today. Will I feel like crap? You bet. Would it likely cause more damage than help in improving my health? Probably. But will I make an excuse for the next goal I set? I doubt it.
The worst case scenario for my exercising will likely be extenuating my illness. But the benefit to my discipline and other goals is priceless. If you don’t feel you are all that disciplined right now, you can start by setting this standard. This standard will make you more disciplined.
Set an unbreakable standard for yourself. Don’t let yourself quit even when you are justified in doing so. Don’t let yourself quit just when things get hard.
Set an unbreakable standard so you don’t settle for a sub-optimal life!
Edit – I just finished exercising. I tried doing some light jogging but I switched to power-walking instead when I nearly coughed up a lung. I rounded it off with a lot of stretches. The thing that surprised me is that I actually feel a little better than before I did my exercise. I guess it shows how it is so easy to exaggerate the short term pain. When I look at it now I can’t even see how I could have even considered restarting my goal!