“I don’t know how.”
“It probably wouldn’t have worked anyways.”
“I’m too busy.”
How often do you catch yourself making excuses. Instead of doing something, you come up with ways to explain your inaction. Excuse-makers are usually seen as weak, lazy or cowardly.
I believe this is an unfair generalization.
We all make excuses once in a while. Sometimes we make excuses and other times we stop rationalizing and take action. I’m sure most of us can remember times when we procrastinated and wasted days before starting a project. I’m also sure most of us can remember times we started immediately, and finished ahead of schedule.
The differences between these two cases could be described as a difference of willpower. When you procrastinated, you lacked willpower. But that isn’t helpful. If willpower is outside your direct control, then claiming willpower as a solution isn’t going to work.
Instead, I believe that the answer to stop making excuses lies has two steps:
- Organizing your priorities.
- Breaking large, uncomfortable steps into manageable pieces.
Organizing Your Priorities
What’s more important to you right now? Expanding your finances? Succeeding academically? Improving the quality of your relationships? Excuse making is the result of conflicting priorities. When you don’t have a system for making decisions, the tendency is to just go with whatever feels best in the moment.
You can clear this up by defining what your priorities are. The purpose is to aid when one event conflicts with another. If you have to decide between working on a school project or going on a date, you need to look at your priorities. Which ranks higher? Relationships or academic success.
Priorities clears up the need for excuse making, since it simplifies decisions with conflicting values.
With priorities it’s important to define your major focus and minor focuses. A major focus should get the benefit of any extra attention you have to devote to it. Minor focuses shouldn’t be abandoned, but your goal is to put them on autopilot so most your mental energies are devoted to your major focus.
To give an example, my major focus right now is this business. Earlier this year I realized that if I put a concentrated effort, I could tip the slide to where this business could support me full-time. I’m close to there now, but not quite over the line.
My minor focuses are my health, relationships, social life, Toastmasters and school. These minor focuses continue to be worked on while I improve my income. But most my mental attention is going into ways I can expand this website and offer more value.
Splitting your priorities into a single major focus and several minor focuses makes it far harder to put out excuses. Whenever a conflict arises where I would normally offer an excuse, I can simply think of my priorities. When priorities are clear, it is difficult to justify departing from them.
Breaking Down Discomfort
Mixed-up priorities are only a part of excuse-making. Unwillingness to step into uncomfortable situations is another. Success in almost any effort requires taking risks and facing failure. Becoming a great public speaker requires you get up in front of a big audience and possibly deliver a terrible speech.
The problem is when your priorities dictate you need to take a big step, and you can’t do it. This could mean wanting to improve your business, but not being willing to make cold calls or marketing your product.
What results is excuse-making. You find easier tasks to do and excuse your procrastination. Rationalize away the feeling that you don’t feel comfortable going forward.
The fix here is to break down uncomfortable steps. Laziness is just another manifestation of fear. So if you can’t take the next step, break it into smaller parts you can handle. If you can’t get up on stage to speak, try delivering your speech in front of a few friends. If you can’t make a cold call, try calling someone you already know.
Sometimes, however, a step can’t be broken down. You either need to face it entirely or not at all. In these situations you need to get leverage on yourself. Give a friend $100 of yours to hold onto until you follow through. Make a public commitment. Any of these steps  will work.
The next time you catch yourself making an excuse, ask yourself? Does this fit within my priorities? If it doesn’t and you still find yourself making excuses ask yourself if there is any way you could push yourself through the next step.