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How to debunk the excuses that are holding you back

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What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but never accomplished?

Lose weight? Change jobs? Travel the world? Run a marathon? Get married?

Now answer this: Why hasn’t it happened yet? Or, more accurately, why haven’t you made it happen?

You probably have an excuse. Maybe it’s even a good one. But usually, our reasons for not achieving a major goal are pretty lame. They stem not from actual immutable circumstances, but from laziness or fear.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not exempt from this completely human tendency. Do you know what my favorite excuse is for not exercising more? I don’t want to waste a shower.

I wish I could tell you that my reasoning stems from a virtuous environmental concern…but it doesn’t. I just don’t like showering very much. I shower about once every two days, unless I’ve been sweating hard. And once I’m clean, I’m pretty loath to do something that will require another shower—not just that day, but the next one too. So I tend to schedule things like running to work on days that I need to shower anyway…and if it doesn’t happen, it’s hard to convince myself to exercise again before the next shower day comes about.

I mean, obviously that’s a ridiculous excuse. Lots of people shower every day, especially if they’re athletic. My body won’t be angry at me if I work out and require a shower every day—in fact, it could only be healthier (by virtue of the exercise, I mean). The point of a shower is to clean myself, so its purpose is fulfilled the moment you finish it. Wasting a shower is not a thing. But that excuse sure is pervasive in my brain.

Now think about your own goals. Maybe you have a few favorite excuses that, in your heart, you know are bunk. It’s not easy to beat them, especially if you’ve been relying on them to avoid discomfort or inconvenience for a long time. But you will be a better person when you’re able to beat the excuses and achieve your goals—so here are a couple of strategies to do just that.

  1. Find the root of the excuse.

If you’re avoiding something that you’ve always wanted to do, chances are your reasoning goes deeper than that excuse. So when your excuse comes to mind, challenge it. Ask yourself why that’s stopping you from being your best self, and be honest. If it’s not a good reason, look for another. In my case, why is the fear of wasting a shower stopping me from exercising? It’s not—it’s that showering is a minor inconvenience, and getting fit after a long period of inactivity is hard. That’s laziness, and that’s something I can overcome.

Maybe the root of your excuse is bigger than laziness. Maybe it’s fear of discomfort (cutting out sugary foods), embarrassment (going to a gym), rejection (joining a dating site), instability (quitting your job), etc. These are all valid fears…but you’re covering them up with irrational excuses. Understanding the real reason that you’re avoiding your goals means that you can take steps to conquer the obstacles and achieve your dreams.

  1. Find a way to preempt the trigger for the excuse.

Here are some common excuses:

I can’t travel because I don’t have the money.
I can’t lose weight because I don’t have time to work out.
I eat out because I’m too tired to cook when I get home.

These are all problems that can be solved in advance with a little bit of work. For this first example: Say you set up your bank account to automatically transfer $10 per week into a separate savings account that’s dedicated to travel. $10 isn’t much; it’s reasonably simple to set up a budget to accommodate that loss somewhere else. But at the end of the year, you’ll have over $500 toward travel. That’s pretty impressive—and you didn’t have to do a thing after you started the habit!

Same thing with any other excuse. Don’t have time to exercise? Yes you do—you’re just not making exercise a priority. I know you’re busy, but look for a way to combine something you’re already doing with exercise. Instead of calling your best friend once a week, meet up and walk on a trail while you catch up. Take a conference call remotely and do squats, tricep dips, and calf raises while you listen. Too tired to cook? Spend some time on the weekend preparing freezer meals or chopping all the veggies and meat to speed up day-of dinner prep, or prepare a slow-cooker recipe when you’re fresh in the morning and let it cook itself all day.

Other ideas: Wear your workout clothes to bed so you can get up and walk out the door. Find an accountability partner to hold you to your goals. Join a class so you can find a supportive community for the skills you want to learn. Leave your car at the office so that you have no choice but to bike to work the next day.

If you take preemptive measures to prevent the situation in which you use your excuses, your excuses will naturally lose their hold over you.

  1. Be mindful: Catch yourself whenever you start to use the excuse.

It’s so easy to take refuge in your excuses in the moment. When your alarm goes off an hour early so that you can spend time meditating and writing, it’s so easy to think, “I stayed up late working last night, so I need to sleep in.” As soon as this happens, notice it! Remind yourself why your ultimate goal is so important, and ask yourself if an extra hour of sleep, or an extra rest day, or one more meal, is more important than working toward your goal. Now that you’re making a conscious choice—instead of letting your excuse rationalize it away—you can decide honestly what your next step should be.

Yes, there will be occasions where it makes sense to spend money you hoped to save, skip a workout, etc. That’s the way it is sometimes. But be mindful of when it happens, and what triggers your excuses, and you can apply steps 1 and 2 to optimize your priorities and schedule.

  1. Think about how minimalism can help you achieve those goals.

If you’re on a journey toward minimalism, chances are there was a defining moment where you thought, “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to be better. I want my life to be fulfilling, not full up.” And this is an ideal aspect of your life to practice minimalism. After all, minimalism is a tool for you to build your best self.

Are you too busy to work toward your goal? Declutter your schedule and leave time for the things that truly matter. Do you want to be healthier? Simplify your meals to focus on wholesome, whole foods and take a few minutes a day to meditate. Don’t have the money to do what you want? Reduce purchases, cut cable, and replace expensive activities with free, healthy ones (like walking in nature instead of around the mall). These are relatively simple changes that can make a huge impact, as long as you’re committed to living with less in the pursuit of more.

So, consider what excuses are holding you back. Now go out and destroy them. They have no place in your life of contentment.

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