Last month, I held a No Excuses Challenge here on the blog. It ended up being one of the toughest and most rewarding experiments I’ve ever done.
At the beginning of the year, I was floundering a bit. I wasn’t really making great progress toward my goals. I was making excuses instead. So, for two months, I gave up making excuses. I kept an Excuses Journal and every time I felt like making an excuse, I wrote it down. Then I ignored my excuse and took action instead.
A lot of my excuses fell into three main categories:
- I don’t feel like doing this now.
- I don’t know exactly how to do this.
- I’ll wait until later because ________ (insert lame excuse).
You know what those excuses have in common? They all contain a hidden lie.
Excuses are just little lies we tell ourselves. Here are the lies behind my excuses:
- You only have to do things you feel like doing in life. (False.)
- You have to figure out how to do something before you start. (False.)
- If you just put it off, you’ll feel like doing that thing you don’t really enjoy. (Ha! Nope.)
- Waiting is the answer. (Sometimes true, but usually false.)
Of course, it’s normal to have thoughts and feelings like that, even if they’re not true.
The truth is that we avoid what makes us uncomfortable. That’s how anxiety and procrastination work. We anticipate that something will be unpleasant, so we put it off and make excuses. Of course, waiting doesn’t make the fear go away. Over time, the fear grows, and your problems get bigger and harder to fix.
You can never solve a problem by ignoring it!
How To Cure Anxiety & Procrastination
The two best cures for fear and anxiety are:
- Making decisions.
- Taking action.
Make decisions. Even if they’re wrong decisions. You can usually make a new decision later.
Take some kind of action. Even if it doesn’t go perfectly at first. You can always course-correct once your in motion.
When you’re paralyzed by fear. The cure isn’t to tackle the fear. It’s to tackle the paralysis. (click to tweet that)
The cure for inaction, is action. Just start moving.
How to Make Fear Irrelevant
I used to have a lot of anxiety. 10 years ago, I was afraid of all kinds of things, and my fears were holding me back from doing what I wanted to do.
So, I started to study how fear worked. I started to intentionally put myself in situations I was afraid of. I eventually figured out something really important that changed my life, and maybe it will help you too:
Your fears exist in the future. You can’t be afraid of the past.
Therefore, the key to conquering your fears is to take them out of the future, and put them in the past as quickly as possible. That’s why I asked you to list your fears. I’ll give you an example to make my point.
Every single mountain I’ve ever climbed has scared me.
Before a climb, I look up at the route. I read about the accidents that have happened to other people. I study the objective dangers, the avalanche risk, the rockfall risk, the weather report, the ice conditions, the route itself. How hard is it? What’s the crux like? Can we protect against a fall? How loose is the rock? Are there snakes? And on and on.
All these things are scary if you think about them in advance. There’s a very real sense of fear at the bottom of a mountain.
But once you actually start climbing, the fear starts to change. It changes because those scary questions start to have answers. What is the avalanche risk? It’s low today. How solid is the rock? It’s, um, rock solid. And it’s too cold for snakes.
When you actually start climbing, you don’t have time to be afraid. You’re too busy climbing. The fear just fades away.
Getting closer to the things that scare you will make them a lot less scary. That’s why I say the definition of courage is the simple act of going toward your challenges.
It takes about two minutes of climbing to erase 90% of your fears. The other 10% is the healthy fear that stays with you to protect you from making stupid mistakes.
Then, when you finish your climb and you’re back down on level ground, there’s nothing left to fear.
The mountain isn’t scary anymore, because you’ve already climbed it.
Why Excuses Are So Dangerous
When you make excuses in your life, it’s usually a form of procrastination. You’ll “get to it later” or you “have to wait until blah blah blah.”
You already know excuses are bad because they keep you from getting things done, but that’s not the most dangerous thing about making excuses.
The most dangerous thing about excuses is that they prolong your fear.
The longer you stand at the bottom of the mountains of your life, looking up at them, the longer you’re going to live in fear.
The way to keep your fear under control is to stay in motion. Keep making decisions. Keep taking action.
And if you’ve been making excuses for too long and your fear feels too big to act upon… there’s an answer for that too.
Jump Without Looking
I remember the first time I jumped off the high dive as a little kid. I climbed up the ladder and walked slowly to the edge of the board and looked down. Big mistake! It looked so high. I froze up and felt like I couldn’t jump.
Eventually I walked back to the other end of the board and closed my eyes. I knew the fear was irrational. I knew if I jumped I would be fine.
So, before I could think any more about it, I turned and ran and jumped off the end of the board without looking.
I’ll never forget the feeling when I swam back up to the surface. I LOVED the high dive! Even though, just 20 seconds before, I was terrified of it. Now it was my favorite thing.
Sometimes it helps to jump without looking. It’s like a shortcut to taking action. You skip the anticipation and anxiety and get straight into whatever scares you. You don’t give yourself a chance to hesitate or make excuses or chicken out. Of course, taking action cures your fear.
It might sound silly, but I use this technique all the time.
When I write an email I’m a bit nervous about, I don’t edit it, even when I know it sounds silly or a little bit crazy, I just close my eyes and click SEND as fast as possible. My goal isn’t to avoid sounding silly, it’s to set something in motion instead of flinching and hesitating. No one cares if I sound silly anyway. Everyone I know is used to it by now. 🙂
I do this when I don’t really feel like doing my daily workout. I don’t wait to feel ready anymore. I just put on my workout clothes and start my timer, knowing that in 10 seconds, I’m going to be doing pushups no matter what.
When I don’t feel like going for a run because it’s cold and rainy, I don’t give myself a chance to think about it. I just put on my shoes and and step outside. My goal isn’t even to go for a run, it’s to put my shoes on and walk out into the rain. The run happens on its own.
I try to say the things I’m afraid to say before I have a chance to talk myself out of them. I put on the shoes and walk outside. I pick up the phone and dial it before I know what I want to say.
I do this, not because I’m fearless, but because I really don’t like feeling afraid. So, I try to be afraid for as short a time as possible by cutting down the anticipation time.
When you jump without looking, you don’t have time to be afraid.
What Are You Afraid Of?
I once asked you to list your fears. I told you it would change your life in two minutes; and that’s true.
Today, I invite you to look at your own life again. What are you hesitating on? What mountain are you afraid to climb? Where are you holding back?
What fear can you take out of the future and put in the past, where it belongs?
There’s something in everyone’s life. Some area where you’re making excuses and holding back. I’m not judging, because I’m the exact same way.
But we have to agree upon the truth, that most of our obstacles exist in our mind. And the only way past them, is through them.
So, pick one scary thing, and do it today. Before you have a chance to think.
Oh, and if you like this post, please share it.
Dave Bruns says
Love the climbing analogy! Years ago, when I used to rock climb a bit, I noticed something interesting: when on lead, even when scared, I did some of my best climbing. Why? Because I had to. My mind wanted to consider other options, wanted to put in more protection, but that doesn’t usually work when you’re leading. You just have to face your fear and move forward. And it’s a great lesson: action requires that you solve problems, so that’s what you do.
Before you take action on something you fear, it’s easy to be consumed in the detail of thinking through all the things that can go wrong, and overwhelmed and defeated by the complexity managing these scenarios in your mind. After you act, you have real data to work with, and it’s often not nearly so bad as anything you were imagining. And even when it is bad, it’s not nearly as complex as multiple hypothetical scenarios.
So, a bias for action is really helpful. Action gives you new data and, more importantly, real data to work with.
John Muldoon says
Whoa! Thanks for the awesome comment, Dave! Yeah, I’m like the worlds biggest over-thinker, and I think that’s partly why I love to climb. It’s the only time I can really shut my mind off and focus. Like you said, that’s when you climb at your best.
This blog would probably only be climbing analogies, but then I don’t know who would read it. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your story.