Are Your Actions Being Hindered by Your Excuses?

actions not excusses

If we see things in our life that we want to change, then what is it that is holding us back from doing it?  Why don’t we just take the actions that will produce the desired changes?  Questions like that can sure give birth to a huge list of excuses, can’t they?

If someone says to us, why haven’t you lost the weight, or read those books, or made more money, or learned to control your temper?  We can easily defend ourselves with a long list of reasons why we haven’t taken those actions, and each reason will probably sound perfectly logical.  But why do we feel the need to make excuses for our behavior?

Why we choose justification over actions

Justifying ourselves is something we do for the benefit of others and for ourselves. Why? So we can feel okay about avoiding the actions that would have helped us get where we want to be. If we feel guilty or embarrassed about the actions we avoided, we will find a way to justify are choice.

Making changes comes with a whole assortment of emotional issues that most of us would rather not deal with.  It means that we would have to disrupt our routine. It also means that some sort specific actions (effort) will probably be required.  If we already have too much to do, and more than enough to think about, the last thing we want is to have one more demand put on us.

Can you relate to feeling that way?

Feeling overwhelmed means that we want to dial things down and restore some balance. The one thing we don’t want to do is to take on another project. And yet…

We still feel that inner desire to make improvements.  We know that life could be better on so many levels, and that is what we truly want.  So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us wanting to change, and holding ourselves back at the same time.  This dilemma actually adds to our discomfort because it creates internal conflict and disharmony.

Let’s look at three things that can stop us from taking the actions required to make positive changes in our life, and then we will consider three ways to deal with the situation.

1) Complacency.  The truth is that complacency has many faces and all of them create barriers to the actions needed to make progress.  Whether it’s laziness, lack of interest, lack of motivation, inability to stick with it, procrastination,  indecision, or excuses, they all add up to the same thing.  Nothing changes because in our mind, the changes we desire are not yet important enough to move us to take the necessary actions.

The other possibility is that we may be waiting for some kind of miracle.  Perhaps thinking that our lives will change when we win the lottery, or when someone comes along and does all the work for us.

2) Fear.  Fear also has many faces.  It could be fear of failure, fear of change, fear of commitment, or even fear of success.  Fear is the most powerful reason there is to move away from something.  When we harbor fear, we will do almost anything to avoid the situation associated with that fear.  It really doesn’t matter what kind of fear it is, if we have linked taking certain actions to fear, and inaction to security and comfort, we will not act.

The power of fear increases with proximity.  For example, with fear of success, the closer we get to actually succeeding the more fear influences our decisions and actions.  All limiting beliefs are based on fear in one form or another.

3) Confusion.  In this age of information overload confusion is an ever increasing problem.  Too much information is just as paralyzing as a lack of information.  If you want to lose some weight for example, what do you need to do?

You will probably start by checking out all the various weight loss programs.  And what will you find?  You will find that there are too many experts, with too many ideas, and they all sound very convincing.  The trouble is they have so many conflicting opinions that you can’t figure out who to listen to or who to trust.  The more you check into it, the worse it gets.  Information overload can put you in a holding pattern even when you are feeling motivated and ready to take the actions needed to get results.

It’s a modern day paradox.  We have almost unlimited access to information on any topic, but sorting through it all can leave us more confused and frustrated than we were before we started.

Now the question is, what to do about it?

If we are stuck in the dilemma of wanting to make changes and feeling unable to do so, there are really only three alternatives.  Let’s consider them one at a time.

1) No actions taken. The first way of dealing with this dilemma is to do nothing at all, and just live with the situation and the associated frustration.  This is the choice most people make.  Life seems overwhelming enough, and the thought of adding to it is just not acceptable.  Many who find themselves in this category will simply make themselves a strong drink at the end of the day, turn on the TV, and attempt to take a nightly vacation from life.  Even though many have chosen this approach, I think there are much better options.

2) Roll back. The second way of dealing with the situation is to simply abandon your desire to change, and choose to just settle.  For most people who make this choice the internal dialog might be, “this is my life and there’s nothing I can do about it.”  Some would call this giving up, I call it acceptance.

There is nothing wrong with acceptance. In fact it can put you in a very powerful place.  It eliminates the desire for more, and finds pleasure in the present reality.  If you can let go of wanting to be more than you currently are, and find inner harmony in doing so, then this is the way to go.

In fact, combining acceptance with simplifying your life even further, is an extremely effective course. It can quickly make your life feel much less stressful, and much more rewarding at the same time.  There is a lot of wisdom in the old adage, less is more.

3) Go for it. The third way applies to those who are compelled to become the best they can possibly be in every area of life, and nothing else will do.  For those of us who feel this way, and I include myself in this group, we need a two sided approach to help us avoid getting stuck in a perpetual holding pattern.

We need to simplify our lives and let go of nonessential activities, so that we can create room for personal development pursuits.  Adding to an overcrowded schedule will not work and you probably already know that from experience.  Even the so called overachievers have limits that must be acknowledged.

So the first step is to figure out what to let go of.  Don’t say you can’t let go of anything.  Holding on to everything will rob you of the ability to take the actions you need to take. If you want to ramp up the quality of your life you need to clear some room in your schedule, preferably an hour or two per day.

Next, you need to adopt a no-nonsense, step-by-step plan for making the changes you want to make.  Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, pick one approach and one set of actions, and stick to it.  I don’t care if there are 10 choices that all sound really good, pick one and only one, and take the actions needed to follow through.

Don’t expect overnight miracles.  Whatever the nature of your pursuit, give it 30 days of consistent effort. Keep taking the actions you’ve decided on and don’t deviate from your chosen approach.  Keep your actions consistent with your goals and don’t make excuses. If you’ve chosen wisely, your actions will eventually produce results, but you need to give it time.

Choose to take the actions needed to get results!

OK, now it’s time for you to figure out what it is that’s holding you back and what you plan to do about it.  Let me know what you think and what course of action you have decided on. The lines are open!

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  1. Kikolani March 27, 2009 Reply

    I’d have to agree that one of the biggest things that holds us back from doing something is fear – fear that we will fail, fear that it won’t be everything we had hoped, fear that we will lose more than we will gain. If we could let go of all our fears, we would be capable of doing so much more with ourselves

    ~ Kristi

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Kristi, one way to reframe the fear issue is to flip things around and ask those same questions in a way that attaches fear to doing nothing. A few examples would be “What do I stand to miss out on if I don’t take action on this? How long will it be before I get another opportunity like this if I let this one slip away? Where will I be next year If I continue to shy away from trying something new?

      The trick here is to attach pain to not taking action and the possibility of pleasure to acting. This way we are motivated to move away from pain (fear) by doing something.

  2. Robin Easton March 27, 2009 Reply

    I just love the solution for number 3. The other two aren’t issues for me. Fear I always head into and refuse to let cripple my life. I lived too long in the jungle for that. :) :) Complacent, I’ve never been. Overwhelmed, yes. But just this month I started cutting back, cutting out, and trimming down. I am working on a list of priorities and what is important to me, what needs to be done to further my goals and what doesn’t need to be or is even dead weight. Often simply moving toward what I love doing the most automatically solves that issue.

    This is another excellent article, Jonathan. Clear, honest and gutsy. I like REALLY like that!! Thank you SO much! Robin :)

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Robin, you and I have the same tendency to move toward fear and view it as excitement. Amazingly, when you view it that way it becomes your reality. The same situation that might scare someone else feel exciting and preferable. It’s all perception!

  3. Bunny March 27, 2009 Reply

    I think a periodic self-evaluation is necessary. Circumstances change in our lives and careers which we must rise to the occasion and make the proper adjustments in ourselves to fit the role. Unfortunately, people become comfortable and often are afraid of change. As for fear there is a quote I love by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.
    Great article.

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Bunny, “periodic self-evaluation” is definitely an important tool for creating positive change in our lives. If we don’t know where we are then we won’t know how to get where we want to go. Love the Emerson quote, thanks for sharing it.

  4. Stephen March 28, 2009 Reply

    Another great article Jonathan! Simplifying your life to get time to concentrate on what you really want is the mantra of Leo Babauta. It works. I suffered from doing too much and it is still something I fight all the time. I am incredibly impatient and want to do and learn everything. I end up doing and learning nothing until I slow down.

    I made a tweet yesterday that said 1 hour of TV per day is equivalent to the time you spend at a full time job for two months each year. Stopping or reducing TV is the #1 most people can free up time.

    Jonathan didn’t recommend his own book but I will. Get TRUE SELF. I’m not done with it but I have experienced positive change from it already.

    Great job Jonathan!

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Stephen, Your advice for TV viewing is an excellent way to create more time for worthwhile pursuits. The amount of time some spend viewing the tube over a lifetime is frightening.

  5. Angela March 28, 2009 Reply

    For me – stress. Ironically when I don’t do what I know I need to be doing, I get even more stressed out! But stress these days seems to be a deterrent. Working hard at it, thanks for your great continued encouragement.

  6. Dragos Roua March 28, 2009 Reply

    As always, a great article and I confess I resonate with a lot of what you outlined here. I know that fear is one of the most powerful setbacks in our road to success. But so are laziness or low self-esteem.

    To be honest I had all of them in various degrees during my life. What holds me back right now – apart from more and more incidental self-sabotage periods – is a so called feeling of altruism. I feel I owe to some people some of my time, my actions, my energy, without assessing if there’s really something that needs me there.

    But I’m working on it.

    P.S. Thanks for including my article about Self Sabotage here, I really hope it can make a difference for other people and shed some light on their own self-sabotage acts.

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Greetings Dragos, so many people are running stealthy little self-sabotaging programs that they have no awareness of. A big part of my coaching effectiveness comes from helping them identify those hidden programs and dismantle them. I thought your article included some great insights.

  7. Glen Allsopp March 28, 2009 Reply

    Good post mate, I think you touched on an important topic:

    It’s not something we do just for the benefit of others. We like to justify ourselves to ourselves, so we can feel comfortable about who we are and why we act the way we do.

    Well said, I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this, myself included.


    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Hey Glen, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Self-justification is something we all do well to reflect on. We learn a lot about our own motives when we do.

  8. Making a step-by-step plan is exactly what I have to do. When I don’t, I’ve got too many ways in my head to approach whatever project or goal I want to work on and achieve. Not having a plan of action holds me back big time.

    Thanks for the post; it’s a good one!

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Laurie, that is great advice for everyone. Planning thing out gives us a way to monitor our progress and see what works and what needs to be tweaked. As long as we remain adaptable we will keep moving in the right direction.

  9. Sunny Jamiel March 28, 2009 Reply

    Glad to have read you. I liked the wisdom in this sentence. “We need to simplify our lives and let go of nonessential activities, so that we can create room for personal development pursuits.”

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Hi Sunny, let’s face it, we can only work on so many things at any given time. If we want to grow we need to make room for the activities that lead to growth.

  10. Galen Pearl November 18, 2011 Reply

    Three things that stop us and three things we can do about it. You do have a gift for making important things simple and clear. I often find myself breathing more deeply and feeling more alert when I visit your blog. I’m not overwhelmed (see your point about confusion!). I’m informed, inspired, and motivated.

    I wonder if you would give some examples from your own life sometimes. I am intrigued by how these principles play out for you. I think you would be a great model. Not for others to copy, but so that people can see what it “looks like” when these things are put in practice.

    Thanks for another great article.

  11. Nancy November 19, 2011 Reply

    I totally agree with Galen and her statement that you make important things simple and clear.

    I like to define it like this – “Don’t press PAUSE, Keep hitting the PLAY button.”…..

    Thank you Jonathan and you too have a book here,

    • Jonathan November 21, 2011 Reply

      Thank you Nancy, I truly appreciate you kindness and your support.

  12. Lea November 27, 2011 Reply

    I agree, I think you nailed the reasons why we become stagnant. Whenever I hold myself back, I examine by feelings as to why I’m doing so and find a way to overcome it.

    • Jonathan December 14, 2011 Reply

      Good move Lea, making ourselves aware of those limiting feelings and then confronting them is a great way to overcome them.

  13. Stephen December 17, 2011 Reply

    Amen to this! Good article Jonathan. Adding the action plan suggestions was important. I’m glad you did that. I liked the fact that you were real in stating for some just accepting is ok. People tend to set too high of a goal initially and set themselves up for failure. Sometimes it’s important to just enjoy where you are and stop beating yourself up, enjoy the moment as you have said in other posts! Thanks

  14. Knowledge-Empowers February 11, 2013 Reply

    In my case, what’s holding me back is procrastination. I often create challenging goals for myself, but sometimes procrastination kicks in and therefore no change or improvement happens.

    People should take note of this procrastination ‘monster’. If one can deal with it well, moving forward is definitely possible.

  15. Meg Bertini February 13, 2013 Reply

    Fear is a huge one for many people. Even if they recognize that making the change would theoretically improve their lives, fear of the unknown, new reality they would create is worse than facing the current day-to-day reality. Great article!

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