“I don’t have enough money”…
“I don’t have enough education”…
“I’m not the right person for this”…
“There’s too much competition”…
“Insert reason here”.
Ever said any of these before?
and it's usually when asked why I’m not pursuing something I want to do.
Every excuse has an underlying message…and this was a hard pill for me to swallow.
But it ultimately leads to our decisions…which produces a result – positive or negative.
This article is going to bring to light what that message really is, and make the argument that we cannot be successful and make excuses simultaneously.
This is a guest post by Travis White. Travis is the founder of Unkept Gentleman, where he helps men become more confident, attractive, and successful through style and self-improvement. Click Here to download his FREE e-Book “How To Dress For Your Body Type”
First, The Bad News
Here’s the thing.
We can’t control MOST things in life.
For example – our sex at birth, who our parents are, how much wealth they’ve accumulated, the community we’re born into, if we have a genetic disease, wanting to be 6’5 but we’re born 5’6.
Life isn't fair…
and it’s easy to get stuck in the “If only” mantra.
If only _____ happened, then I would be successful.
But here’s the good news, we may not control where we start – but we have 100% control over where we finish.
You Must Sell the Goat
Before we look at the science – let’s look at the true story of a young man named James.
James set an unachievable goal for himself. He was going to get into high school.
While that may seem like a run-of-the-mill achievement for most people, James was different.
Living in a violent Uganda, at the age of 6 James lost his entire family.
- Mom – to cancer.
- Three sisters – to measles.
- Father – to AIDS.
His grandmother took him in.
They barely survived from their goat and a few chickens.
Then the time came for James to enroll in high school. Unfortunately, they couldn’t afford the cost of tuition.
Despite James having the best grades in his entire secondary school, getting a diploma was not in the picture.
Grandma’s friend proposed an implausible solution. The President of Uganda was known for helping fund education for kids in poverty.
All James had to do was take a 300-mile bus ride, scale the gates of the President’s house, sneak past the guards, talk his way past the secretary, and get into the President’s office (no big deal, right?).
He was told if he could get in front of the President, he would get the financial help he needed. This seemed like a lofty goal for a full-grown adult, much less an 11-year old boy who didn’t own a pair of shoes.
But to James – there were two options:
- Drop out of school.
- Find a way to get in front of the President.
Unable to afford the bus ticket, and unsure if the plan would even work, he decided he had to try.
So – they sold their goat.
They made enough money to buy James a bus ticket, a pair of shoes, and a nice outfit (so he could look presentable to the President).
James left the next morning to catch the 5:00 am bus ride…
Fast forward to 2015, James has a bachelor’s degree in computational biology and two master’s degrees. One in public health and policy, and one in sustainable development.
He has now dedicated his life to giving other students who can’t afford an education the opportunity to do so.
Yes – he made it through the gates, passed the guards, into the first lady’s office who was so moved by his story, the president funded his high school tuition.
So, what the heck am I telling you this for?
Because James had a handful (putting it modestly) of external factors he could’ve blamed for his situation.
- “He was poor”
- “He wasn’t privileged enough to go to high school”
- “He wasn’t born into a fortunate life”
- “He lost his mother and father as a kid”
He could have given up and nobody would’ve looked down on him.
In fact, that’s what was expected.
But he sold their goat. AKA, He found a solution – a resource.
But James also had something else…determination.
An unrelenting drive to succeed.
This story seems incredibly heroic. And it is. But it’s also a great anecdote of the well-studied science of success.
Why Excuses Nurture Failure
S*&t happens – right? Bad things happen to everyone.
- You lost the promotion to someone less qualified.
- Your business failed.
- You have a mountain of debt.
- You didn’t make the football team.
- You were born in war-torn Uganda and lost your entire family.
When inevitable hardships come, we can respond in two ways:
- Look internally and ask “How can I solve this?”
- Look externally and say “It’s not my fault, I can’t do anything about it”.
The first solution is in our control.
The second is not.
But – science tells us that looking inward, tweaking, and fine-tuning what we can control, breeds success.
“You don’t lack resources, you lack resourcefulness.” – Tony Robbins
What Does the Science Say?
I know what some of you are thinking…
That story about James was heart-warming and all, but it was one anecdote. You need data & science to back it up.
Well – good news. I have it.
St. Johns did a study in 2010 that was published in the Journal of Psychology.
They compared student’s predispositions about taking responsibility (I control the outcome) and students who made fraudulent excuses (the outcome is out of my control).
The results? 72% of students admitted to making fraudulent excuses. Hardly shocking, right?
But here’s the interesting (and unfortunate) part. The students who made excuses had an absurd correlation to having lower GPA’s.
In other words, the students who made excuses failed in their classes more often.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
While it’s true, correlation does NOT equal causation, a theory can at least be extrapolated.
The Personal Responsibility Breeds Success Theory:
We say: “I take responsibility” – and look inward.
- This leads to our brains searching for a solution.
- This leads to resourcefulness.
- This leads to gaining those resources.
- This leads to higher motivation.
- This leads to success.
The Making Excuses Breeds Failure Theory:
We say: “It’s not my fault” – and blame external sources.
- Our brain shuts down to solutions.
- We feel like the victim.
- Our motivation plummets.
- We fail.
The Real Underlying Meaning of Excuses
So – Why do we make excuses?
Why can’t we take responsibility all the time?
If it breeds success, and everyone wants to succeed, why not just cut it out with the excuse making?
Well – making excuses feels good! It feels good to blame. It feels good to know we’re not wrong.
It can’t be our fault. There must be something else happening that can justify our outcomes.
Think about it…To receive a poor outcome, then blame something external with a clear conscience?
Sounds pretty tempting to me, because I hate being wrong.
But here's the issue…when we externalize the problem, we also externalize the outcome.
Now the result is out of our control. And a lack of control is one of the main killers of motivation, and a big cause of stress and anxiety.
Just imagine when you’re unable to control how slow the traffic is moving when you’re in a rush…then tell me how you feel.
When we’re stressed a little hormone called cortisol is released. This causes anxiety, resentment, anger, and frustration.
So – while making excuses temporarily feels good it can literally cause us to resent the world.
This type of resentment leads to stories like people gaining weight and then suing fast food restaurants because they gained weight.
Personal Responsibility Nurtures Success
Emmitt Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1969.
Emmitt Sr., his father, had an answer to everything. Which was usually to “beat it out of you”.
To add insult to injury, Emmitt Jr. was sexually assaulted by three other men and one woman as a child.
He had major outbursts as a teenager that got him kicked out of high school…but he eventually earned his GED.
By the age of 16, he changed his name to Tyler to distance himself from his father, only later to find out from a simple DNA test that Emmitt Sr. wasn’t his biological father at all.
At age 20, Tyler (formerly Emmitt Jr.) discovered the therapeutic effects of writing.
In 1990, Tyler moved to Atlanta and spent the next two years writing a musical. It was performed at a local community theater and funded by his $12,000 life savings.
It tanked. He was broke. But Tyler persisted.
Working odd jobs, he spent the next 6 years rewriting, tweaking, and fixing all the problem areas of the play.
In 1998 – his rewrites were a hit. First, at the House of Blues, then again at Fox Theater.
Today, Tyler Perry is one of the most successful writers, actors, and producers in the entertainment industry.
In 2010 and 2011 Forbes named him the highest paid man in the entertainment industry.
Tyler had every excuse imaginable to fail.
I’d say his excuses would’ve been justified too. It wasn’t his fault his father beat him, or that three perverts sexually molested him.
But he chose to persist.
I think there's another important lesson from Tyler's story as well…
And that is…even when our reasons are justified & the results STILL suck…we have the final choice on how to respond. That choice is the only power you have over a horrible situation.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison…UNJUSTLY, and came out choosing to forgive the people who put him there. Then he became the greatest leader South Africa ever had.
When we look inward to solving the problem, we also internalize the outcome. Now we’re in total control.
This is the REAL liberation. This is a state which promotes creativity and problem-solving. You gain excitement, courage, and passion.
But we had to give up one thing to get there…our ego…and this was a battle I fought for a long time…until I read Ryan Holiday's new book.
“When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility…rock-hard humility and confidence…Ego is artificial…Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned…– Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
How to Overcome Excuses in 2 Steps
Step 1: Change Your Language
The easiest way to do this is to become aware of our responses to situations.
When life gets tough, how do we react?
Do we look inward first, or outward?
Do we say “What can I do differently?” or do we say “There’s nothing I could’ve done.”
- If you don’t have as much money as you’d like – do you say “It’s the economy” or do you say “How can I provide more value to people?”.
- If you’re failing to lose weight – do you say “I’ve tried everything – nothing will work” or do you say “Maybe there’s something I haven’t tried & I need to research a little more”
- If you’re a manager and your team isn’t performing – do you say “my team isn’t strong enough” or do you say “How can I better help them reach their fullest potential?”
Each of these outcomes has a fundamentally different perspective.
One is in our control, the other is outside.
One temporarily feels good but will leave us stressed in the long run…
and one liberates us to achieve greatness.
The question is – which are you going to choose?
Step 2: Set Up Systems Of Accountability
The next thing we can do is find something or someone to hold us accountable.
When you set a goal – who is making sure you're achieving them? Do you tell an accountability partner or just keep them to yourself?
You want to lose weight? What can you do?
Pay for a trainer up front.
Now you're invested. If you don't show up…the trainer isn't going to give your money back – and he gets paid either way.
This system of accountability is keeping you in the mindset of “I can do it” “I have to do it”.
The trainer is there holding you accountable.
Whereas if you were to pay for a gym membership – no one is forcing you to get up and go.
Final Words On Achieving Success
Plan for and expect setbacks.
We may not ALWAYS find the perfect solution by looking inward, and there may well be external factors at play.
The solution also may lie somewhere between our attitude and the re-construction of those external sources. But to be aware of that – we still must look inward.
And if we approach everything by looking inward first – we have a shot, and a good one, to achieve whatever we want.
And it may take longer than we’d like, and we may have to sacrifice things. We may have to sell the goat. But at least we have a chance.
Whereas the alternative (blaming something else) – our chance of success is 0%.
I don't know about you – but I would rather take the odds of success.
I think Ben Franklin said it best:
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else”.
This is a guest post by Travis White. Travis is the founder of Unkept Gentleman, where he helps men become more confident, attractive, and successful through style and self-improvement.
Click Here to download his FREE e-Book “How To Dress For Your Body Type” or Click Here To Download “5 Tips To Build Unshakeable Confidence”