We’ve come to the end of our first week of my Nerds Guide to Self Help. This week I’ll be tackling the dreaded Pit of Excuses. How can we stop making excuses? Why do we make excuses? If you’ve read my LAST POST you’ll know that the goal was to get onto a normal sleeping schedule. I set myself with the intention to be in bed by 10:30pm every evening and up by 6:30am every morning. I further added four minor goals, which were to put away all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, reading or journaling, and to drink a glass of water and make my bed upon waking. Was I successful? Read on to find out!
Stop Making Excuses and Enter the Dungeon Already
As the door to the dungeon clangs behind him, our hero Eric winces, hoping the sound didn’t alert any nearby monsters. It’s dark until the tip of his wand lights up, sending shadows dancing in all directions. “A little light cantrip never hurt anyone”, he thought. The path was narrow. The walls pressed in from both sides, old stone creating a claustrophobic effect that seemed to lead into infinite darkness, the air stale and dust thick. How long had it been since anyone ventured into this ancient place? Perhaps never?
Eric continued forward cautiously, holding his lighted wand out before him and occasionally checking over his shoulder to see if his companions were still following. There were times when he thought they weren’t there, until he stopped and their faces caught up with the light, urging him forward. He walked on for what seemed like an eternity, pushing through thick cobwebs clinging the walls throughout and then suddenly a CLICK, CLACK, RUMBLE. The floor beneath him gave out, crumbling away in an instant. Eric, plunging down into a black hole, gripping tightly to his wand, suddenly saw his savior, a root sticking out of the side. He thrust out his hand, grabbing the sturdy root, slamming against the stone wall of the pit. He was no longer falling, but would the root hold?
The Self Help Traps We Face
Change isn’t easy, especially the older we get. You’ve been conditioned to function a certain way through time and circumstance and those habits die very hard. When I begun this self help journey to personal development, I knew it would be tough. These “habits” or “personal monsters” would continually try to slow my progress. Disorder, the goblin boss is a crafty creature who is no stranger to setting traps to thwart my success.
I had attempted scheduling many times in the past, but there were always hiccups. As someone who worked in the restaurant industry for years as a side gig, getting into bed at 10:30pm was rarely an option when you’re not home till midnight or later. However, I used that as an excuse to not set a schedule that would work within my given limits. This is the “pit trap” that we can easily fall into if we’re not careful.
The pit trap is usually a trap sprung where the floor beneath you is loose, causing you to fall into a hole tens of feet deep, often with sharp spikes awaiting below or sometimes a bottomless nothing. This pit trap is there, keeping us from moving forward, much like our excuses in life. Excuses are powerful. They plague our mind and try to build a negative association with something we are trying to achieve.
Excuses can vary from, “I didn’t get in bed till late so why bother?” to “I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, so what’s the rush?”. These vague constructs are damaging to our hopes of moving forward. Excuses tell us that it’s okay to put this change off because it’s not super important. They tell us that we can manage it without help or structure, which is funny because we wouldn’t have started down this self help quest if we didn’t need a change.
We will come across many different types of traps as we push through our personal dungeons. The important thing to remember is that sometimes these traps will get the better of us. Sometimes our hero will fall into that 30 foot pit and take some damage. The important thing at that time is to focus on how you can get out of that trap and back on track. Disorder, the goblin boss is counting on us failing and retreating, making so many excuses that we’ll give up before we even get past the first level of the dungeon. He wants us to stay disorganized and unfocused, but we’re not going to let him. We’re going to stop making excuses.
Disarming Our Traps
There will be many more traps, but we’ve identified one, the pit trap of excuses. We identified it the way we identify traps in our own life, which is by falling into them and learning from them. Once a trap is identified, you can be better equipped to spot it in the future and disarm it before it is triggered. So, how can we stop making excuses?
- Stop dwelling on your failure
- Identify your weakness
- Focus on your strength
- Stop comparing yourself to others
Stop Dwelling On Your Failure
Failure happens to everyone. It’s a natural part of life. It’s what makes us learn and grow. We grow from our mistakes. So, when you fall into your pit trap of excuses, don’t hang there on that protruding root, cursing yourself for your stupidity. Do something about it. We don’t know yet whether that root will hold and if you don’t push past that failure and find that next foothold to pull yourself out of the pit, then you may end up falling further into despair. Stop making excuses. Failure is a nasty little goblin minion of Disorder. He will stop at nothing to make sure we never recover from its poison. Once you’ve been stabbed with the blade of failure, it’s hard to shake it. The poison lingers, rotting your confidence, desire, and happiness. It’s paralyzing.
What we have to realize is that FAILURE IS RELATIVE. Only you can define failure for yourself. Failure isn’t the end unless you say it’s the end. If we fall into the pit of excuses and catch that root, we have the choice of either finding a way out or giving up and letting go. It’s easy to define failure in the eyes of others and we will talk about that shortly. What you have to let go of is that fear of failure. I know it’s easier said than done because some failures are greater than others, but what I’m talking about are the failures that have already happened. It’s in the past. You’ve fallen into the pit. You can’t “un-fall” into the pit. So, stop making excuses.
Adam Sicinski has a great article about excuses and he highlights the following:
“Failure is only a temporary experience. If you refuse to accept defeat, then failure becomes nothing more than feedback.”
This is an excellent way of approaching failure. It happens. Once it has happened, you can only move forward because now it’s in the past. So, use it as a guide to not make the same mistake twice or thrice.
There were a couple of days this week when I wasn’t able to get up at 6:30am or into bed at 10:30pm. In fact, it was exactly my first two nights after that first blog post in which I failed. I couldn’t sleep that first night. My mind was racing with thoughts and I didn’t fall asleep until very late. I failed and made the excuse, “Well, there’s no point now. I’ve already failed.” So, I ignored my alarm in the morning and slept in.
You might be saying, “Well you needed that sleep.” You’re right, I did, but what happened is I let it throw my whole next day off. That one failure turned into further excuses and left me paralyzed for the whole day. I almost let go of that root and fell further into the bottomless pit. Almost, but I want to stop making excuses. So, what did I do?
Truth is, I didn’t fall further. The important lesson here is that I didn’t allow those two days to define my entire week. We’re going to have a bad day or days. We’re going to fail in our quest for self help and personal development. I didn’t kick myself for losing two days. I instead recommitted myself and tried again the next day and the next. We just need to recommit ourselves to our task and try again. It’s still not perfect a week later. I haven’t solved my problem, but I’m getting better at it. I’m not dwelling on my failure, but benefiting from my persistence. I’m teaching myself to never let go of that root or if I do, try to find something else to grab onto before I hit the bottom of my pit of excuses.
Identify Your Weakness
Everyone has weaknesses. No one is perfect. Some may think they are perfect, but that in itself is a weakness. As Luke Skywalker said to Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” It’s important to identify the weakness associated in the moment of your failure and say it out loud. Pretend your Luke talking to the Emperor or if you’re like me and root for bad guys, you can play the Emperor in this scenario. Ask yourself “Why do you fail?” You may be saying, “Now you’re starting to sound like, Yoda. I thought this was a Dungeons & Dragons style adventure. Are you mixing genres? Blasphemy.” I told you I’m a nerd. Nerds aren’t limited to one love.
Now, it might be easier said than done to identify your weakness in a moment of failure. It might not even occur to you in the moment that you’ve failed, but give yourself some time to reflect on that moment and see if you can pinpoint it. Mine is excuses. I love to make excuses. It’s one of my greatest weaknesses in order to take the blame off myself and put it on something external. I only have myself to blame in that moment. Are there external factors that can cause failure? Absolutely! I’m talking about following up that failure with excuses as to why I shouldn’t continue. That is completely under my control.
Only you can pick yourself up off the floor. Only you can look around the pit and see if there is something else to grab onto in order to lift yourself out and stop making excuses. Did you forget that you had companions above and a 50 foot hempen rope in your backpack?
Once you identify that weakness, jot it down or make a mental note of it. Identify that trap, so you can be better equipped to disarm it in the future. You might fail again, but the more you confront that weakness, the more traps you try to disarm, the better you will get at it. Your skill will increase and before long you’ll be able to level up and we all know that’s the most exciting part of the adventure.
Focus On Your Strength
Once you’ve identified your weakness in a moment, take stock of your skillset and remind yourself where you excel. If Eric is a wizard, maybe he isn’t the most agile or strong character in the group, but he has a catalog of powerful spells and unmatched intelligence. Okay, maybe as a first level hero he only had like three spells, but that’s more than Conan the Barbarian over there. Perhaps the wizard can’t pull himself up to the next protruding stone, but could he possibly summon vines that could stretch down and lift him out of the pit? “You’re mixing Druid with Wizard” says a distant, Godlike voice. Calm down. It’s just an example. Rules are made to be broken and in my personal dungeon; I make the rules.
Focusing on our strengths allow us to subvert the excuses we make by coming at them from a different angle. We can harness this to stop making excuses. I have patience. It’s one of my best qualities in my life and I try to use it to my advantage whenever I can. I knew that even though I failed those two days, that it was okay. These changes are going to take time. It’s a game for the long run. A campaign if you will. The billionaire investor and businessman, Warren Buffett says,
“I don’t look to jump over seven-foot bars: I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over.”
We have to take things one day at a time and enjoy the journey along the way.
Elaine Mead, a sociologist and criminologist gives us a massive list of strengths and weaknesses and how to identify with them in this article. If you’re having trouble defining either, try writing them down. Pen to paper is an effective way of seeing things in front of you. The act of writing them down gives them weight and a feeling of importance. Write everything that comes to mind and then start picking your top ones that you feel you can work on or your top five you feel are the best side of you.
I’ve been an actor for over a decade. It’s a tough business. You’re always looking for that in, that next step to success, that one connection that’ll put you on the map. The one major thing that I’ve learned after 10+ years in the business is that it’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey.
Setting goals is great. It gives you a clearer path, just like we’re doing here with our self help journey, but the actual journey to those goals is what life is all about. Revel in the messiness of it. The quicker you accept the long term process of something, the easier life will be on you. It’s tough, I know. We live in a time of now, now, now. Everything is at our fingertips. The world moves fast, but true progress takes time. Appreciate your strengths and use them to make up for your weaknesses until you can improve those and level up.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Heroes
We’ve all been there. We’re the level one hero looking through all the cool things we get when we’re level 20 and we just want it now. We can’t wait. I wanna cast those cool spells now, be a millionaire now, be a famous actor now, have a pina colada on a beach now. It’s these thoughts that then lead us down a dangerous road of comparing ourselves to others. We covet what we don’t have. It’s natural. We look at Warren Buffett and say, “I wanna be that rich.” We look at Meryl Streep and say, “I wanna be that good of an actor.” We look at our best friend and say, “I wanna have hair that cool.” This comparing happens on all levels. We even envy our pets sometimes! This won’t help your quest to stop making excuses.
In Psychology Today, Susan Biali Haas says,
“Remind yourself that other people’s “outsides” can’t be compared to your “insides”.”
I love this. We often look at a situation and think we know all about it based on the cover. A friend of mine was just part of a film that won the 2019 Oscar for best live action short. It’s called “The Neighbors Window” by Marshall Curry. It’s a beautiful story about how we tend to think someone has it better than us when we actually don’t know anything about their situation. Don’t presume someone has it better than you. You might just be surprised how many people have no idea what they are doing in any given moment and are just riding a lucky wave.
I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at others in my business and asked myself; why aren’t I that good, why am I not that successful, why don’t my abs look like that? It’s part of my pit of excuses. I might as well stop trying, because I’ll never be as good as that person. They’ve been acting since they were a kid, so they had a head start. I’ll never be successful because I’m a first generation artist and mommy and daddy aren’t famous actors or producers or writers that can give me an in. I didn’t go to Juilliard, so that’s why. I don’t come from a wealthy family, so I can’t buy my way in like they did, so why try, the cards are stacked against me!
Dr. Edward Banfield, a Harvard University sociologist developed a concept known as “long-time perspective”. He essentially goes on to say how men and women who kept their futures in consideration with every decision they made were more likely to be successful in life. It’s more important than background, intelligence, race or any other contributing factor. Remember, we’re in this game for the long haul, so keep that in mind moving forward and don’t let other’s successes drag you into doubt. Stop making excuses by using others as scapegoats.
Negative thoughts are toxic. Trust me, I’ve had them all and they all boil down to one thing, the pit of excuses. I use these external examples as reasons for not working on my own stuff. I’m looking at someone, telling myself I must be that in order to succeed. When you say it out loud it’s the dumbest thing in the world. You can’t compare yourself to others. Your quest is your own, it’s unique to you and only you.
You have to take stock of where you are in life. If you’re trying to become the next Warren Buffett and you have $120 in the bank, you’re clearly not Warren Buffett, so don’t kick yourself for not being so. I can’t be Robert Dinero. Why? Because I’m Eric Whitten. Can I aspire to be like someone? Sure! We all need heroes, but you can’t put the pressure on yourself to be someone you’re not or at a level that you’re not. You’re not a level 20 hero yet, so don’t pretend to be. Being a level one is exciting, because it’s all new. That feeling of a fresh adventure. We love that feeling as gamers, not knowing where the story will unfold. Waddle in that a little and then kick your butt into gear. Stop making excuses.
This element of the pit of excuses is probably the most difficult one today. Everyone’s success is thrown into your face on a daily basis through social media, television, blogs, etc. This is one reason I started this blog so you can hear my own frustrations and imperfections and perhaps relate. You can realize that it’s about the journey, not the result. The result will come from the journey.
How do you stop yourself from coveting others success or comparing yourself to others? It’s not easy and it’s a continuous life long battle. The first step is to acknowledge your own success. At the end of each week, jot down what you’ve accomplished and be proud. There’s always something you’ve achieved, even if it’s not “eliminating world hunger”. Write them down and reflect. I made my bed every day. That’s an accomplishment! Then ask yourself how you can take it a step further, not seven steps, but just a step. Confucius says,
“A journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step.”
Climbing Out of The Pit
As I mentioned, I fell into the pit of excuses more than once. I failed more than once, but that’s okay. I’m dusting myself off, removing some cobwebs, putting my pride back in my bag and continuing down the long dark dungeon hallway.
So, what’s next?
This week we continue our first adventure; searching for the goblin boss, Disorder. In order to find and defeat Disorder, we have to face his many minions. We’ve already learned of one, the crafty goblin, Failure. They’ll keep trying to spring these pit traps on our minds with excuses until we give up and leave the dungeon. That’s not going to happen. Let’s continue to build on to what we have started by taking it a step further and hopefully stop making excuses.
I’m going to keep going to bed at 10:30pm and waking at 6:30am. I’m also going to keep avoiding electronics an hour before bed, reading and journaling, and drinking that glass of water in the morning before making my bed.
My two challenges this week will be to Focus and Reflect.
Challenge One: Focus
Focus is tough for many of us. It requires concentration and commitment. For me, I’m using my focus exercise in the morning to complement my daily preparation and help me stay on track. After I have made my bed and drank my glass of water, I’ll take the first 30 minutes of my day to focus myself. I will start by taking a walk. I’m lucky that there is a park down the street from me, but even if you don’t have a park, walk around your block or neighborhood. Just the act of getting yourself outside and active for twenty minutes will help clear your mind for the workday ahead. If it’s raining? There’s these little things called umbrellas. Stop making excuses.
Following my walk, I’ll be doing ten minutes of meditation. I’ll set a timer and focus on my breathing in and out. This will help prepare my concentration for the day by focusing on a simple task for an extended period. Meditation can take on many forms. It’s not for everyone. I’ve tried it many times and I’m still not convinced it’s for me, but I’m still trying. There are many different forms of focus meditation. The important thing is that you take an extended period of time to focus on something positive.
Tony Robbins, the famous personal development coach and business entrepreneur says that classic meditation doesn’t work for him. So, what does he do every morning? He spends ten minutes in gratitude for everything and everyone he has, putting each thought into his body and feeling it to its fullest. It kick starts him for the day in a positive way. There are so many avenues, but this is what I’m currently trying. pick one and try it, but stop making excuses as to why you can’t. You never know until you try.
Challenge Two: Reflect
Similar to the gratitude exercise Tony Robbins does, I’m going to be adding into my hour prep time before bed. In addition to shutting down all electronics, I’m going to keep a personal reflection journal by my bedside. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I’m using a small little notebook. If you’re following along, don’t get hung up on picking out the “perfect journal” from Barnes & Nobles. Then I’m going to be jotting down all the things about my day. What was good, what was bad, what was unexpected, etc. I’m going to write it like a bulleted list to keep them short and approachable.
I’m going to look at this list and be grateful for the positive and conscious of the negative. It’s important for us to focus on the positive things in our life. There is enough strife in the world without us beating ourselves up about every little thing. Being conscious of the negative means that I’m acknowledging it’s there, choosing to remember it for future improvement, and then setting it aside so I can focus more on the positive. This keeps me from falling into that pit of excuses. Our goal is to stop making excuses.
Continuing Into the Dungeon
That’s it! It’s important to keep building steps. In the past I tried to change every part of my behavior all at once and it would always fail, because it was too overwhelming. It reminds me of that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” As long as we’re taking small bites we can be better equipped for detecting future traps like the pit of excuses. If we just plow ahead we might end up right in the middle of a gelatinous cube and we all know what that means. If you don’t, ask your friendly neighborhood nerd. Let’s get one step closer to a better me and stop making excuses.
If you’re enjoying my blog so far I encourage you to subscribe, so you can get notified of any new posts. I’m aiming for new posts to come out every Wednesday, but that could change and I wouldn’t want you to miss out. Also, if you think a friend might benefit from this, point them this way. Feel free to leave comments or suggestions, but just remember to keep them positive and constructive.