Watching all of the great athletes competing in the Olympics, got me thinking about what gave these chosen few the edge over all of the other athletes who tried to compete. Research has shown that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to master a given skill. That comes out to roughly 2 hours a day, every day for 15 years (if my math is right). All of us have the capacity to do that if we want to. I mean, I bet most of us have watched over 10,000 hours of television in the last 15 years (probably way more), so it can be done if we enjoy the activity enough. If we can all do it though, what separates the “men from the boys” then? I think it boils down to excuses. Those that make the fewest excuses to not practice today, leave practice early, or not give this practice their all, are the ones that make it while others don’t. While most of us are not Olympic athletes, the way excuses can impact our lives is something we should all be aware of.
Excuses are something our rational, thinking mind makes up to deal with inconsistencies in our thinking and environment. If there is one thing our brains cannot handle, it is inconsistencies between what we think and what we do. Since changing our behavior is harder to do, our brains decide to change our thinking/beliefs to match our actions, and one of the ways it does this is through excuses. If we decide that we would rather skip practice today to go out with friends, our brain then creates reasons that reinforce our thinking and behavior, so that we avoid feeling the negative emotions of guilt and shame. We think “I will practice more tomorrow,” “my body is sore, so I should let it rest today,” and “I am good enough, missing one practice won’t matter,” and before long we are out with our friends feeling no guilt at all. If this was a singular occurrence, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but unfortunately it is not. These same excuses take hold in our minds and slowly propagate like a cancerous growth, and before you know it, you are practicing less and less and giving less and less effort. Eventually, the excuses take such a strong hold that you give up the activity completely, because it’s “too hard,” “too time consuming,” or “not your thing.”
In my own life, when I was about 13 years old I learned how dangerous excuses can be, and how much they can take away from you. During the winter of my 8th grade year, I started having really intense pain in my right hip. The pain was constant, and no matter what position I would put my body in nothing helped. I was in so much pain that I was only sleeping about 3 hours a night, could barely eat, and was constantly distracted. On top of all of that, as the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong, they put me on copious amounts of narcotics to help with my pain, which put me into a mental haze. This combination obviously made focusing and thinking in general pretty difficult. Fortunately though, I still had enough mental clarity to realize that I was coming to a crossroads in my life.
It was proposed to me by several people that I had every right to take my pain medication, not go to school every day, and wait until things get better to return to my daily life. They were essentially giving me a green light to make excuses to not fight as hard as I can. I decided to take a day or two to decide on my course of action. Two things occurred to me during this time, 1) that my pain may never go away completely (it hasn’t), so if I cannot fight through it now, I never will and 2) that if it takes a while to figure out how to alleviate my discomfort, then I may become so accustomed to the excuses that they take up permanent residence in my mind. If the excuses became solid fixtures in my thinking, then I would not have the belief in myself to fight. Somehow I was able to see this slippery slope that I was quickly approaching. I made a choice, then and there, that until my body literally gives out and prevents me from living my life as I typically would, that I will give everything I have to go about my life the way I want to live it. No excuses. Not a single excuse is good enough that it should ever make me stop fighting.
I had been given every opportunity to make excuses to deal with this problem I was facing. I knew that if I decided to make excuses not to fight at that time, that I may never get a better chance. I made a pledge to myself in that moment that I was not going to go through life making excuses. I was going to push myself to live up to the same standards as everyone else and then some, because if I don’t fully think I can do something, then how can I expect anyone else to. I knew that this road would be difficult and it has been. I knew that I would fail sometimes, but I would fail on my terms, knowing I gave everything I have to succeed. I knew that I had the fight, the will, and the spirit, to overcome any obstacle this vicious disease could throw at me. As long as my belief in how strong I am doesn’t falter, and I don’t make excuses to give up, I truly know that there is nothing I cannot accomplish.
I know that not everyone has the time or ability to completely purge all excuses from their lives, but I do hope that you will try to minimize them. I urge all of you reading this to take the time to think about the things you make reasons not to do in your life. Take the time to actually write them down and have someone else read them back to you as if they were saying them. If you hear a justification and react thinking “Pssh, what a lame excuse,” then this one probably isn’t helping you, and you should question it. If you react thinking that it sounds like a legitimate reason, then it may be ok. You will be amazed at how many of your reasons sound like bad excuses even to you. Take the time to challenge every bad excuse with a better retort. Have a dialogue in your head or with a friend until you successfully refute the excuse. If you do this enough, your mind will naturally start to use it as a defense against this excuse the next time it pops up.
I am so thankful that at such a young age I was able to see the nasty effects making excuses can have on your life. If I had chosen to make excuses and take the easy road, I definitely wouldn’t be writing for you today, and chances are I would not even be here. I would never have had the strength to live the amazing life I have had, or the will to fight through all of the difficult events I have overcome. The next time you catch yourself thinking “I can’t run any farther,” “I am too tired,” or “I will do it later,” stop and think. Will 10 more steps kill you? Is 30 more minutes a big deal? What if later never comes, and this is your last chance to do this? Take the time to really think about your reasoning, because excuses can quickly have lasting effects on your life. I mean, we all know what excuses are like, don’t we?…