How Your Biggest Excuses Can Help You

When you think about it, the reasons we tell ourselves we won’t succeed are pretty ridiculous.
 
The trouble is that we don’t feel that way when we’re making them.
 
If only we could remember how silly our excuses sounded in the moment we made them, perhaps we wouldn’t feel so crippled.
 
Well, the good news is that we can.
 
You can start right now–by writing down your most common excuses.
 
It’s super useful to have a view into the past or the future as we put ourselves in front of new challenges and face the voice of “the critic” inside our heads.
 
Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of fears from the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. FYI: I’ve ripped this list, nearly verbatim, from her book.
 
Disclaimer: I strongly dislike the idea of “magical thinking.” I’m a ex-neuroscientist, after all. But this list is damn useful.
 
  • You’re afraid you have no talent
  • You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.
  • You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
  • You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
  • You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
  • You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.
  • You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously.
  • You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
  • You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing.
  • You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.
  • You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
  • You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.
  • You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.
  • You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
  • You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.
  • You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal.
  • You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud.
  • You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.
  • You’re afraid your best work is behind you.
  • You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with.
  • You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back.
  • You’re afraid you’re too old to start.
  • You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
  • You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again.
  • You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying?
  • You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.
  • You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder” 
This is just one person’s list. I’ve got my own.
 
The other side of making excuses (the reasons we convince ourselves to not do something) is motivation (the reasons we do them anyway).
 
Here’s a list that Seth Godin wrote in a recent blog post that outlines some common motivations (good and bad):
 
  • Avoidance of shame (do this work or you’ll be seen as a fraud/loser/outcast)
  • Big dreams (because you can see it/feel it/taste it)
  • Catastrophe (or the world as we know it will end)
  • Competition (someone is gaining on you)
  • Compliance (the boss/contract says I have to, and even better, there’s a deadline)
  • Connection (because others will join in)
  • Creative itch (the voice inside of you wants to be expressed)
  • Dissatisfaction (because it’s not good enough as it is)
  • Engineer (because there’s a problem to be solved)
  • Fame (imagining life is better on the other side)
  • Generosity (because it’s a chance to contribute)
  • It’s a living (pay the writer)
  • Peer pressure (the reunion is coming up)
  • Possibility (because we can, and it’ll be neat to see how it works in the world)
  • Professionalism (because it’s what we do)
  • Revenge (you’ll show the naysayers)
  • Selection (to get in, win the prize, be chosen)
  • Unhappiness (because the only glimmer of happiness comes from the next win, after all, we’re not good enough as is)
 
Seth also points out:
 
“They all work. Some of them leave you wrecked, some create an environment of possibility and connection and joy. Up to you.”
 
2 MINUTE ACTION
 
What’s an excuse that you use all the time? What’s a motivation that’s fueled you in the past?
 
Take no more than 2 minutes to write these down.
 
Keep these close to you, because understanding where they came from might make or break you.