Excerpted from Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright Marie Forleo, 2019.
Chapter 4: Eliminate Excuses
Ever had a morning like this? You went to bed with every intention of getting up early. You were going to work out, meditate, write—you know, finally become that incredibly productive human you know you can be. Now the phone is vibrating next to your head. Already? Noooo! It’s so dark. It’s so cold. Sleep is really important for my health, right? Just five more minutes. Five minutes pass. Okay, maybe ten more. By the time your feet hit the floor, you’re chasing the day. The dog is begging to be walked. Your phone is blowing up from an unexpected meltdown at work. You notice a stain on your shirt after you’ve walked out the door. Cue David Byrne: Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
Now, what about a morning like this? Your eyes pop open in the dark. You turn your head and grab the phone. Really, only 4:30 a.m.? The alarm isn’t set to go off for another hour. Your flight doesn’t leave until 8:45 a.m., but you’re so pumped for this trip that you can’t sleep another minute. You hop out of bed, work out, and head off to the airport—early.
What’s the deal? How is it that sometimes we’re able to effortlessly get ourselves to do exactly what we need to do, but other times it’s a struggle? What holds us back from consistently performing at the levels we’re capable of?
To find the answer, we have to look inside. No matter what we’re trying to figure out, the biggest barriers are often in our own minds:
I need to start working out again, but I’m just so busy with work and the kids. Can’t do it—no time.
My finances are a mess. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get ahead. I’m just not a numbers person.
I really want to take that design class. It could open up a whole new career! But it’s too expensive—I can’t afford it.
I wish I could meet someone special. But I don’t have the time for dating, I’m too old, and besides, all the good ones are already taken.
Sound familiar? My hand is raised because I’ve said things like this to myself. Many times. But here’s the truth: One of the biggest obstacles that hold us back are those excuses. The little lies we tell ourselves that limit who we are and what we ultimately accomplish.
Everybody makes excuses from time to time, so don’t feel bad. But if you’re committed to figuring things out, all excuses have got to go. It’s time to call yourself out and uncover all the ways you bullshit yourself. Once you get honest about how flimsy your excuses really are, you’ll reclaim not only enormous stores of energy but also your power to change.
Two Four-Letter Words That Will Annihilate Your BS Excuses
Let’s start by looking at your language and two common words that blur your ability to be honest with yourself. Those two four-letter words are “can’t” and “won’t.” Think about how often people say some version of the following:
I can’t get up and work out every day.
I can’t find the time to get writing done.
I can’t forgive her for what she’s done.
I can’t take that job, it’s across the country.
I can’t ask for help.
I can’t ask for a promotion because I’m not good enough yet.
I can’t launch this project because the boss didn’t approve.
I can’t __________ [take the class, learn the language, start the venture, etc.] because I can’t afford it.
Here’s the problem: 99 percent of the time when we say we “can’t” do something, “can’t” is a euphemism for “won’t.” What does “won’t” mean? “Won’t” means we’re not willing. In other words . . .
You don’t really want to.
You don’t want to do the work.
You don’t want to take the risk.
You don’t want to get uncomfortable or be inconvenienced. It’s simply not a big enough or important enough priority.
Before you disagree or find exceptions (which there are), humor me for a moment.
If you consider how this might be true in your life, even a portion of the time, you’ll break free from the vast majority of self-deceptive crap that holds you back. For example, go back to all those statements and replace “can’t” with “won’t.” You’ll discover something much more honest:
I won’t get up and work out every day.
I won’t find the time to get writing done.
I won’t forgive her for what she’s done.
I won’t take that job, it’s across the country. I won’t ask for help.
I won’t ask for the promotion.
I won’t launch this project because the boss didn’t approve.
I won’t __________ [take the class/learn the language/start the venture] because I won’t afford it.
In my life, whenever I say, “I can’t,” most of the time what I really mean is, “I won’t.” I don’t want to. I have no desire to make the sacrifice or put in the effort to get that particular result. It’s not something I want badly enough, or something I want to put ahead of my other priorities. Saying that you don’t want something (or don’t want to put in the work or sacrifice to get it) doesn’t make you bad or lazy. It makes you honest.
Here’s why this distinction is important, especially when it comes to leveraging the figureoutable philosophy. Often, when we use the word “can’t,” we start to behave like victims—powerless against our circumstances. It’s as though we have no control over our time, energy, or choices. We take no responsibility for our lives.
When you use the word “won’t,” you feel and behave more powerfully. You remember that you’re in charge of your thoughts and actions. YOU get to determine how to spend your time and resources. You’ll feel more alive and energized and free because you’re taking full responsibility for the state of your life.
Speaking of taking responsibility, a quick reminder about an essential universal principle:
You are 100 percent responsible for your life.
Always and in all ways. It’s not your parents. It’s not the economy. It’s not your husband or your wife or your family. It’s not your boss. It’s not the schools you went to. It’s not the government or society or institutions or your age. You are responsible for what you believe, how you feel, and how you behave. To be clear, I’m not saying you’re responsible for the actions of others or injustices that have happened to you—but you are responsible for how you respond to the actions of others. In fact, lasting happiness can only come when you take 100 percent responsibility for yourself.
Now you might say, “Marie, you don’t know my story. So many horrific things have happened to me that aren’t my fault, that are outside my control, and that I didn’t choose. How can I be responsible for that?” Or you might say, “But, Marie, things are happening to me right now that I have no control over because of the culture and society I was born into. How am I responsible for those things?”
You’re right. There are external forces, situations, and social constructs that affect us all. What’s crucial to understand is that no matter what happened in your past or what’s happening now, if you’re not at least willing to take full responsibility for your life—which includes your thoughts, feelings, and behavior—you give up the power to change it.
Tiffany, a psychotherapist in San Francisco, wrote to me and said:
To be clear, taking responsibility doesn’t mean staying silent about injustice. It doesn’t mean blaming or shaming yourself. It doesn’t mean beating yourself up or living with constant guilt. Instead, taking 100 percent responsibility for your life means recognizing that you’re in charge of deciding how you feel and who you wish to be in response to what happens now and in the future.
Could you imagine if Malala Yousafzai felt she wasn’t old enough, privileged enough, or strong enough to champion girls’ education? Remember, Malala was a preteen at just eleven years old when she began to fight for girls’ rights to go to school. She was only fifteen when she was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban during an assassination attempt. Remarkably, she survived and addressed the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday. At seventeen, she was the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala refused to allow a bullet to the head to become an excuse to stop advocating for education.
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