If you associate with enough successful people and big thinkers, you may observe that there's a certain book that often gets referenced: The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz. It's a classic personal development book, and even though it's quite straightforward and covers almost exactly what you'd expect it to, there's one chapter in particular that gets talked about frequently: Cure Yourself of Excusitis, the Failure Disease.
What's the big deal about this chapter and why is it so important to personal success?
Excusitis is the Failure Disease
Towards the beginning of the chapter, Schwartz quite simply states that "You will find that the more successful the individual, the less inclined he is to make excuses." In other words, as you observe people who have success in their lives, you will discover that they don't make excuses, especially for elements that are well within their control.
People who are successful didn't get to where they are because they won the genetic lottery or because they were born into affluence or because they were lucky. They all had issues, problems, and circumstances to overcome. If you could trade all of your problems in for theirs, you probably wouldn't, because their challenges were of a different nature altogether.
Excuses are not hard to come by. You can always find something in your past that affected you negatively and use it as a defense for your current behavior. The real issue is how you choose to respond to adversity, negativity and tragedy in your life today. Will you find a single motivating reason to move on? Reasons may not be as easy to come by as excuses, but you only need one.
The Four Most Common Excuses
If you wanted to, you could probably find more reasons not to do something than reasons to do it. Schwartz points out that there are four excuses in particular that come up frequently.
- Health: Schwartz simply states that there is no such thing as a perfect adult specimen. There is something wrong with all of us! Health or lack thereof, is really a strong motivator to do something about your situation when you really think about it. Whether it's fear (I have high blood pressure and I need to watch what I eat and exercise more often) or incentive (I want to look more attractive to the opposite sex so I need to work out), health is a very good reason to make something happen. In the modern world, we have the wonderful example of Zach Sobiech, a teenager who, once diagnosed with cancer, spent the remainder of his life making music, loving people, and - intentional or not - leaving a legacy. Don't worry about your health; it will only make it worse.
- Intelligence: I already talked about this in a previous article, but smarts aren't everything. Intelligence will not allow you to shortcut the hard work it takes to achieve and succeed. Schwartz emphasizes that "The thinking that guides your intelligence is much more important than how much intelligence you may have." In other words, the real secret is application. How will you use your intelligence in your career and relationships? Will you think positively or negatively? Will you work hard or continue to be lazy? Don't compare your intelligence with others; your attitude is far more important than knowledge.
- Age: You're either too old or you're too young, so you're never the right age. People like to talk about how "old" they are at 30, and how they're "over the hill" at 40, and how their "life is over" at 50. It goes on and on. Ultimately, it's never too late or too early to start. Age is just a number. If you're never the right age, then you're never the wrong age either. Be enthusiastic about whatever age you are today.
- Luck: People like to write off years of diligence, consistency, iteration and hard work as pure luck. They see a colleague driving a Ferrari (paid off in full) and they say, "Man, how lucky is that guy?" Was it luck, or does he know something you don't? Did he "luck out", or did he work hard, save up, and delay gratification? Schwartz notes that luck cannot substitute for superior attitude, good sense and applied hard work. You're probably giving too much thought-space to how unlucky you are and not enough time towards cultivating qualities of a winner. Start working on yourself, and leave the luck bit to God.
The primary cure for excuses and fear in general is action. Take some time to identify the excuses you use in your day to day life, and recognize the fears attached to them. Then become proactive about taking action that will remove those mental blocks. As you continue to face your fears and stretch your comfort zone, you will begin to see that "worst case scenarios" don't play out in real life that often.
So, next time you feel like making excuses for yourself, understand that there are people who have already overcome just about every challenge and difficulty imaginable. Be a person of your word, and don't commit to anything you can't follow through with. Always think in terms of possibility and be solution focused instead of problem focused.