[This article first appeared in 2009 on the Empty Space Blog and has been edited and reprinted with permission from Empty Space Coaching and the Empty Space Blog.]
Last time out, I wrote about how we talk ourselves out of doing what we truly were born to do— in short, how we bargain ourselves out of living our life purpose. I also talked about possibility— imagining the possibility of what you might do if you didn’t bargain yourself out of living purposefully and how you might already be able to make space for your life purpose right now in your current life. If you missed it, you can click here.
So, today, I promised to talk about the excuses we make to bargain ourselves out of doing what we truly want to do.
Why write a column about excuses? Well, I believe that excuses are one of the biggest ways that we cheat ourselves out of living purposefully.
Need an example? Have you ever had thoughts like these when you thought about doing an activity related to your purpose?
- It’s not realistic.
- I can come back to it.
- I’ll do it later.
- It’s just one day.
- I really have to take care of ____ today.
- I’m not in the mood.
- I’m being selfish.
- I’m just going to do this one other thing first…
- It’ll bother my neighbors/my husband.
You get the idea. These are excuses— lies we tell ourselves. These self-statements sabotage our life purpose and they allow us to bargain ourselves out of doing what sustains and fulfills us. What’s worse is that you’re probably so practiced in saying and thinking these excuses that they are automatic to you. Maybe you’re not even aware that you’re making these excuses unless you really pay attention to your thoughts.
So, how do we deal with excuses that we use to justify avoiding purpose-led activities?
Well, allow me to propose a new way of looking at your excuses.
When I lived in San Francisco, I used to facilitate a cognitive-behavioral addiction recovery group called SMART Recovery. At SMART Recovery we did an exercise called Refuting Your Excuses (or RYE). RYE is typically used for behaviors that fit the following definition: any behavior that you do repeatedly or compulsively that interferes with or sabotages your own goals. I would speculate that constantly bargaining yourself out of fulfilling your life purpose would qualify for most readers as “a behavior that you do repeatedly or compulsively that interferes with or sabotages your own goals.”
RYE is a pretty simple process, but there are a few steps. Let’s take the simplest application of RYE, which is using RYE to address addictive behavior, such as drinking.
Identify the excuse you are telling yourself before engaging in your addictive behavior.
Rebut your excuse with 4-6 refutations, or rebuttals (statements that show why the excuse is false or self-sabotaging, or which propose an alternative way of thinking).
Practice these rebuttals for 10 minutes or so every day, so you can generate rebuttals as automatically as you can generate excuses.
So, let’s quickly run through RYE for the excuse “I can have this one drink because I’ve got it under control.” You can rebut that excuse with refutations that might include: “This goes against my goals of not drinking,” “I’m lying to myself— plain and simple,” or “If I’ve got it under control, then I can control myself from having this one drink right now.” The final step in RYE would then be to write out and practice these rebuttals every day.
Using RYE to Get to Your Purpose
Let’s extend RYE, then, to what we do to bargain ourselves out of engaging in activities related to our purpose.
I’ll use my struggles with writing my first blog entry a few years ago again, as an example. So, to recap, my life purposes (i.e. my big goals) are to be a writer and to help people empower themselves to change their own lives. Last time out, I wanted to write the first blog entry that I had ever written, but I just didn’t feel like getting started; and once I did start, I would start on a new idea, leave it unfinished, then start on another idea, and then leave that idea unfinished, too. I kept repeating that same cycle over and over again.
The first step to RYE is to figure out what you are saying to yourself (or what you are thinking) when you are bargaining yourself out of engaging with your life purpose. First, go to a quiet place or anywhere you can think. Perhaps your place is where you meditate, perhaps it’s on the train to work, perhaps it’s the bathtub— for me, it’s going to a cafe with noise-reducing headphones, sitting at a table facing a big plate-glass window and listening to music like Egberto Gismonti, Toumani Diabate, or Gregorian chant.
Next, pay attention to what statements you are making to yourself right before you decide not to engage with your life purpose in a specific, recent instance. Write down every statement, or excuse, that comes to mind. My reflection process led me to become aware of a number of excuses that came up for me, and which led me to bargain myself out of writing. Here are a few of them:
- This is hard— better come back to it later when I feel more up to it.
- There are other people out there who know how to write about this better than I can.
- I’m not in the mood.
- If I can’t do it right, then I don’t want to do it all.
- I don’t want to spoil it [by writing something bad or by writing when I don’t feel in the right frame of mind to do so].
- I need to do housework/work on an urgent business project/take care of the dog instead.
Once you have figured out what your excuses are, the next step is to rebut each excuse. (Make sure to do a separate RYE for each one.) Come up with 4-6 rebuttals that show why the excuse is false or self-sabotaging, or that propose alternative ways of thinking. At this juncture, don’t edit yourself.
So, let’s take one of my examples to see how it’s done. Once I’ve written down the excuse, I am going to list as many rebuttals as possible.
Let’s start with the excuse: “This is hard— better come back to it later.” Here are some possible rebuttals that come to mind:
- That’s B.S.
- That’s what I said the last time— and I never got back to it.
- I can do that, but it’ll probably still be hard when I come back to it.
- I can just put in 10 minutes on it and if I don’t feel like doing anymore today, I’ll stop.
- I’m going to have to deal with it at some point, anyway. Why not try right now?
- What if I try to do it right now and see if I can turn this into a learning opportunity about how to work through things that are hard?
The goal here is to get your excuse-rebutting juices going. The perfect rebuttals for you will emerge, eventually, if you keep at it.
Let’s take one more example.
The excuse: “I’m not in the right mood.”
Here are some possible rebuttals:
- There’s no reason why I have to be in the right mood to do it.
- If I wait until the right mood comes along, I may never do it.
- Working on it might get me in the right mood.
- I can write something that I’ll throw in the trash later, but it’s good to get that practice in as a writer and as someone who always can be learning and honing his craft.
- I can still produce something that moves the piece along, if I’m not in the mood—even if I don’t use it in that particular form.
- This is just another excuse not to do it.
- That is counter-productive.
- That’s B.S.
- Why don’t I get my not-in-the-right-mood writing out of the way now, so I can get to the writing where I am in the right mood.
Note: It is OK— and even preferable— to use rebuttals that sound similar to one another when rebutting a particular excuse. It’s also OK to use the same rebuttal in response to multiple excuses.
The next step is to write out and remind yourself of the rebuttals you come up with. Read over your refutations, and repeat them to yourself— or even better, write them out again or recreate them in whatever way fits best with your learning style. For example, if you’re a visual learner, you might depict your rebuttals in some sort of graphic, pictorial or other visual artistic form. Personally, I remember everything better when I write things down, so I would write out my refutations again. To deepen the impact of this practice, come up with new refutations to add to your list, and then add these in accordingly.
Lastly, practice! Set aside 10-15 minutes every day to do your RYE practice. It might sound like a lot of time, but remember: our excuses are second nature. The more regularly we practice our rebuttals to these excuses, the more second nature it will be to rebut the excuses we use to bargain ourselves out of what we are truly meant to do.
Sometimes You Might Need a Break…But be Aware
Now, don’t get me wrong: sometimes, when we struggle with something we are working on, and we are working too hard on it with little to show for results, it can be beneficial to take a breather. Take the following examples: a composer struggling with the harmony of a song he is writing, an entrepreneur trying to figure out a detail in her business plan, a scriptwriter wrestling with an opening, or a writer unable to come up with an ending. Sometimes we get too close to what we are working on, and we lose our perspective. Our tank hits empty and we use up our energy, creativity, and inspiration. In those instances, it makes sense to take a break and come back to it— perhaps it’s a complete breather or perhaps it’s something to re-inspire yourself, such as going to a museum, going out into nature, going to see a movie, going out on a date with your spouse, or doing something special with your kids.
But if you find that you continually take these sorts of breaks or that you always find things to do other than the activities that fit with your life purpose, or if you go days, weeks, months, years without engaging with your true life purpose… then you are probably bargaining yourself out of doing what you truly want to do—by using excuses.
Continuing Your RYE Journey
To get ourselves back on track to live our life’s purpose, we need to not only visualize and remind ourselves of what we truly want to do, but we also need to be able to respond to the excuses that we use when we avoid engaging in our purposeful endeavors. Refuting Your Excuses allows us to reconnect with our purpose-led activities by analyzing what we are saying to ourselves, by refuting our excuses one by one, and then practicing these rebuttals, so that we’re as practiced in rebutting our excuses to ourselves as we are in making them.
If you approach the RYE process with curiosity— curiosity about your excuses and about yourself— instead of turning away from it, you will be rewarded.
You will not only learn some things about yourself, but you will be able to come from a deeper and more profound place to address your blocks and to stay on track with fulfilling your true life purpose— whatever that purpose may be.