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Friday, July 6, 2012

How to stop making excuses

Image by Flickr user "I am marlon" and used under the Creative Commons license
There's always a reason why you are not starting to write that paper today, or why you are skipping the gym today. We are great at making up excuses for ourselves - which end up holding us back.

For writing, it has been a long time since I have put it off, as I feel the pressure of the paper and thesis deadlines, and because I enjoy writing. For sports, however, I always find an excuse why I cannot work out today: it is raining so I can't go for a run, I have too much work to do, I am tired...

However, I've started to challenge myself to determine when I am making up an excuse for myself, and not to fool myself anymore. Here's a few thoughts on how to stop making excuses.

1. Start small

My first triumph over my excuses-habit was when I ran just 2km in the rain. For once, the rain couldn't stop me, and I couldn't use it as an excuse. Similarly, if you want to get started on a paper on a given day, start small: just write the introduction, or just jot down a few ideas in your outline.

2. Plan realistically

Learn to manage your time, and know how much you can get done. There's no need to overload your planning with too many tasks. If exercising is your Achilles heel, then try to find 3 or 4 days a week in which you have time to exercise. If you want to write on your paper daily, make sure you can schedule at least 2 hours of uninterrupted time a day in your schedule.

3. Keep your momentum going

Once you've managed to overcome your excuses a few times, make sure you keep yourself going. It takes anywhere between 18 days and 254 days to create a new habit, so be prepared to do a little effort in the beginning. Just keep going strong, hold onto your goal for a while and take yourself seriously.

4. Listen to your thoughts

When  you come up with an excuse for yourself, stop a moment and think about it. Knowing that you are making up an excuse is one step. You can take a second step by reflecting on your goal and why you are making this excuse. Are you afraid to fail? What lies underneath the excuse? What are you -really- trying to tell yourself?

5. Track your progress 

As a big fan of stats, I love keeping track of my progress. I keep track of my writing through a word count spreadsheet, the stats at 750words.com and by neatly keeping an overview of my publications and presentations. For exercise, I've started to keep track of my activities in Nexercise, and for running only I am using Runkeeper.

6. Celebrate your successes

Don't forget to pat yourself in the back when you're making progress! You can reward yourself with something you really like: taking an evening off and watch a movie, buy something for yourself, go to the beach... It's always a good idea to stop, reflect and realize of your progress.

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