Until recently, I believed the following quote came from Henry D. Thoreau and I’m not alone in that. I came across it in a bestselling book and if you care to search, you will find it on Pinterest and other social sources attributed to Thoreau. Often not referenced at all.
Through research, I discovered that it should be credited to Wilfred Arlan Peterson from his work in;
“The Art of Living, Day by Day: Three Hundred and Sixty-five Thoughts, Ideas, Ideals, Experiences, Adventures, Inspirations, to Enrich Your Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972) p. 77”.
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives”.
What Was Peterson Saying?
Well his words are clear but, let me add some context as it relates to this post and particularly the thoughts we have that dominate our lives and, DANGER WARNING, especially the thoughts that cause mind viruses because they can consciously or unconsciously lead to us wandering down paths to nowhere helpful. The more we walk those unhelpful paths; the deeper mental paths are formed.
What is A Mind Virus?
Don’t panic it’s not an illness although it can be debilitating. I would even go as far to say that to greater or lesser extents we all have them. They can pertain to thoughts, ideas or problems and they can distract us from achieving success.
We develop mind viruses as we go through life and they often start in our early days and are reinforced by the society in which we live and interact.
A Simple Example; “Could Do Better”
During my school days, my parents often came home from parent / teacher meetings with the “could do better” comment. Not once do I remember a “well done”. Without realizing it, this simple comment developed a mind virus and I was forever chasing the idea of could do better. Yet, it took a long time to do better because nobody exactly outlined the ‘how to’ of this and it wasn’t until much later that I realized I could do better because I was already doing it. I no longer suffer from that virus, it no longer dominates, nor do I blame anybody for putting it there in the first place.
Action Comes from The Rules
If we accept that the rules we operate by in life are correct, then we will form deep mental pathways and many of our actions will be found within and because of the rules. If we could open our minds and read them like a book, they would be obvious. If we accept all the rules we’ve been taught, we give up some of the independence for living a successful life. Like Thomas Jefferson said, “The care of every mans soul belongs to him”. In other words, if we allow the rules to define us, we will not be living life according to our purpose, our goals, our desires. We unconsciously offer ourselves excuses that our environment provided; they didn’t come from the soul.
No, I’m not talking about that. Some rules are necessary but the challenge I believe we all face is to know which guide us and which hinder our progress. If we have self-sabotaging explanations for our actions; in other words, excuses, and we allow them, our journey to success will be extra challenging and we may even quit.
More from Thoreau
Apparently not, although this excellent quote was also misattributed to Thoreau. Originally by Henry Stanley Haskins (1875-1957) from his anonymously published Meditations in Wall Street (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1940) p. 131.
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”.
Each of us has the power to accept things the way they seem or to stand up and say, ‘not relevant, the care of my soul belongs to me’. Reject the excuses because as I said earlier, “If we allow excuses, our journey to success will be extra challenging and we may even quit”.
Why Do We Allow Excuses?
Excuses are a hindrance that block human potential by building bridges to tombstones of emptiness. We allow them because we developed and reinforced them while we walked the path of life, until without realizing, they became our way of being. We walk the same paths repeatedly because of them and often they are so ingrained, they feel like a friend or comfort blanket that protects and guides us yet, we don’t even know that some of them exist.
Excuses Offer Rewards
They offer security and instant responses to challenging situations, often they justify inaction or running from a situation or something we might benefit from if we face the situation and get on with it. The rewards excuses offer seem positive and entirely worthwhile. Yet reality often tells a different story and the psychological benefits of excuse making have a habit of coming back to bite us because they are quite destructive. Not at all real benefits.
Excuses Are Self-Sabotaging
They serve to keep us running on the spot or they may even send us backwards over the same old ground to those bridges leading to the tombstones.
- I can’t do that, I have no money.
- This is too difficult; I don’t have the skills or experience.
- Developing a successful business will take too long; I don’t have the time for that.
- My goals are too big. Best abandon them and do something else.
- There’s too much competition.
- I’ve never been successful.
Once we justify inaction with explanation, we are free to enjoy the perceived pay-off – The avoidance pay-off.
- I can’t write posts for my website . . .
- I’m not a writer, I’ve always been a hands-on person.
- I never did well with writing at school.
Yet some people put their words out there and write some outstanding posts even though they had some of those excuses.
I know one guy who dropped out of school before the end of the prescribed formal education period. He left school with nothing but limiting beliefs and went to work in a ‘mind-numbing’ factory. For a while he was at peace with the self-thwarting decisions he had made. At least until he realized that 60-hour work weeks were the only way to provide for his family. It broke his excuses and today he has a multi-million-dollar business. He realized that the excuses he thought of as his ally didn’t have his best interests at heart.
It’s Not Safe
Let’s be honest, none of us like to feel unsafe or insecure so we apply excuses to avoid danger. So instead of making changes and treading a path into uncharted territories with the perils of not knowing what to do in those territories, how to operate, appearing foolish or unknowledgeable, risking failure or criticism, we head for the false sense of security beneath the comfort blanket of our excuses. The blanket offers a temporary pay-out.
Taking the Easy Path
Excuses offer the uncomplicated way out and let’s be honest; have you ever said, “I will get to that later, I’m too tired right now”. Even though that might not lead us to achieving our goals, we still do it. It’s far easier to stay on the well-worn path to nowhere.
If you want to fulfill your destiny it’s going to demand sacrifice and elements of risk. There’s no free ticket to success.
How often have you heard (or said) any of these?
- I’m too old / too young / too tired
- I can’t afford it
- I don’t deserve it
- You do it for me
- Please buy what I need or want
- Feel sorry for me, please help me to get what I want
I’m Right, You’re Wrong
Being right at the expense of somebody else is wrong is a tailor-made excuse for not considering other options and drops us into the excuse that we are winners when really, it’s no more than an illusion.
The rules won’t let me do that. Getting ahead in this is impossible. I’m right again.
It’s Not My Fault
Blaming somebody else is an excuse and in doing so, blame shifts to somebody else. Look at how scapegoats have collected blame for things that you could have done something about. Choosing a scapegoat has a rich pay-out – not my fault.
Acting Like Children
It’s hardly surprising really. We were brought up under the protection of a family of some description. Told what to do, when, how to; so it’s hardly surprising that we develop some of these excuses and hang on to the well-trodden route map and retreat back to the safety of childhood when the going gets tough even though such behaviors don’t serve us well as adults.
There are lessons to learn from the past and plans to make for the future but the only time we have to do that is right now; in the present. We can’t go back and change things, but we can choose to make a difference in our lives by rejecting the excuses we brought with us to this moment. We can choose new paths, it’s a matter of choice to do or do not.
What’s Your Excuse?
Here are five things that can be applied to the destruction of excuses.
- In any project or event that demands your attention ask yourself; what is the worst thing that could happen if I do this? Make a list and work to genuinely find a solution to everything on your list.
- I will write that list, but . . . Stop using the word ‘but’ at the end of a sentence.
- Without being rude or challenging, don’t get involved in other people’s excuses.
- Write any big goal at the top of a sheet of paper and then break it down into micro-chunks. Don’t look at item two on the list until you can say without excuses that number one is complete.
- Test your limits, just do it regardless. This is a tough one although highly-rewarding. When you notice your excuses popping in, write them down and challenge them by finding positive solutions. Cross them off when the excuses are gone. This is a positive addictive exercise when you begin to see your old debilitating excuses fall into oblivion. Your no excuses potential is a wonderful thing.
The only thing standing between you and your goals are the excuses you keep giving yourself as to why you can’t achieve them.
We need a box of tools to challenge our limits and move forward toward success. If you feel that you may benefit from help, please leave your contact details in the comments section below and you will be contacted by your preferred method. Please understand that your contact details will never be published and your privacy is assured.
Comments and Questions
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I wish you a wonderful and successful day.
Peace & Light
Steve Costello is a British Community & Youth Studies and Psychology honors graduate with over 30-years theoretical and practical experience in the Personal Development public and private sectors. He founded ExGro in 2018 with business partner, friend and clinical psychologist, Leo Faerberg.