Any occurrence requiring undivided attention will be accompanied by a compelling distraction. €”Robert Bloch
One of the most inspirational stories in recent years is that of Team Hoyt, the athletic partnership of father-and-son Dick and Rick Hoyt of Massachusetts.
Over the past twenty-five years, the two have competed as a team in over two hundred triathlons and sixty-four marathons. In 1992, they biked and ran across the entire United States in forty-five consecutive days. This is an astounding record by any measure. What raises Team Hoyt to a different level entirely, however, is the fact that since birth, Rick Hoyt has been a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who is also unable to speak. How these two men have achieved what they have is a great lesson for all of us who wish to achieve great goals and dreams in our own lives.
When Rick was born to Dick and Judy Hoyt, the umbilical cord coiled around his neck, cutting off oxygen to his brain. The doctors told the young parents that Rick would be profoundly intellectually disabled all his life. The two did not want to accept that news, however, and determined to raise their son as normally as possible. They began family life with that attitude, and over the years added two more sons to the mix.
As time went on, Dick and Judy began seeing signs that Rick was as intelligent as his brothers. The school authorities didn`t believe this, and so they resisted the family`s efforts to get Rick accepted into public school. A group of engineers from Tufts University met Rick. As they were interacting with him they told him a joke and he cracked up. This led the engineers to believe that Rick could understand concepts and communicate. That inspired them to create an interactive computer, which Rick could use to communicate thoughts with head movements. Once Rick was trained on the computer, it became clear that he possessed normal intelligence. At age thirteen Rick was admitted to public school.
When Rick was fifteen, a local five-mile benefit run was planned to raise support for a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Rick wanted to participate, so Dick pushed his sort in his wheelchair in their first race. Though they finished next to last, Rick told his dad that when they competed he no longer felt handicapped, but normal. This experience was so positive for them that the two began entering more races and clocking better and better times. In 1981, they finished their first Boston Marathon in the top quarter of the field.
Rick went on to graduate from Boston University and now works at Boston College, helping to develop ways that a paralyzed person can control mechanical aids, such as powered wheelchairs by eye movements. And in addition to keeping up their race schedule, Team Hoyt also conducts motivational speaking tours to audiences across the country. Over the seats, the two have brought hope and inspiration to many thousands of people.
Put yourself in the Hosts shoes for a moment. They had a dream, as you do, which has the potential for accomplishing great good on many levels. Imagine also the huge obstacles they faced and learn from their determination to say no to those obstacles.
For one thing, Dick worked full time, and the couple had three kids, so there wasn`t a lot of extra time and money floating around. They had to say no to the idea that their dream wasn`t possible. Another obstacle was Rick`s condition, which required a great deal of effort and maintenance. They had to say no to discouragement and resignation. Add to that the fact that no one had ever done anything like this; and there was no model, no instruction manual, no precedent. They had to say no to fears of the unknown. And also, during the early days they encountered a great deal of social resistance to the idea of their competing as a team. Other athletes would shun them at races. They had to say no to criticism and negative feedback. (Fortunately, such attitudes in the athletic world are much changed for the better in recent years.) Yet Dick and Rick are a success; they have achieved, and are still achieving, great goals.
One aspect of Team Hoyt`s example can help you take control of your life and reach your goals. The principle is to say no to anything that would divert you from your goals and dreams. This power comes by skill, training, and effort, and it is invaluable in your endeavors. The idea of saving no may seem negative, but if you say no to the right things, it has a very positive outcome. It`s easy to blame circumstances and the bad hand you were dealt and say, It`s not my fault. But it`s thousands of times more rewarding to say no to those things that stand in your way and play your hand to win.
All of us must say yes to all the other principles we have presented in this book, such as owning our lives and choices, facing failure, persisting, changing our thinking, stretching, and connecting. But those yeses aren`t enough. A no is also necessary€”a very special and specific kind of no.
We need to protect and guard our dream from forces that might prevent us from reaching what we want to reach. We need to learn the skill of saving no to those forces. Just as every successful sports team requires both offense and defense, so do you. In this chapter, we give you the defense strategy to keep you on task, on goal, and protected. You will need it.
Be a Guardian
First, take another look at the center of your motivation€”the goal you want to achieve. Is your goal pursuing a better career path? Renewing a marriage or recharging a dating life? Solving a bad habit? Improving a family situation: Getting in shape: Whatever your dream, it is more than just a €œhead thing, or some intellectual, cognitive awareness. It goes deeper than that. It is a matter of the heart.
People don`t invest time, effort, sweat, and money in things that are just head issues. They become involved when something reaches their heart. The heart is where we live, find purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. It is where we truly understand what really matters most to us. It is what keeps us up at night, drives us to learn about the idea, and keeps us praying for guidance and success. All great dreams begin in the heart, with a vision, a goal, or a plan.
At the same time, the dream you carry within your heart is fragile and young. It is not yet a fully realized, mature reality. It is a dream. It is a seed that has been planted within you and is slowly raking root. It is starting to grow. But it needs time, support, experience, and help to become what it should be: a new company, a loving relationship, a victory over an addiction, or a way to best utilize your own gifts and talents in life. Especially in the early germination stage of your dream, you need to be a guardian, one who protects and supports the development of what is to be. You need to be watchful and vigilant to make sure that the goal within is not overwhelmed, injured, or neglected. You are your dream`s first and best defense.
You may find yourself somewhat put off by this idea. To some, self-protection sounds selfish and €œall about me. And certainly we are capable of great self-centeredness and narcissism, which are never good things. But that is not what we are talking about here. Self-protection as were presenting the idea is more about stewardship, not selfishness. Your life, heart, and dreams are ideally things which you should use to be a better person, to help others in some way, to make the world a better place, and to advance the kingdom of God in your given field. They are about the fact that you have a responsibility to invest your life, talents, and gifts in a way that makes sense of the purpose for which you were placed on the earth.
So don`t be afraid to set a fence of protection around your heart. You are executing ownership and stewardship. I love the way that King Solomon, the wise man, said it: €œAbove all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). Your heart possess your dream. When you guard your heart, you protect your dream.
Nobody takes ownership and makes great life changes on the fly. If you could have transformed your life, work, and relationships in your extra time between errands, you would already have done it long before now. Life and change just don`t work that way. Achieving the things we desire most will always require a period of extended space and time for you to dream, learn, plan, and risk. The process needs to be calendared and safeguarded. It helps us to get into the zone€”that mental stare in which you are totally focused on whatever stage of your dream you are working on. It`s a temporary period of concentration in which you apply all your thoughts and energies to the dream. The time you spend in your zone can be extremely effective.
People get into zones in all phases of life. It`s as though time stands still. An NBA player will be unstoppable and score forty points; it`s as though he cannot miss. A salesman will have a series of great deals go through, and when asked how he did it, he will say, €œI don`t know, was just hot this month. Members of a support group will have a meeting in which they open up, become vulnerable to each other, and find that the time passes as if it were no time at all. A person working on a career plan will spend a Thursday morning creating and plotting and suddenly realize that it`s already lunchtime. You need to create and protect zone times for yourself. When you make these a normal part of life, you will be amazed at the speed of your progress.
But let`s not forget about those protective nos. Before you can reach your zone you must be aware of, mindful of, and prepared to say no to several obstacles.
Obstacles to the Zone: Distractions
First, start paying attention to those things and activities that distract you from your steps toward your goal. They don`t have to be negative or unhealthy things at all. In fact, they can be very good for you. That`s probably why they distract you. But even good things can impede your efforts to get moving and finish the race. They can slow your momentum, get you sidetracked, and stall you.
Information Age Incursion; The phenomenal Information Age we live in is both a blessing and a curse. You can find facts and contact people in incredibly short periods of time, and that can be a great advantage to work and relationships. But at the same time, those same technological advances give others access to you at any given moment. Your land-line phone rings. Your cell phone chimes. Your e-mail alert chirps. Your fax machine lands a copy. An instant message pops up on your computer monitor (I wondered why my kids weren`t getting their homework done in time until I saw them trying to do online research while keeping four or five instant message conversations going at the same time!). And to top it all off, this is no longer limited to the office or even the home. PDAs and mobile phones make it possible for others to access you almost anywhere on the globe at any time.
Then there are the type of Information Age distractions that aren`t about others getting to us, but more about us getting lured away from our tasks by piddling stuff that seems so easy and accessible that we think little of it. Things like Web browsing, low-priority e-mails, and unnecessary phone calls. A vast world of people and information are only a click or a dial away nowadays, and all too often we yield to the temptation to connect when we should protect our dream and say no.
Most of us cope with these distractions as normal parts of life and work, which to a large extent, they are. But when you are embarking on a personal mission, the kind we are talking about in this book, these distractions can be a significant problem. When your goal in life is merely to make it to 5 p.m. so you can have dinner and watch TV, the Information Age distractions are not a problem, for you have nothing to be distracted from. But the fact that you`re reading this book is a strong indication that this is not you. You`ve got to get control of your distractions, because they work against your ability to get into your life transformation zone.
One thing that can help immensely is to get rid of an insidious false expectation thrust upon us by electronic communications. We are now trained to think that because others have access to us, we are obliged to respond to them. It sounds crazy, but it is true. Most of us tend to feel that just because someone sent an e-mail or left a voice-mail message, we are responsible to give an instant response. And some people do expect that. How many times have you heard something like, €œI e-mailed you this morning; why haven`t you responded? or €œI left you a voice-mail an hour ago; why didn`t you answer?` Now, just who is in charge of your dream?
Remember that you owe people what you have promised to owe people, not what they expect because they left you a message. Get out of the guilt trap here. It will never lead you to your new life. Sometimes when I work at the computer, I turn on my e-mail program so I won`t be tempted to answer everything that pops up. And I also leave the phone off, except for patient emergency contingencies, and pick up voice-mail a couple of times a day€”just so I can be free from distractions in my work.
Try this exercise: One day this week, keep a record of how many conversations, e-mails, voice-mails, instant messaging, and so on you dealt with. Note which ones were about survival, which ones helped you in your dream, and which ones were nice but unnecessary and took time from your dream. You will probably be surprised at how much of an investment you make in unnecessary calls and responses. That is valuable time you can put to better use. Use your time log as a basis for making decisions as to what communication distractions you will say no to in order to accomplish your dream.
Other Distractions. But I Information Age distractions aren`t the only ones to be aware of. Evaluate activities such as TV watching, goofing off periods, idle conversations, and over-organizing. All of these activities have their place and can serve us well, but if not controlled they can also siphon off time and energy. The good news is that the simple act of evaluating and measuring how much time you spend on these things will almost certainly put them in better balance.
Most distractions are reduced when we pay attention to them and increased when we don`t think about them. Get in charge of your time by saving no to distractions. And when you make a significant amount of progress toward your goal, celebrate by giving in to some of them in measured doses.
Obstacles to the Zone: Toxic People
When I was in my early years of training as a psychologist, I asked a more experienced psychologist to meet with me and advise me on counseling matters. He was helpful in several cases I was dealing with. But one day I described a very difficult situation with a tough client, and he said, €œGive it up, he`ll never get better.
€œWhat do you mean?` I said.
He`s been that way too long, he replied. €œHe`ll never change.
He had said similar things about other clients, and I became bothered by these statements. If he was right, what was I doing in this business? I just couldn`t see how he could say that anyone was hopeless. It didn`t square with what I had learned in school, or with my own personal experience, or with what I knew about the power of God`s grace and healing. I did a lot of soul-searching, and I realized that this was not the stance I wanted to take in this profession. I drove myself to study more about the particular issue my problem client was dealing with, I got supervision from other therapists, and I stopped seeing the one who advised me to write off difficult cases. The result was that my client began making significant improvements in his life. I just had to quarantine myself from a toxic person who was giving me unhelpful and untrue advice.
I guarantee you that alongside your dream, goal, or problem will come a toxic person or two. By €œtoxic person I mean someone who has a negative influence on the direction of your desires. A simple conversation with a toxic person can leave you discouraged, feeling like a failure, confused, or even questioning your dream, Toxic people sap the energy, drive, and passion you require to continue making progress.
This isn`t to say that you don`t need confrontive, corrective people in your life. As we said in chapter 5 on connecting, direct and healthy feedback from those who are for us is vitally helpful. It`s not the negative statements that are the problem, for sometimes negative truths help. The problem with toxic people is the negative outcomes that they produce in our minds. You must learn to say no to the following types of toxic people:
Envious People. There are certain folks who get a weird joy out of the failure of others and are bothered by others` success. Deep within these people beats an envious heart. Though they would never admit it, they feel quite empty inside, and they resent the perceived good fortune of others. However, they resist the effort it takes for them to achieve that good fortune. So in sick ways, they are dream destroyers, saying things like €œSo you think going to grad school will make you better than everybody else? or €œOh, you`re losing weight; I didn`t know you were that desperate for a man, or €œI see you`re working for a promotion; bet you have to kiss up a lot. The toxic nature of these comments is often hidden under the guise of kidding around, but the attack is there. When you fail in achieving your success, they feel better about their own failures.
Quarantine these dream destroyers! If you have an envious person in your life, confront him and tell him you don`t need that in the relationship. Tell him that you need someone who is on your team and who believes in your goal. And if he continues, keep some distance between him and your dream. Don`t even bring up the subject, and change the subject if he brings it up. Remember that you are the only guardian your dream has.
Negative People. While we said that negative feedback can be a positive thing, there are some people who are simply negative about everything, and they produce negative fruit in our lives. They see only the dark side of everything, and nothing seems hopeful. They may say, for example, €œYou and Jason won`t make it; I just don`t think the relationship will last, or €œI`ve tried to go to a gym, too, and I tell you, you`ll give it up after a while, or €œThe boss never listens to anybody, so why go to the trouble? Often they feel negative about their own lives as well, and that is a sad thing. But you can`t let their poison overflow into your dream.
It`s hard enough to maintain positive hope in working for your vision. In takes its toll in time, work, risk, and failure. The last thing you need is someone who echoes whatever fears and negative thoughts may already be running around in your head! Tell your friend, €œI am really excited about my new goal, and I need hopefulness and encouragement from you. If you have a real and true negative thing no say about it that can help me identify and overcome an obstacle, I want to hear it. But it`s not okay if all I hear from you is the hopelessly negative. Can you give me a good balance? That would really help. Often, a negative person won`t even be aware of his tendency and will make the correction.
Controlling People. Be aware of certain people who really do want you to fulfill a dream. The only problem is that it`s their dream they want you to achieve, not yours! They are called controlling people. These types tend to see people as means to their own ends. And generally, relationships with these people go well when others live life their way. But if you peel off` and follow your own star, they resist the move and become toxic.
For example, a husband may not want his wife to enter the workforce even when the kids are old enough to be relatively independent, because she won`t be around to keep him comfortable. A co-worker may be competitive with you in the job and attempt to run things his way. Or a woman may not want her date to have other female friends because he may he attracted to someone else. If you find yourself in this sort of relationship, nip it in the bud. Say, €œOur relationship is important to me. But it seems to me that when we do things that mean a lot to you, all goes well, but when I try to bring in things I like, they don`t go well. I need for this relationship to be mutual, and I need your support when I make choices of my own. Those choices aren`t choices against us: they are for me. I am glad you have your preferences. But this relationship needs to go both ways. Insist on mutual freedom.
Need People. People on the go often have dependent relationships that they don`t know what to do with. These are individuals who, for any number of reasons, have tremendous life struggles and challenges and often deal with grave problems. They are needy and ask for a great deal of time, energy, and support. You may find yourself functioning as someone`s life support system. For example, you may have a friend who is going through a divorce and call often for advice and a listening ear. Or you could have someone who has lost a job and is trying to pick up the pieces. Sometimes a needy person has a long history of failure and crisis and has for years been dependent on others to take care of him.
A needy person is often a very good person who is not truly toxic at heart. He may simply be going through his own dark night of the soul, as do all of us at some point in life. Or he may have a dependent character issue that prevents him from being autonomous and in charge. Though a needy person may be good hearted, his impact on you and your aspirations may have the outcome of being toxic and a distraction from your path.
It is important to realize that most needy people truly need help, support, time, and encouragement. They often benefit greatly from a community that connects with them to give them safety and stability. We are all called to reach out to the needy and give back what has been given to us. That is a large part of what life is all about. As the biblical proverb says, €œSpeak up and judge fairly: defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:9 NIV). So if you have a dependent relationship in your life, make sure that you are being generous, sacrificing, and caring for that person.
At the same time, however, he certain that what you are doing is actually what is best for him. It is easy to think that being totally available to struggling individuals is what they need. Sometimes that is true. For example, if you have a child who is very ill or has a serious problem, a great deal of life must go on the back burner so that you can give him the time and resources he needs. Or your friend in a marital nightmare may, for a season of life, call on you often to keep her existence together. Helping those with needs such as these can be right, loving, proper, and good. In fact, for some people, that ability to help the needy is their true calling. Mother Teresa is a wonderful example. Meeting the desperate needs of others puts those people in their right place. For others, helping the afflicted coexists with and is supported by their own desire to grow, change, and achieve.
But it`s important to be aware that sometimes a needy person needs more than we can provide. That is not his fault; it is just the reality of his situation. You may not have the expertise to meet his needs that a good church, counselor, pastor, support group, or financial expert might provide. If that is the case, become a conduit for help, rather than the sole source of care. You may help that individual better by being a bridge to what is really needed. If your friend is hemorrhaging, it may not be your job to be the surgeon, but rather the ambulance that gets him to the surgeon. Also, bear in mind that in crises, the early stages are generally more demanding than the latter ones. In the beginning, you may need to spend more time and energy until your friend is stabilized and able to walk better on his own.
So do not turn your back on the needy. Be there for them in the best ways that you can help. And as you give what you can truly provide, be sure that you also guide them to resources and structures that can help them on their own path. And continue taking steps down your own path.
Obstacles to the Zone: The Worthy-but-Untimely
I was consulting with the president of a small but profitable company who felt that his job was eating him up. It was requiring too much time and energy, and he was afraid he was headed for burn-out. As we talked, however, it became clear to me that the job itself wasn`t the problem. What I began to uncover was the fact that this man was taking on projects and new business opportunities that were getting in the way of his primary focus and mission. He was a very positive and expansive person, and these attributes contributed to his situation. When a proposal with good potential to take off and boost revenues came across his desk, he got excited about it and immediately assigned himself either to spearhead the project or oversee someone who could (not realizing that overseeing also takes time and energy).
After I realized what was going on, I said, €œIt`s not really the job. The real problem is that you have a hard time perceiving that some things can be worthy and yet untimely.
€˜What do you mean? he asked.
€˜Well, I said, €œthese opportunities you are looking at right now seem really viable to me. I think they are worthy. They are projects your company could do well, and they could be highly profitable. And if your company was larger and had more resources, you should definitely he investing in them. But they aren`t timely. They don`t fit where you are at this time of your company`s life. The resources you have to siphon off to get them off the ground will cost too much to the bread and butter business you`re already handling. And what`s worse, this diffusion of resources could cause your organization to go backwards and even lose its cutting edge.
He hated to hear that. Such an energetic and forward-thinking guy really doesn`t like to lose opportunities. But he did listen, and he began to let some great deals go so he could stay on track. And eventually the company grew under his leading and was able to take on more. An even bigger plus was that as he said no to worthy but untimely opportunities, he also experienced more personal freedom, less stress and more satisfaction in the job. Basically, he cut out everything that wasn`t the job and just started doing the job again. I have seen the opposite happen over and over in the lives of people who are moving toward visionary goals. They make good progress toward their goal, and then out of the blue come these fantastic extra opportunities. They become distracted, veer off course, and lose momentum toward their dream.
Of course, sometimes that unexpected new opportunity should be seized. When a Web-based company that was born in a garage receives a nine-figure buyout offer within a couple of years of its inception, it could very well be time to take the offer and change course. But most of the time, you should look long and hard at the good new things on the horizon. Do they fit your vision? Will they steer you away or toward it? Are they worthy but untimely?
This is also true in other areas of life. You might be concentrating or personal growth, engaged in activities such as joining a support group, reading self-help literature, journaling, having lunch with people who are into growth and change, and working to improve yourself and your relationships. Then suddenly you are asked to lead a couple of groups just because people find out that you are good at that. Plus you are asked to get more involved in the company`s HR activities. And pretty soon, you have to back off from the vision because of all the worthy-but-untimely activities. Or suppose you are a single woman who finally develops a close dating relationship with a man you can connect with, and things become exclusive between the two of you. Then, wham! Three other really super guys suddenly show up!
Letting go of the worthy-but-untimely is not easy. Losing potentially good experiences is a real loss. But my experience in working with successful people is that when they reach a goal, they find many other opportunities waiting for them. Successful, dream-reaching people who own their lives will always have other people wanting their time, expertise, and leadership. You`ve got to learn to say no to the appropriate people and situations.
Obstacles to the Zone: Your Own Codependency
You probable knew that even in a book about dreams and goals, the word codependency would have to appear when the authors are a couple of psychologists! But codependency has got to be addressed because it can become a huge obstacle in your path to success. And this chapter is the place to address it because learning to say no is crucial to removing this obstacle.
Codependency is most simply defined as a tendency to take too much responsibility for the problems of others. While it`s good to care for, help, and support people, the codependent crosses a line in the relationship€”the line of responsibility. Instead of being responsible to others, the codependent becomes responsible for them And, unless the other person is your child or someone whose care is entrusted to you, the line of responsibility between the to and the for can become quite blurred. The result is that instead of caring and helping, you begin enabling and rescuing. Enabling and rescuing do not empower anybody. They only increase dependency, entitlement, and irresponsibility. Love builds up strength and character, whereas codependency breaks them down.
Codependency unchecked can take you right off the rails of your goals and dreams. And it`s all too easy to be completely unaware of it. This is because while distractions, toxic people and worthy-but-untimely things are outside of you, codependency is within you. Sometimes it is just too close to see. But it is there, at least in small part, in most of us.
For example, you are late to your night class in the MBA track because a co-worker drops the ball and asks you to work late to bail him out. Or you want to take sailing lessons, but your wife doesn`t like to try new things and prefers to stay at home and watch television. Since she feels lonely when you are gone, you stay home, which actually ends up being worse for the both of you. Or perhaps you feel guilty for the fact that all your efforts at online dating are paying off, while your girlfriends are moping and complaining about their lack of prospects. So you hide your success from them, or even slow down the process.
Most of the time, the problem centers on the unhappiness of the other person. Since we care about him, we don`t want him to be sad, hurt, disappointed, or unhappy. And that kind of care is a good thing. However, no one has ever yet made an unhappy person happy. You can`t take the emotions of another person and change them for her. You can help, love, accept, empathize, advise, challenge, confront, and support. But at the end of the day, her feelings belong to her. So you must say no to enabling and rescuing behaviors. Life gets better and people become more successful when they are able to shoulder their own responsibilities: €œFor each one should carry his own load.
When you start saving no to your own codependency, however, you will also find yourself saving no to people you have been rescuing. So he ready for some twinges of guilt. You may feel like the bad guy or fear that the other person will think badly of you. These feelings are normal; consider them part of the price of reaching your dreams. Just remember to stay loving arid caring while respecting the line of responsibility. The guilty feelings should resolve in time, and you will become a freer person.
We have discussed the problem of making excuses in other parts of this book, but it is simply too important not to include in this chapter. If you intend to get in control and take ownership of your dreams, you must say no to all excuses you have been making. Excuses may exist in any form from blaming others, to minimizing your contributions, to rationalizing, to outright denials of your responsibility. Excuses are not your friend; they are your enemy. They cause you to dismiss your lack of progress as not being your own fault, but rather the fault of others or of circumstances.
Take a zero tolerance stance with your excuses. An excuse is its own reward, but the satisfaction that it brings is fleeting. It acts as an anesthetic. It may temporarily medicate the pain of your unfulfilled dreams, but when the effect wears off, your situation has not improved and, what is worse, time has been passing you by. Time is a commodity that simply can not be replaced or remade, so you can`t afford to lose any of it to your excuses.
What are the best ways to say no to this dream-killer called excuse? Here are a few tips that can help you put it to rest:
Put your excuses in writing. Write down on paper the excuses that have kept you from moving ahead: €œI`m too busy`, €œI don`t have enough support, €œI didn`t have the advantages that others have, €œSomeone in my life holds me back, and all the rest. When you`ve made your list, then write down where these excuses came from. Remember that most of the time excuses are a product of fear. For example, €œI am afraid of failure, €œI am uncomfortable with the unknown, €œI don`t want to risk negative reactions from others, €œI fear that I am a loser, or €œI am afraid of getting excited and then being let down. Admitting the fear is a sign of ownership and progress. Once you admit your fears, you can own and confront them. You cannot own and confront anything when you make excuses.
Then add another part to your writing. Record what your excuses have cost you in your life. What price have you paid for the anesthetic? Lost job opportunities? Earnings over a lifetime? A more loving and passionate marriage? A successful dating life? Ways to develop your gifts and talents? This list may be hard to make, but it will help you to crystallize within your mind the reality that a life of excuses must now be over for you.
Get accountability partners. Show your excuse list to a few safe, loving, and honest friends. Ask them to check in with you as you work toward your goal. Give them permission to tell you when they hear you making excuses again. You don`t want them to be judgmental or harsh. But have them point out the old excuse language when you use it, so you can catch it and deal with it. And the sooner the better.
Be aware of the seasons of ownership, Timing is important in saying no to excuses. When you first start tackling your problem or planning your goal, you are less likely to use excuses. The honeymoon period is exciting, full of energy, and somewhat removed from reality, as it should be. The beginning euphoria and enthusiasm serves to launch you toward your vision. But after the honeymoon, you will encounter the obstacles that have always stopped you: certain people, your circumstances, or some handicapping attitude of your own.
This is when you need to be alert to the excuses and be ready to terminate them. When you or your friends hear an excuse come from your month, such as €œI can`t do that because if I fail it would let everyone down, simply step above the excuse so you can see it clearly for what it is. Recognize it as an excuse, admit that it came from a fear, and clarity the reality of it by restating the fear in a way that identifies it for what it is. €œI just got afraid that I would let everyone down. Now you can own the fear and the response to it. This enables you to put it behind you, to get the assurance, courage, and strengthening you need to move on. Remember the power of receiving affirmation and encouragement in times of stress and doubt: €œSo encourage each other and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT). Excuses require confrontation. Ownership requires validation.
Experience the results of ownership. Excuses are their own reward, but they are unsatisfying, short-lived rewards. Ownership, on the other hand, creates rewards worth having. As you move out of the avoidance of risk that excuses bring and enter a lifestyle of ownership and initiative, you will begin to experience movement toward your goal. It maybe only a little at a time, but celebrate those small victories. They will help you continue day by day until winning the skirmishes leads to victory in the battles.
For example, perhaps you have never been able to talk effectively to your spouse about working on the marriage together. Perhaps even time you tried he shut you down or withdrew or the attempt escalated into a huge fight. You`re tempted to fall back on your fear-based excuse for not trying anymore: It never does any good, and the blowup it causes is just too hard to deal with. Instead of the excuse, try another approach: €œI know this is difficult for you to hear, and I am sorry that I haven`t brought it up in the right ways, but I want something better for us than what we have. I love you, but I`m not happy with what our relationship has become. And I am going to insist that we both work on the marriage. This is very important to me, and I am not going to let it go. I want to hear what I am doing that makes things harder for you. And I want you to hear my view also. When can we have a conversation about this?
You may get silence or denial or anger. But you will know that you spoke directly, lovingly, and clearly. This is a first step. This is progress, and you should tell your support team about it and have a party as you get ready for the next step.
Not Settling for Less
In 1960 Richard Nixon ran for president of the United States against John E Kennedy. Nixon was defeated. In 1968, he ran for president against Hubert Humphrey. This time Nixon won. Regardless of what you think of his politics, Nixon performed an incredible feat in rising from defeat to achieve the most coveted political position in the world. It took great effort, perseverance, and forethought to accomplish this unheard-of dream. Nixon refused to settle for less than what he truly desired. For those who are learning the skill of ownership and success, Nixon`s example is a great teacher in saving no to settling for less.
When we encounter obstacles to our dream, we all have a tendency to surrender ownership by resigning ourselves to lesser goals. It`s the path of least resistance. It`s always tempting to lower the bar to a level that is more reachable, that takes less effort, and that causes less stress. But what happens when we settle for something that we really didn`t shoot for? Often a nagging question eats at us: What if I had stayed with the original dream?
Suppose, for example, your goal is to lose fifty pounds. You drop ten pounds, twenty, and twenty-five, but then you have a real struggle at thirty. The pounds come off slower, the appetite returns, and working out becomes drudgery. It is only natural to want to stop and say, €œHey, losing thirty pounds is not all that bad. You are certainly much better off than you were before you began. But ask yourself are you stopping because it`s the best path for you, or because you are settling? It might be far better instead to change things in the diet and regimen, talk to a specialist, or join a group. A plateau does not have to be the end of the line.
Or suppose that you have a goal to reach a certain position in your field within the next two years, and you don`t quite get there. Should you be grateful for the progress you have made and stop where you are? Or is it time to unpack your life with a consultant and see why you are stalled?
Or suppose you have an adolescent who is getting into trouble with alcohol, drugs, and legal problems. Your original goal might have been that he graduate from high school and be accepted at a college. But as tough as that is these days, perhaps you will be happy if he just becomes drug-free and let it go at that.
There is no doubt that some goals need to be adjusted for reasons of reality and good judgment. Some dreams weren`t realistic to begin with. Some require mid-course changes as new factors arise. Michael Jordan is, in the minds of most people, the best player in NBA history. However, he failed in his next goal€”to enter the world of major league baseball when he tried it in 1994. He wisely left that sport and returned to basketball, where he once again became the best. Jordan simply accepted reality and adjusted his goals accordingly.
Before you get ready to settle and modify your goal, however, you need to make sure of one thing: be sure that you are accepting true reality rather than avoiding failure. Many people stop before they really need to because the threat of failing is too painful, too shameful, or too disappointing. Rather than saying, €œI didn`t make the dream, they cover their failure by saying, €œI just made myself a different dream. This is nothing but rationalization€”and a real dream killer.
Here is a better approach: learn to take the sting out of failure. Ultimately, what`s wrong with saying you failed? Nothing at all. And furthermore, there is a great deal right about it. When you admit failure, you can learn from it. You can analyze your failure and find out what went wrong the first time around. You can try different approaches. You can get new input from people and resources around you. You can get a fresh start. You can get ready to try, and fail, and try, and fail, and try again.
So say no to settling for less and never knowing what your potential could have been. Refuse to live in the land of regrets, where no one ever really tried. Instead, enter the land of high goals, where you ultimately cannot lose.
The Robert Bloch quote at the beginning of this chapter applies to us all: Any occurrence requiring undivided attention will be accompanied by compelling distraction, if what you are shooting for is worth your undivided attention, it is a guarantee that there will be distractions, toxic people, and voices in your head, all attempting to divert you. The only way to success is to say no to anything that would divert you from your goals and dreams. Learn the skill of saying no to these forces arid yes to the dream that God has put within your heart. If he planted the seed within you, he will bring it to pass:
Declaring the end front the beginning
And from ancient times things which have not been done.
Saying, €œMy purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure. (Isaiah 46:10 NASB)