Overcoming versus Removing Excuses

. 3 min read

Like many, I struggle with willpower and self-control. I start a new project highly motivated and work to realise it. Then the willpower 'runs out', and excuses fall into place.

I'm consistently inconsistent.

If we look back and ask what triggers this pattern, it's almost always 'self-talk' or excuses. So how can you improve? The way I see it, there are two routes out. Either we learn how to continue and push past our excuses, or we deal with the excuse until we can no longer fall back on it.

But what is the best (effective) path to take? Let's take a look at each and see how it helps:

Willpower

There's no arguing, having the strength of mind to "just do it!" is a powerful trait. Being able to overcome your excuses through sheer determination stops you from slowing yourself down; gaining enough momentum to achieve anything you want. However, burnout seems inevitable, and the crash is hard. At any moment, willpower alone can fail you. Thus relying on it is risky.

The problem with willpower is that it can grow into stubbornness, no longer 'pushing through' the excuses but instead simply ignoring them. The problem with this is, unfortunately, sometimes excuses are valid, and ignoring them could be dangerous: we can imagine the typical 'gym bro' bench pressing, to his credit he's pushing hard, but the next morning he woke up with acute pain in his elbow and pushed past the pain in his next workout. His willpower (stubbornness) will eventually lead to injury. Another example is the 'over-achiever', waking up at 5:00 am and going to sleep at midnight, their business is growing but his eyes are starting to go dull, and he's losing focus. It's time for some proper sleep, but it's not going to happen. Eventually, the lifestyle will catch up on him, and his business will pay.

It's not all bad; willpower is a great fire-starter, it can keep you going in hard times, starting training is easier in the summer, but when you get to winter? Think again. It'll take willpower to get through the winter or keep you going until you find another way to train.

Intelligence

Thinking your way out of a rut has its merits too. Sometimes your excuses are real problems, and it's smart to address them, if you don't you'll end up 2-steps back. If your goal is consistency, then using your brain to get around something holding you back is great. However, this is a slow process; you have to identify the excuse, think of a solution, and implement it. Often it takes many iterations to find something that works for you. Plus, thinking of a solution is harder than it sounds. For example, this can range from getting rid of your TV to stop procrastinating, to tracking habits and developing reward systems etc. Often it is this stage that we get stuck at over analysing; thinking of the 'best' solution instead of just accepting what works.

When you've gone back and analysed your sleeping habits, looked at your caffeine intake and energy levels, waking up for the sunrise is a breeze. When you get there, your solution is permanent and requires no thought or willpower. The answer to a lot of our problems though can be convoluted,  often leading to more excuses and issues. And herein lies the problem. The 'gym bro' would rather ignore the pain in his elbow than start a regime of healthy eating and stretching.

Bring it Together

Both intelligence and willpower have their weaknesses, but when they come together, you're unstoppable.

Using mental energy will lead to burn out and make your goals harder to reach. But what if you are always analysing and seeking ways to improve? The 'over-achiever' above, let's say, learns about how blue light prevents deep sleep (intelligence) and immediately starts to turn off light sources at night (willpower), leading to better sleep, which in turn gives them more willpower and intelligence!

Or how about using one of the traits to improve the other, for example reading books (willpower) about habits (intelligence).

They are many examples, but the point is they are best used in conjunction. My favourite, and what I have experienced the most gains with, is using intelligence to bring down the barrier for willpower. This process speeds up self-improvement immensely; being able to accept the simplest possible solution and going with that - at least for the time being - can get the ball rolling with things you've been putting off for years.


I hope this analysis was helpful; my aim with this post was to define intelligence and willpower, to make it clearer which one to use when creating your ideal life. Is that excuse you've been using valid? Are you over-analysing? Or are you plain old being lazy?