Overcoming versus Removing Excuses

. 3 min read

Like many, I struggle with willpower and self-control... I start highly motivated with an idea and work towards it, then the willpower 'runs out' and excuses fall into place.

I'm consistently inconsistent.

This leads to a difficult problem. 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's 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:


There's no arguing, having the strength of mind to "just do it!" is a powerful trait. Being able to mentally overcome your excuses stops you from slowing yourself down. Gaining enough momentum to achieve anything you want but burnout is innevitable and the crash is hard. At any moment willpower alone can fail you. Making it risky to rely on.

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 sometimes excuses are valid and ignoring them could be dangerous. To give some examples we can imagine the typical gym bro bench pressing, to his credit he's pushing hard, but the next morning he woke up with an acute pain in his elbow, and now here he is on the bench using his 'willpower' to push past the pain. His willpower has led to stubbornness and eventually, injury. Or what about the over-achiever, waking up at 5am 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 easy 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.


Thinking your way out of a rut has its merits too. Sometimes your excuses are real problems and you have to address them, or you'll just end up 2-steps back. Using your smarts to get around something holding you back is great if you are going for consistency. However, it takes a while, you have to identify the excuse, think of a solution and try it. Often times it takes many tries to finally find something that works for you. And thinking of a solution is harder than it sounds. For example this can range from getting rid of your TV to stop vegetating, 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 solution to a lot of our problems are convoluted,  often leading to more excuses and issues. And here in lies the problem. The gym rat would rather ignore the pain in his elbow than start a regime of healthy eating and stretching.

Bring it Together

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

Using pure mental energy can (will) lead to burnout quickly. Making your goals harder to reach. But what if you are always analysing and seeking ways to improve? This is the person who reads about blue light preventing deep sleep (intelligence) and immediately starts to turn off light sources at night (willpower) leading to better sleep (more willpower/intelligence). Even when sleep hasn't been a problem for them.

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

Look, I could go on forever, 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 speeds up self-improvement like you wouldn't believe. 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?

Graeme Russell

I created this blog as a way to reach people about topics I care about: ethics, self-improvement, and lifestyle. I hope you can find something of value here.