A seven-year-old boy asked me the most profound question yesterday while I was having breakfast with his mom. “What’s the point of, well, living?” he posed in all seriousness. His mom and I froze. What a deep question for a child! His mom and I looked at each other, telegraphing the same thought “This is a pivotal question we can’t just push off or laugh off, we’ve got to give him a good answer.”
I formed my response first and asked “Well, what do you think the point is?”
“Seems like it’s to have lots of adventures and do cool stuff like blow up dragons!” he quickly retorted, beaming back at me clearly proud that he’d identified some potential purposes.
“Well, other than dragons not existing, you’re pretty much spot on in my opinion kid,” I told him and almost before I could finish that sentence he started identifying reasons why he couldn’t go on adventures or do cool things.
- I’m too small and young.
- COVID, duh
- We live on this tiny island far away from anything.
- I don’t know how to drive.
- My bedtime is like 9 o’clock, 10 if dad’s the only one home.
- I have school.
- I’ve only got $100 in my piggy bank.
The Land Of Excuses
Does that sound familiar? There’s all of these amazing adventures you see other people having splashed across their social media every time you look at your smart device. Then you think about it and you see your list of “completely logical reasons” for why your social feed doesn’t look the same. I’m going to assume you’re older than seven so your list has had time to develop into a whole landscape of well structured obstacles you’ve built over time. These obstacles may even be categorized by applicable situations for why you can’t do whatever it is that may come along on any given day.
- Road trip from Maine to Florida? I get carsick, don’t like sitting for so long, work, and FL is hot.
- Sky diving? Fear of heights, too many “what if” scenarios that end poorly, and I hear it’s cold up that high.
- Move to another country? I don’t speak any other languages. I’ve lived here my whole life so it’s far from family. That’s a lot of paper work. I don’t even know where I’d start.
Are you getting the picture?
The landscape continues with options for every scenario you’ve ever considered and probably several you haven’t yet. This internal landscape of show-stopping obstacles called “No,” “I Can’t,” “Not Today,” “I’m Not Ready,” and other such forgettable names is “the land of excuses.” It is the negative portion of your inner monologue. We all build this section of our inner monologue while we build the positive side but, for some of us, the negative is much more vast. Getting stuck in this negative landscape is part of what keeps you from “going for it!” whatever it is.
I’ve had the opportunity to go on tons of adventures, try dozens of amazing new things, meet thrilling people, and all the while I’ve fought to not get trapped in the land of excuses that I’ve built. There are three, simple, highly effective ways to dodge excuse land in my opinion: 1) Ask yourself “what is the best thing that could happen?” from this opportunity. 2) Have a talk with your inner monologue to weigh the pros and cons. 3) Give yourself permission to say YES to YOU.
What’s the BEST thing that could happen?
See what I did there? We’re all so used to hearing the negative version of that question that to see it in the positive light can be liberating. Think about when you said “No” to a recent opportunity that crossed your path. What land of excuses obstacle did you use as your “perfectly logical” reason to not take advantage of the situation? Did you think of “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” when you used this excuse?
Now, picture that same situation but you asked “What’s the best thing that could happen?” instead. Such a different approach to that opportunity! I was recently asked to go scuba diving with some friends. I do have my certification but I haven’t used it in years. That was the immediate obstacle my land of excuses threw in front of me. I took a moment to consider the best thing that could happen if I went, and ended up saying yes to going with them but no to diving. We had a great time! They dove and I read on the beach and hung out with them between dives.
Weigh the pros and cons
Immediately it looked like the cons of the dive trip would out-weigh the pros. I hadn’t dove in years, I’d have to rent all the equipment, I’d slow everyone down because they’d have to coach me, I’ve got a lot of work to do at home, and on and on. By pausing to consider “What’s the best thing that could happen?” I made myself silence the negative part of my inner monologue so I could hear the pros. I’d be able to spend time outdoors on a beautiful day, I’d be able to spend some adult time with some friends while their kids were at school, I’d see a new place on the island, and I’d get some time alone to read in the new Twilight book (team Edward forever!!).
I did have to alter the original opportunity some. That unearthed another obstacle from the land of excuses: “You’re not fully in on the experience.” That could have been a show-stopping con if I’d let the negative spin win. My pros outweighed my cons in the end and I said yes to a great day.
Give yourself permission to say yes to YOU
We say yes to so much that isn’t for us! “Yes” to staying late at work to meet a deadline even though it’s family movie night. “Yes” to heading up the neighborhood potluck planning even though we’ll be out of town the day of the event. “Yes” to a work trip over the week of our anniversary. All of these yes’s for others are no’s to us and our opportunities and our priorities.
I had A LOT to do the other day when my friends asked about scuba diving. Truly my planner was packed but nothing was a meeting or a must-do-on-that-day commitment. It would have been easy to say no because I could see all of the items that would have to shift to other, similarly-packed days. I chose to give myself permission to say yes though. I chose me, and my priorities of exploring and time for my relationships, rather than soft commitments and routine.
Don’t blow it off
Don’t go turning into that flaky person who’s running off at the first sight of something more interesting than deadlines and real work commitments. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that life is about adventures and making time to “go for it” when opportunities present themselves. Rather than being stuck in the land of excuses by your routine comfort zones, find ways to make time and give yourself permission to say yes to you. You may have to change the original opportunity some or propose a different day/time so you can participate but that’s part of the “go for it” process too.
I asked my friend’s seven-year-old what adventure he’d like to go on that he thought he couldn’t because of all the reasons he’d listed. “I’d like to take my family to the pineapple park before we leave” was his answer. We talked through this process of identifying the best that could happen, weighing the pros and cons, and permission to say yes. We then identified the one, real obstacle – the park is currently closed because of COVID restrictions – and game planned the rest. He’s really looking forward to when the day comes, and the park is open, and they can all go to the pineapple park as his treat. He even started to list some other adventures he’d like to have and I could see him working the process in his excited mind.
If this process can work for my seven-year-old pal, it can certainly work for you! What situations have crossed your path recently that you got caught up in the land of excuses and said no to? Or, what have you said yes to and did you used a similar process? What steps would you add or change? We’d love to hear from you! Like #365Firsts on Facebook and join the group, #365FirstsChallenge, to tell us all about it.