Are You Giving Your Best Effort or Your Best Excuse?

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I know what prevents most people from achieving the success they want.

But before I tell you, I want you to do one thing right now.

Don’t worry. Nobody around you knows that you’re reading this. You don’t have to worry about “measuring up” to someone’s expectations.

This is just between you and your mind.

All I want you to do is be honest with yourself — truly honest — and answer this question: “Am I giving my best effort?”

Your best.

Not good. Not even great. But the absolute best that you can do.

I’ll be honest with you. Most days, I don’t give my best effort.

I try very hard, but there is usually a situation I could have managed better, time I could have used more effectively, or a task I could have done that was more important than something I did do.

Why does this happen? Why don’t we do what is best for us?

Keep reading and I’ll tell you…

The danger of our best excuse

We make excuses all the time.

Usually our excuses don’t change things too much. (Your life will move on just fine if you make up an excuse and don’t go out to dinner with some friends tonight.)

But in some cases, we avoid important actions or choices that could literally alter the course of our lives. And when these important decisions come up, we often resort to our best excuses rather than making tough decisions.

The “best excuse” is the excuse that we truly believe. It’s the excuse that we convince ourselves is right. It’s the excuse that holds us back from taking action and makes it easy for us to play it safe.

In other words, the best excuses are the most dangerous ones.

There are an infinite number of ways to come up with an excuse, but our best excuses often reveal themselves in a few ways…

1. The best excuses are actions on a loop.

Sometimes our best excuses don’t seem like excuses at all. They look like action to us, but really it’s just the same action on an endless loop.

“I want to start a business, so I’m going to read more about this.”

“I need to find a new diet to follow.”

“I want to boost my social media presence. I’ll find some good people to follow on Twitter.”

Each of the above actions can be useful if you do it once and move on to the next step … but when you start to do it over and over again, they become an excuse.

The hardest part is that this excuse looks like action. “No really, I’m trying to lose weight. I’ve put 10 hours into finding the best diet plan.”

In the beginning we feel like we’re making progress, but after one time around the track, this repeated action just becomes an excuse.

2. The best excuses are great reasons for not doing something.

Before you think that making excuses is merely the problem of the lazy or uneducated, let me assure you that it’s not.

Smart and successful people (like you and I) are great at creating excuses.

Ask a smart person why they aren’t doing X or Y, and they will come back with a confident answer.

“Well, that works for some people, but that’s not really my style. At this point, I have a pretty good feel for what works for me.”

“It’s best to be prepared. I’m very deliberate about my decisions. I’ll do the proper research on this and then make a call.”

“Yeah, I’ve done some reading on that. It seems like it’s very difficult to do successfully.”

Lame. Lame. Lame.

Here’s the problem: Smart people can come up with legitimate reasons for not doing something all day long. It doesn’t matter what the task is, you can usually find good reason to avoid it.

The real question is, “Is this something you shouldn’t do, or are you simply coming up with a good reason to avoid a tough decision?”

3. The best excuses make useless comparisons.

Comparisons are the ultimate excuse generator.

It’s so easy to look at someone successful, determine why they “made it”, and then conclude that you can’t achieve the same level of success because your situation is different.

“They had X and Y and I don’t, so I shouldn’t bother with doing this.”

“They went to school A and got degree B and I didn’t.”

“Their parents are friends with person Z and mine aren’t, so I can’t make this happen.”

Here’s the tricky thing about comparisons, though… they can actually be useful. In the short term, it can be good to compare yourself to high performers because you can see if you’re taking the right actions.

For example, I’m always comparing myself to what other entrepreneurs are doing. I want to be taking similar actions as successful entrepreneurs and comparing my actions to them helps me determine if I’m on the right track.

But in the grand scheme of things, comparisons are useless. Everyone runs their own race.

You are where you are.

The question is, “Where will you go from here?”

It’s about much more than money

There is more to this than just earning money.

Yes, excuses prevent you from getting more done, building a business, and earning more money. But they also block you from something more valuable.

This quote from English teacher and revered basketball coach, John Wooden, hints at what I’m talking about…

I wanted to give the youngsters under my supervision — whether it be in athletics or in the English classroom — something to which to aspire, other than just a higher mark in the classroom, or more points in some athletic contest.

— Coach John Wooden, on doing your personal best

It’s not just about a “higher mark” or a bigger bank account. It’s about the satisfaction that comes with reaching your full potential.

When I played baseball in college, we had a really good season my senior year. Some of our teammates said we overachieved.

I never bought into that. You know why?

Because overachieving is impossible. You can’t do more than you’re capable of doing.

The problem is, most people never find out what they’re capable of doing. Most people don’t realize how much potential they are leaving on the table.

And that’s why giving your best effort is about more than earning an extra $1,000 or $10,000 or $10,000,000.

Giving your best effort is about achieving what you’re really capable of doing.

It’s about the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you did your absolute best. It’s about closing your eyes at night and knowing that today — even if it was just for one day — you gave your best effort and that so few people can say they did the same.

What have you actually tried?

It doesn’t matter whether it’s dieting or dating or earning more money, we love to whine about how we “have tried everything and nothing works.”

Here’s why most people don’t earn more money: because they try and fail and forget to try again.

They don’t give their best effort when it comes to earning more money.

It’s not that they don’t want to earn more. They definitely want it. But they don’t put in the repeated effort to get it.

It’s easier to complain about a lack of success and go back to browsing the web than it is to struggle through 10 failures before you figure out what works for your situation.

And just to be clear about this: I’m not saying you should work all day.

There is nothing wrong with watching TV or going to the movies or sitting around and doing nothing at all. In fact, if you don’t take time to relax then you’re going to have trouble giving your best effort on a consistent basis.

But there is definitely something wrong with claiming that you have “tried everything” and “nothing seems to work” when you have chosen to sit and watch TV each night. There is nothing wrong with choosing to relax, but own your choice and don’t make it an excuse for not taking action.

Usually when I dish out some tough love like this, the immediate response is “I’ll do whatever I need to do. I have no problem giving up TV. But I just don’t know what to do.”

Fair enough. Sort of.

I know what it’s like to not know the next step. I have exactly zero entrepreneurs in my family. I had no one to talk to about how to start. I had to figure it all out on my own.

So I get that you want to know what to do. I wanted that too.

But here’s the thing… knowledge isn’t enough. It never will be. Even if you learn everything you can and have brilliant ideas, so what?

Anyone can have an idea. Action is what makes an idea worth having.

You don’t need to be perfect to earn more money. You don’t need to find the best system. You just need to pick a system, take action, and stick with it.

In fact, most of the time the only way to win is to try things and fail because you can’t beat failure if you’ve never dealt with it in the first place.

Why do you think so many new entrepreneurs repeat the mistakes of old ones? It’s not because they don’t know about the mistakes. It’s because some things have to be experienced to be learned.

So, don’t send me an email and tell me that you can’t make money because you don’t know what to do.

Don’t know how to promote yourself? Read this.

Don’t know how to take a small step forward? Read this.

Don’t know the best way to start earning more money? Read this.

Don’t know how to be creative? Listen to this.

Don’t know how to get over fear and get started? Watch this.

Don’t know how to start a side job while you have a family? Read this.

Don’t know how to negotiate for a higher salary? Read this.

Don’t know how to get people talking about your business? Read this.

Don’t know how to find your passion? Read this.

Don’t know how to negotiate? Read this.

Don’t know how most people make money online? Read this.

But whatever you do, don’t send me an email and tell me that you don’t know what to do.

Go out and try something. Then send me an email and tell me what didn’t work and we’ll figure out what you should do next.

You don’t need to do it all at once, but you do need to do it more than once.

Start giving your best effort

Do you want something more? Do you want something better? Do you want something to change?

Don’t give up on a dream after one failure. It’s time to own up, take responsibility, and make it happen.

How can you achieve the success that you want and deserve?

Stop giving your best excuse and start giving your best effort.

20 Responses to Are You Giving Your Best Effort or Your Best Excuse?

  1. James – Great article :) I think my favorite part of this is the list of resources at the end. I’m definitely going to bookmark this to refer back to when I feel like making excuses!

    That said, my biggest excuse is absolutely “I don’t have time.” And while it’s true that my schedule is crunched, I’m working with the same number of hours in a day as everyone else is. Plenty of people manage to accomplish their goals in these 24 hours, so if I feel tempted to use this as an excuse, I need to remind myself that the solution re-prioritizing, not giving a half ass effort.

  2. John Kester says:

    Great insights here James. This is a valuable lesson to learn about the real value behind giving your best efforts. I appreciate you pointing out this is an aspiration that is achievable, but may not be attained daily. I know sometimes I get bogged down by those days where I feel like excuses outweigh my efforts and it helps to remind myself with consistent commitment to the my goals I will come out on top.

    Thanks for passing along this article and I believe it will definitely translate to lots of positive action today, tomorrow, and every day beyond that!

  3. Great tie-in to your other great content James, and a real motivating post.

    Sometimes the simple evaluation of “is what I’m doing my absolute best output?” is needed to kick things up a notch.

  4. Eric says:

    James, what an inspired post! This was something I really needed tonight.

  5. Debi says:

    Love the resource list at the end. Great article and another “push” for me to get moving. Thanks.

  6. Truly loved this article James. I guess this is what makes us human but at the same time proves to us that we all have talents to overcome our shortcomings and succeed. Cheers!

  7. Joy Mo says:

    Thanks for the great article and tips James. I find that sometimes many people including myself just don’t know what our best is. So for me trying my best is not the best practice anymore. I give all out!

  8. One of your best posts; we have a habit of rationalizing maintaining the status quo if that is the easiest thing for us to do, instead of putting ourselves out there and taking a chance.

    It will be interesting to see if developmental psychology research, fMRI scans, neuroscience and the like can help us identify procrastination situations so we can avoid them.

    For now, we need the sorts of periodic reminders like this post to keep us doing what we will love in the long term…even if it would be easier to put it off right now!

  9. Victoria says:

    James – this is a great article and very apt for most people (me included). The excuses make it easier to justify why we haven’t achieved out goals yet.

    Thanks for the links to the other articles too.

  10. AJ says:

    Awesome as always!
    Thanks for your efforts:)

  11. Dave says:

    This really gets to the core of most peoples lack of success. You touched on something I am doing in my life. You helped me see something I need to change. Thanks.

  12. Sean Davis says:

    Oh my… this has to be one of the best articles I’ve read all year. I love every word of it.

    The sad thing about it is that I know exactly what I have been doing wrong and you talked about it. I forget to try again.

    I let these failures push me off into something else that I haven’t failed at yet. Then, when I fail for the first time in that area, I make another shift.

    It’s as if I am looking for the path that causes no failures.

    What? Does that even exists?

    A year or two will go by and I come back to something that I previously failed at. I’ll get further than I did the first time and feel like I’m sitting pretty.

    Then, all of a sudden, I fail again… destroying the idea that the first failure was the only thing that stood between me and success. That heartbreak sends me to round two of another thing that I previously failed at.

    It’s not until recently that I learned how to push passed failure.

    A few days ago, I had a post called “The Success Proclamation” go viral with 2,000 views in a day… and my blog only averages like 100 a day.

    You know, I only earned one email subscription from that traffic. Talk about a failure to convert. It didn’t crush me at all, though.

    I now see it as feedback.

    No more excuses. Do work.

  13. Ahamed Imran says:

    I’ve been a culprit of not giving my best for a long time. Sigh. But this article encourages me to renew myself and try harder than what I’m doing right now. Thanks for the valuable tips and advice James. :-)

  14. Pat says:

    All I can say is wow. Thanks for that kick in the pants. And I mean that sincerely.

  15. Ben Edwards says:

    To your first point, “The best excuses are actions on a loop”

    You can see the cost of this by comparing the end results of “excuse actions” vs actual action.

    A lot of times an “excuse action” gets you ready for something, you get more theory.

    On the other hand, after you take an action towards something tangible, you have experience.

    Whether your experience turned out positive or negative, you learned something. You can take what you got out of your experience and apply it towards your next action.

    Experience is more valuable than theory when it comes to action. That’s why college graduates get paid much less than someone w/5 years experience in the industry.

  16. Jeffrey Davis says:

    Maybe this is why most of us feel like a rat on a wheel tweeting to other rats on wheels. Great article!

  17. Jennifer says:

    Great insights James as always! Love the part about “repeated efforts” after trying something you find worthwhile to achieve success.

  18. It is really easy to end up procrastinating by action. It feels productive because you are checking off tasks on a list. You are making progress. You are quickly climbing the ladder. Then the sad reality hits when you realize you were climbing the wrong wall.

  19. VW Maryland says:

    Fine information, many thanks to the author. It is puzzling to me now, but in general, the usefulness and importance is overwhelming. Very much thanks again and good luck!

  20. Chris says:

    Amazing Article!

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