Obstacle or Excuse?

Over the past year or so, I’ve been revisiting my book Supercoach: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone’s Life, and gently rewriting it to take into account my evolving understanding of how life and the mind actually work. In preparation for this week’s live webinars as a part of The Obstacle Course to Success self-study program, I thought I’d revisit this selection from “Session Three: The Problem with Goals”…

How simple can it be to get what you want in life?

I’m writing this in my office. Let’s say I want to walk outside to enjoy the California sunshine. Unless my legs suddenly give way or someone leaps out from behind my sofa and tackles me (a somewhat creepy, if extremely unlikely, possibility), I’m going to do it. In fact, short of an act of God or other unpredictable event, there are only two things that could stop me:

The first is that I might not really want to go outside. It might just be a “neat idea” that I read about in a magazine or I might have been told was good for my health. In that instance, I might think that I should go outside, but this is extremely different from actually wanting to go.

Of course, the second thing that could stop me from walking out the door would be some sort of obstacle. But if I really wanted to go outside, that wouldn’t really matter. I could use my creative intelligence to find a way over or around that obstacle or refocus my attention on the desired end result and find a way of getting there that made the obstacle irrelevant.

Because when you really want something, the question isn’t “How will you get it?”; it’s “What could possibly stop you?”

When I was a child, my favorite sport to watch on TV (and on very special occasions in the stadium) was American football. I spent years playing in my back yard, and the school playground, and then when I was 12, my parents finally let me sign up to play in a “real” league. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to get into pads and transform myself into a pint-size replica of my gridiron heroes.

However, the first day of practice was more like a military boot camp than my fantasies of football glory. If you’ve never thrown on the pads of a football uniform, the one thing you may not realize is how heavy they are, particularly when you’re 12. In full uniform, we spent the practice doing push-ups and sit-ups and running so many sprints that several of us threw up in the grass by the side of the field.

Finally, at the end of that first practice, they set up a mini-game to let us show them what we had. Unfortunately for me, what I had left at that point wasn’t really worth having. On the very first play from scrimmage, Our quarterback threw the ball downfield in my general direction, only to have it intercepted right in front of me by one of the largest 12-year-olds I’d ever seen.

Caught between my exhaustion, fear, and desire to prove my manhood, I gave chase and was actually closing in on him when one of the other team’s players threw himself to the ground in front of me in a last-ditch attempt to trip me up. At that moment, time stood still. I realized I had a choice: to carry on in the lung-burning, leg-aching pursuit of my prey or to let myself trip over this would-be-blocker and finally get a rest.

In the years since that moment, I’ve found that this same kind of decision faces us nearly every day in the pursuit of our dreams. Things come up between us and our goals – something we don’t yet know how to do, an unexpected bill, an overprotective gatekeeper, a child who doesn’t sleep, or a spouse who somehow doesn’t quite grasp the magnificence of our vision. What we do in those moments is ultimately very telling:

  • If we treat whatever stands in our way as an obstacle, we can bring the full creative resource of the deeper mind to bear on our situation and we will find ways to get over, around, or through it.
  • If we use it as an excuse, we allow ourselves to be tripped up or otherwise stopped by it.

While I would love to say I leaped over that kid and carried on to save a touchdown, the truth is I let my foot catch on his shoulder pad and tumbled to the ground. I thought I’d feel relief, but what I actually felt was embarrassment and shame.

Now, of course, I know there’s no embarrassment in a 12-year-old kid taking himself out of the game when he’s exhausted and frightened. We’re all doing the best we can given the thinking we have that looks real to us. But I’ve also realized as an adult what a shame it is to allow an obstacle to become an excuse.

This is what I’ve learned:

If you really don’t want to do something, you don’t need an excuse not to do it. But if you do really want to do something, there’s nearly always a way to get it done.
Here’s a little thought experiment to help trigger your own insights into this distinction:

1. What do you want? Write down at least one “big” goal and at least one smaller one.

2. For each goal, answer the question: “What stops you?” In my experience, it will nearly always appear to be to do with one or more of nine things: information, skill, belief, energy, other people, motivation, time, money, or fear.

3. Notice whether you’ve been seeing that thing as an obstacle or an excuse. In other words, does it seem like something that you’ll need to take into account as part of creating what you want or a reason to give up or not get started in the first place?

4. If you’re seeing it as an obstacle, take some time to reflect on a better way to move past it.

5. If it looks like a convenient excuse to not move forward, give yourself a break and let go of the goal, at least for now.

The more you see that we were born happy – that our sense of fulfillment and well-being in life is built in to us from birth and can neither be enhanced or diminished by what we have or don’t have – the less sense it makes to spend time trying to get yourself to do what you don’t really want to do in the first place.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,