From Excuses to Action

In part 2 of my post “What’s Your Excuse?” we’ll focus on how to move from making excuses to taking action.  A very practical solution is outlined in the book Five Steps To Overcome Resistance to Change, by Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.  Their five-step process is straight-forward, logical, and easy to follow.  In this post, I’ll outline the authors’ 5 step process and use my own experiment in breaking down the excuse barrier as an example.

First, I took a sheet of paper, divided it into 5 columns, and labeled with the titles shown below.  (If you are like me and find it easier to type than write, you can create a table in Microsoft Word.)  In the first column, I recorded my current behavior, noting what did or didn’t happen as a result of my assumptions.   In my case, I noted my habit of relegating my writing and other creative projects to the weekends.   I had plenty of excuses.  I commute, I work from 8:30 to 5, most nights, I’m tired when I come home…and so on.   As a result, my creative projects are squeezed into free time on the weekends.   In  the second column, I jotted down experiences or other evidence that might cast doubt on the validity of my assumption.  In my case, I noted that I had taken photographs of a sunset, for example, after work.  That evidence disproved my belief that I didn’t have the time or energy to work on creative projects during the week.  I also noted that I wasted some of my free time by watching too many re-runs on TV.

Current Behavior Contrary Evidence Explore the History Test the Assumption Evaluate the Results  
I tell myself that I can only write and do other creative projects on the weekends and I don’t have time during the week.  As a result, I’m frustrated when I’m busy on the weekends and don’t have time to “indulge” in creativity.  This is not healthy for me and makes me difficult to live with! Is it true I have no free time during the week?  In fact, I spend far too much time watching reruns on TV in the evening.  I could use that time to write or edit photos even if it’s just for half an hour.  Occasionally, I have also used my free time during the week to take photographs. I believe that I can only do creative projects when I have the right conditions—enough sleep, enough time, enough quiet.  This assumption took root in my 20’s when I was working, commuting, and going to grad school. In the evenings, I have started editing photos on my laptop.  Even if the T.V. is on, I can still concentrate on editing.  I’m also reading during my lunch hour, to get background information for a new writing project. The conditions aren’t always ideal, but there are some creative projects that I can do during the week.  This makes me feel satisfied and creatively fulfilled on a more regular basis.

Step 3 is to explore the history of this assumption.  How and when did the assumption(s) take hold?  In my case, it started many years before when I was working, commuting, and going to grad school.   Back then, I believed  that I needed to devote many hours at a stretch to writing or other creative projects and I couldn’t squeeze them into an “ordinary” day.

The next step is to test the assumption in a safe environment, which allows me to “escape” from the situation if I began to feel uncomfortable or uneasy.  In my case, one night after work, I took a series of shots of a beautiful sunset and on another night, I edited photos while watching TV.  I also started bringing a book to work, so on my lunch hour, I could do some preparatory work for a new writing project.

The final step is to evaluate the results.  My little experiment worked.   It gave me an alternate way to think and act  Even devoting a few minutes in the evening to photography or reading on my lunch hour left me feeling happier and more satisfied during the week.  My change was relatively easy and safe, however.   The authors caution that this is not an easy process, and tackling problems head-on in this way can be painful and challenging. However, it has been tremendously rewarding to understand the “old” assumptions were blocking me from acting.  It was liberating to bring my resistance to the surface and try out new tools to cope with an inner conflict that was preventing me  from achieving my goals.  If you try it, let me know whether it works for you too.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey


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