How To Navigate Excuses and Stalling

But here’s something you can be the best at: not holding yourself to unrealistically high expectations


Less excuses, more authenticity.

Despite each of us having unique lifestyles, priorities, preferences, and hobbies, there’s one universal fact: everyone is busy, just in different ways.

As such, staying on track and forming lasting habits that help us live life to our fullest potential – in work, leisure, and health – doesn’t always feel easy, but it’s certainly possible.

Why we fall off track

Continually waiting for more of that fleeting, coveted time that we never seem to have enough of, the odds and ends of our to-do lists always feel a touch out of reach. So when quarantine was abruptly upon us, many of us found that we finally had the time to get around to those fiddly, nagging to do’s – whether it’s quickly and efficiently responding to emails, sorting paperwork that’s been accumulating and simultaneously collecting dust for a year, or even tending to your garden – that were perpetually and indefinitely pushed off until “later”.

There’s usually some sort of catch, or caveat, right? Regardless of the circumstances, there often is something that will indicate why tasks and habits, even the ones you sincerely want to do, routinely get put off: a pattern, consistent behavior, or weak point.

Let’s take the previous example of responding to emails and expand on that. Say that when it comes to emails (or text messages or direct messages) you aren’t the most expedient; and you definitely don’t understand how some people are able to respond almost instantaneously. Despite repeated efforts and various tactics, you can’t seem to realistically make strides in a manner that actually sticks and doesn’t feel like one step forward, two steps back. Time and time again, you find yourself guilt-ridden and sending some sort of frazzled “I am so sorry for taking so long to respond! I’ve been so busy with *proceeds to list whatever is preoccupying and/or draining your time and energy* lately, but I’m trying to get better!” After so many versions of that response typed and sent, you may start to feel like a broken record, or even a fraud. It is at that point – the continued effort and dissatisfaction of falling short – that you can start to see a pattern emerge and identify what it is that’s holding you back.

While the possibilities are individualized and nearly infinite, there is one constant that is applicable all across the board: excuses. Ask yourself, are you making excuses? Looking inward is uncomfortable and requires humility and brutal honestly, but self-awareness is the one true path to changing in a way that is undeterred by time.

Everyone needs their “me” time to recharge, relax, and regroup. Forcing yourself to be social – even in a virtual sense of responding to emails – when you’re not in the mood, for instance, just creates a sense of imprisonment and frustration. When you partake in or do something that your heart isn’t fully in for whatever reason, it feels next to impossible to put your best foot forward and give it your all, while staying true to yourself.

Whatever is going on in your life, while it is substantial to you, it doesn’t make you different from anyone else. And that’s not to invalidate or downplay your situation or feelings, it’s simply acknowledging that we’re all busy and dealing with our own pursuits.

Excuses are made all too easily; each excuse eggs on the repetitive and seemingly endless (and toxic) cycle that only adds to feelings of defeat and lack of productivity. While you may be honest in your reasoning, such as why it took you so long to respond, that honesty can be used unintentionally to disguise your excuses – which is one of the biggest reasons why we struggle to get back on track.

A majority of excuses can circle back to a common root: time. And as the saying goes, you make time for what’s important to you.

Becoming more actionable

Cutting the crap and becoming more authentic, honest, and excuse-free seems easier said than done, but if you’re determined to implement changes that last and stay on the proverbial track, there’s no better time to start than now.

Let’s say you’ve been meaning to have a conversation with a family member or check in with a friend or co-worker for a while now, try an approach like this:

Hey, there’s been a lot going on, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse. I wanted you to know that I’ve been thinking about you and I’m sorry that I’ve let my personal matters impact you and our relationship.”

Since you are your own person, you can tailor this so it’s more representative of you.

This is an example of how we can redirect our “honesty as a disguise” towards “honestly and actionable solutions”. Rather than covering up your faults, weaknesses, and delays, be forthcoming and truthful while explaining what you will do to improve – and actually do so by keeping your word and acting with integrity.

What it really comes down to

When it’s all said and done, there’s one particular way you can break out of a rut, get back on course, and establish longstanding habits.

It’s really no secret, but prioritizing is what it ultimately boils down to, and is the best technique to ticking off those to-do’s effectively. Speaking freely, it takes putting aside your ego to objectively scrutinize your current routine and assess where you need to prioritize better – which can be a tough pill to swallow (especially if you’re stubborn!).

With that in mind, make sure to regularly remember that no one is perfect – and you are no exception. Life isn’t a big, competitive game of who can play “go big or go home” the best. But here’s something you can be the best at: not holding yourself to unrealistically high expectations of being at your “A-game” all day, every day. Because when we do, that’s when we start to lack the valuable “me” time mentioned earlier in this post, as well as feel overwhelmingly weighed down by unnecessary pressures.

How do you juggle everything you need, want, and aspire to do all while life is throwing curveballs at you? Think back to those moments when your alarm is ringing early in the morning, and all you want to do is crawl beneath the warm, comfort of the blankets and hide from all responsibilities. The mere thought of everything you need to accomplish is enough to make you feel nauseous and crippled with stress, right?

So, how are you supposed to readily complete it all, stay sane, AND take care of your health at the same time?

Set non-negotiables

This goes hand-in-hand with prioritizing. Non-negotiables are things that you cannot and do not waver on. No matter what, they get done.

Can you recall a time when you felt overwhelmed, but you (or someone else) paused to gently remind yourself to breathe and take it one day at a time? It’s a popular mechanism used to help ground and enable us to continue putting one foot in front of the other to get through each day – whether it be successfully or not so successfully. In that regard, think of non-negotiables as the physical aspect of mentally taking it one day at a time.

Concentrate on accomplishing smaller, doable tasks that will yield fruitful results in the long run, all while giving you that bit of satisfaction you need to know “it was a good day” and that you made progress in the direction you wish to go.

Paradoxically, the first step forward starts with taking a step back – to reflect on what you habitually struggle with most, what you genuinely want to get better at, and what you need or want to do that you continuously postpone. These are promising places to start brainstorming your own list of non-negotiables.

Trying to tackle too much at once will leave you feeling swamped, defeated, and possibly psychologically paralyzed by stress; making that “stress-free life” seem all the more difficult to reach. One thing is certain – it WILL take work and feel trying at times, but that’s not the only way it’s going to feel.

Before you inevitably pile too much on your plate, consider setting one nutrition focused non-negotiable and one centered on physical activity.

Nutrition Examples:

  • Drink more water
  • Consume less take-out and fast food
  • Have a balanced breakfast each morning
  • Eat vegetables and fresh fruit at least once per day

Exercise Examples:

  • Do cardio 3x a week
  • Learn a specific yoga pose
  • Fine-tune your form on a given lift
  • Increase mobility

Wellness Examples:

  • Decrease screen time
  • Meditate in the mornings
  • Build and deepen your relationship with God
  • Devote more time to self-care

Once you have the blueprints for your non-negotiables, it’s time to plan HOW you can achieve them. Let’s take the above examples again:


  • Drink more water ~ aim to drink a designated amount (ounces or number of refillable water bottles) each day and utilize reminders on your phone
  • Consume less take-out and fast food ~ eat out 3 times a week instead of 4
  • Have a balanced breakfast each morning ~ prepare your breakfast in advance, whether it be the night before or for a few days at a time
  • Eat vegetables and fresh fruit at least once per day ~ sneak some spinach or kale into a fruit smoothie


  • Do cardio 3x a week ~ decide which days of the week are for cardio, go with a friend, walk on a work break or during work-related phone calls, combine it with your dog’s exercise needs
  • Learn a specific yoga pose ~ set aside 5 minutes each morning or evening to stretch and work on the movement
  • Fine-tune your form on a given lift ~ brush up on the basics by watching videos, record yourself performing the exercise, ask a certified personal trainer for advice and tips
  • Increase mobility ~ CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations), do yoga X times per month, myofascial massages, dedicate 5-10 minutes before or after a workout for mobility and flexibility exercises


  • Decrease screen time ~ spend 1 hour free of ALL screens per week, turn on Do Not Disturb or silence any app notifications that are unnecessary and distracting, explore apps (such as Whole or Flora)
  • Meditate in the mornings ~ swap 2-5 minutes of your morning screen time for a guided meditation in bed (which is a 2-for-1 with the screen time)
  • Build and deepen your relationship with God ~ start a Bible study or gratitude journal, listen to online sermons or podcasts from various churches each week if making it to church in-person doesn’t always happen, try a daily devotional book or app
  • Devote more time to self-care ~ practice giving yourself grace, have a creative outlet or hobby, learn to say no, schedule monthly facials, pursue the activities – big or small – that spark joy, do nothing at all

Non-Negotiables = Lasting Habits

Now that you’ve created them and figured out the how to, it’s time to abide by your non-negotiables and nurture them into long-term habits. You could compare this to another essential daily duty: brushing your teeth.

Would you leave your house without brushing your teeth? (I sure hope not.) There’s no cheating dental health, and there’s no shortcuts or skimping out on non-negotiables either. As my mom told my brother and me when we were younger: “brush the teeth you want to keep”. If you want to achieve success and lasting habits, treat your non-negotiables as you do your teeth.

Your list of non-negotiables might consist of explicit exercise regimens, nutrition plans, or even expanding on your communication skills. Regardless, over time, they will become easier and more manageable until they transform into subconscious habits. When you reach that milestone you can then start to incorporate new non-negotiables in!

After faithfully and diligently carrying out your non-negotiables, those daily choices and decisions will accumulate into big, noticeable changes. In other words, you’re producing steadfast and sustainable changes in your life that not only you will notice, but others around you as well.

Remember to remain realistic when it comes to prioritizing, defining non-negotiables, and developing lifelong habits. And with that comes another recurring question…

Will my non-negotiables change?

Non-negotiables are things you can’t waver on, correct?

Well, yes, practically speaking. Non-negotiables can be used to build habits such as better eating and more consistent exercise or to reach goals like decreasing body fat percentage or hitting a new personal best at the gym.

The goal-oriented non-negotiables are the ones most likely to change over time. Say you’re aiming for 20 minutes of HIIT cardio twice a week or to fall within a predetermined macro range on the weekends, these aspirations and objectives will evolve with you as you change. Goals are measureable, attainable, and dynamic; they change, are accomplished, and new targets are put in place. Priorities change, and we change, so it makes total sense that our non-negotiables would change too.

My reminder to you

Life is a crazy, busy, unpredictable whirlwind, so please try to leave some breathing room in your timeline! More often than not, you can’t predict what may happen in your life, and expecting to seamlessly adhere to a precise, rigid agenda each day is unrealistic.

That’s when your non-negotiables come into play. They provide you with structure, accountability, AND wiggle room while helping you remain loyal to your habits and goals – without slacking off. Over time, you’ll come to recognize the difference between the times when you’re trying to justify not doing the task with sad, lazy excuses (we’ve all been there) and genuine, valid reasons that warrant a break or rest of some sort. It’s the leeway that helps you learn when to give yourself grace.

Give these tips a try, and I can assure you that you won’t fall down the *perfectionism rabbit hole*. Your focus, prioritization, and ability to achieve balance in life will come more naturally (and satisfyingly) than you ever thought was possible.

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