Adopting the “No Excuses” Mindset

The One Minute Millionaire by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert Allen ends with a notion of “no excuses”. Mark and Robert give a few examples of people who succeeded against all odds and say that if they made it, then you really have no excuses for not living a happier and more fulfilled life.

I’ve read the book a decade ago and the notion of “no excuses” has been one of a few powerful things that stuck. Accepting full responsibility for your life’s outcomes is incredibly empowering, but it can also be tough and stressful.

As with many things in life, you have to give up certain habits and ways of doing things if you adopt the “no excuses” mindset. And let me tell you, the choice doesn’t seem all that obvious at times.

No Excuses Means Accepting Full Responsibility

What “no excuses” really means is that you accept full responsibility for your life’s outcomes.

At this point in time, I don’t think that this has to be taken literally – after all, we as humans tend to underestimate the role of chance and luck in our lives (if you’re not convinced, check out Fooled by Randomness and Thinking, Fast and Slow). Instead, just like with never giving up, the idea is to accept more responsibility than you normally would.

This idea in and of itself is very powerful. If you are largely responsible for your life’s outcomes, than achieving all of your dreams is within your reach.

Also, if you accept full responsibility, you naturally stop blaming others. Why? Because by blaming, you accept that other people and circumstances have some control over your life, and that’s inconsistent with having 100% responsibility on your part.

Excuses Are Comforting

So what are you to lose if you accept the “no excuses” mindset?

Ten years ago, I’d never thought I’d write this but – a certain amount of excuses may actually be a healthy protective mechanism. If you always blame yourself for not achieving things in your life, you may be putting way more psychological weight on yourself than you deserve. This can be incredibly stressful.

The key here, of course, is “a certain amount”. If you always blame others, the government or the circumstances for not getting what you want, you are just being lazy.

The Choice Is Yours

So should you adopt a “no excuses” mindset? Here is what happens if you do:

  • You will feel much more empowered
  • Life will become tougher because there will be no one to blame
  • You will need to be very honest with yourself.

Whether you want to accept this trade is up to you. In any case, though, try accepting more responsibility for your life and handing less to others through blame. This has helped me immensely.

On Giving Up

"Never, never, never, never give up." Or not.
“Never, never, never, never give up.” Or not.

The spring of 2014 was not easy for my family. We recently moved to a new country and, after renting for about a year, bought ourselves an apartment. We bought it all cash with money borrowed from my parents, thinking that it would be relatively easy to get a mortgage once we get some income history for 2013.

We were wrong. As we were getting rejected by one bank after another, the possibility of not getting a mortgage became increasingly real. And without the mortgage, we would be unable to renovate the apartment to move in – or return the money to my parents, for that matter.

On top of it all, we discovered that my wife was pregnant with our second child.

Back there and then, we decided that we would apply to all the banks if needed and would not declare defeat until every single one rejected our application. After five rejections, one bank accepted. The mortgage rate was much higher than average but we were saved.

Never Giving Up Is Silly

Am I trying to say that you should never give up? No. As Den Kennedy writes in his book, banging your head against the wall when something clearly isn’t working is silly. Blind perseverance is for suckers – success if often brought by trying a lot of different things and seeing “what sticks”.

However, most people give up too early. That’s why I think the popular advice to “never, never, never, never give up” (often mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill) should not be taken literally. Rather, think of it as motivation to hold on for just a little longer than you normally would.

In any endeavor, there is a point by which 99% of people give up. Be willing to cross that point and peek at what’s round the corner. You may be surprised at just how close the goal is.

Don’t Be the One Who Says No to You

A few years back, I stumbled upon a profound piece of advice. I don’t remember the source, but the advice ran something like this: Don’t be the person saying no to you. Let it be that girl you’re trying to approach, the bank where you want to get a mortgage, or that sales prospect.

What this really means is that you should not shut down opportunities for yourself without really trying. Never say to yourself, “It’s no use. It’s never going to work.” because what it is is just a convenient excuse. The truth is, you will never know unless you try.

And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not live the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I actually tried instead of saying no to myself.

Because, as it turns out, miracles often happen if you persevere just a little bit longer.

Always Read What You Sign

Cliff Vandercave tricking Fred Flintstone into signing firing notices for all the workers.
Cliff Vandercave tricking Fred Flintstone into signing firing notices for all the workers

I often surprise bank clerks by actually reading those long, small-font agreements that go with a new account or a debit card. I don’t always read them word for word but I always try to get a good grasp of the key points before I put my signature on the document.

The higher the stakes, the more time I take analyzing the papers. When we were closing the first investment round for my current company, it took us maybe 10 back-and-forths and a lawyer’s involvement to finalize the Shareholders’ Agreement. And I’m glad I went through this because there were numerous omissions in the first draft that would put me in a seriously disadvantaged position.

(The lawyer later told me that many founders sign that stuff without reading, and that it was so good I wasn’t one of them.)

You see, I’m not afraid to take the other party’s time, look dumb or mistrusting. You agree to every word of the document that you sign, so you better be very familiar with its contents.

I’m also not afraid to ask questions (see “being dumb” above). If you don’t understand something in the agreement, ask for it to be explained to you.

It also goes without saying that you don’t have to sign a document that you don’t agree to. If some key points are missing or just plain wrong, ask to have them corrected. Don’t succumb to pressure, which the other party will sometimes try to mount on you. Keep calm and be fine with walking away from the deal if you are not 100% comfortable with the papers.

A written agreement usually supersedes any prior discussions and promises made before signing. Make sure that the document reflects exactly what was agreed on. Read what you sign – that’s what the successful people do.