227 – Self Commitment

Self Commitment
Demand the best for yourself!

Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.

— Marcus Aurelius

How often do you find yourself starting something only to notice a few weeks or months later that you let it fall by the wayside? Today I want to talk about why we have trouble keeping commitments to ourselves, and some ideas about how we can get better about keeping those commitments.

If you’re like me, you are always interested in improving yourself. Maybe that’s cutting down on your drinking or losing weight. Maybe it learning a new skill or starting a new business. There are all kinds of goals and things you want to do to enrich your life. We approach these things with gusto and excitement as we look forward to how much better our lives will be as we implement these changes in our lives.

Fast forward a few weeks or months later and many if not all of those resolutions are just a distant memory. Our good intentions have given way to our default way of life, and we return to the way things were. We may not have even really noticed when it happened. We may have been on track for weeks, only to find a short time later we have dropped our plans as if our resolutions never even existed.

Part of the reason why I wanted to make this episode is because this happened to me recently, and I’m trying to get back on track. I was doing great with meditating every day for at least 30 minutes, but about a month ago I severely sprained my ankle and was in a lot of pain for a while. I was also having trouble sleeping, and found my motivation to keep up with things beyond the basics was pretty low. I subtly used my injury as an excuse to quit my daily practice.

So why does this happen? Why is does it seem so hard to follow through on these commitments we make to ourselves? What is it in our makeup as humans that we get pulled back to the status quo even though we really do want to make lasting changes in our lives?

For much of evolution, humans struggled to have enough to eat. Because food was often hard to come by, survival depended on smart management of energy. Expending energy when you didn’t have to could mean the difference between life and death. Luckily, for must of us, food insecurity is no longer an issue. While we may not be able to afford prime rib every night for dinner, most of us are able to buy healthy food to feed ourselves. But these habits that served humanity over thousands of years are still engrained into us. This is why for most of us our bodies are more interested in sitting down for a show on Netflix than going for a run.

When we try to change something about ourselves, our minds often struggle to adapt to the new changes that we are trying to make in our lives. Our brains work really hard to keep us safe. We’re still alive in our current situation, so our brain will naturally gravitate to what it knows. Losing weight, taking up a new workout, learning a new skill all require effort and work. We may also fail when we try to do these things, so we’ll stick with what we know because it’s safe.

Another challenging aspect in our quest for self improvement is our desire for instant gratification. We get a dopamine hit when we do something that is pleasurable now, and have a harder time imagining the payoff we’ll get in the future. Some examples of short term pleasures that hit that dopamine switch include alcohol, entertainment, drugs, social media, and plenty of foods that are tasty but are not good for us.

There is nothing wrong with some of these short term pleasures in moderation, though one problem with chasing these short term pleasures is that that the effect is also short term. If we constantly chase after these short term pleasures, we also find that each subsequent time usually is less pleasurable than the one preceding. I learned this as a young child when I had my very first piece of cheesecake. I loved it so much that I happily took a second one, only to find that rather than enjoying as much as the first, it had the opposite effect and I started to feel sick to my stomach.

These short term pleasures often have long term consequences. For example, if we eat too much unhealthy food, we put on extra weight. If we spend too much time playing video games we don’t spend time on relationships or hobbies or other things that enrich our lives.

When we don’t keep these commitments to ourselves, there are a few things that happen. We develop a habit of breaking our word to ourselves. Often we’re much better about keep our commitments to others than we are to ourselves. If we were to behave this way towards our friends, we would erode their trust in us. The more we do this to ourselves, the more we erode our trust in ourselves.

We also create inertia that moves us in the wrong direction. We might think to ourselves, “I can’t keep my commitment to eating healthy, so why bother cutting down on alcohol?” This kind of self-sabotage is often the main reason we don’t accomplish the things we really want to. We will often use this setbacks as proof that we just can’t do it.

Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility. Save yourself.

—Naval Ravikant

How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?


So what can we do to help us get better about making the changes we want in our lives and avoid self-sabotage?

It comes down to self discipline. It’s about being able to get yourself to do the things you want to do for you.

Self discipline is the ability to make and keep commitments to yourself.

Self discipline is taking responsibility for your actions and choices, and not blaming them on things outside of yourself.

Now I know that self-discipline kind of gets a bad wrap because we think it’s too hard. And yeah, if we’re not in the habit of keeping commitments to ourselves, it is hard. Often though, it comes down to changing our perspective on things and what we make it mean.

For example, committing to eating healthy food is much easier to do if we look at it with the perspective that we are nourishing our bodies so we feel and think better. It’s much more challenging if we look at it as if we’re being deprived of all this other food that we can’t eat. Having a clear idea of why you’re working on changing something will go a long way towards helping you stay on track.

One of the stoic tools that we have is negative visualization, or premeditato malorum. We make a list of all the things that can go wrong, and how we’ll solve each of them. For example, if your are trying to lose weight and you are following a specific diet, you list all the things that could derail you from eating healthy. Maybe going out to dinner with friends is challenging because you always get dessert, so you decide to find a few restaurants that have healthier options that fit with your diet. Maybe you hate shopping for food, so you have your partner do the shopping or you pay a delivery service to do it for you. Anything that might be an issue, you find a solution to work around it.

Since many of our goals are things that just fall by the wayside, another way that we can help ourselves it by giving ourselves a way out. Yes, that’s right, you decide under what conditions you’ll allow yourself to quit, and commit to yourself that you can only quit if you make a conscious decision to do so. You are not allowed to just let it fall by the wayside. For example if you are trying to lose weight you decide that you will quit the diet you’re on if you follow it successfully for 6 months and you don’t lose any weight. And if you reach that point where you make that conscious choice to quit, you also commit to finding another way to lose the weight you want.

Learning to keep commitments to ourselves is for me, the ultimate expression of self care. It’s about you deciding that you are important enough to keep those commitments to over all else. And the better you are about keeping your word to yourself, the better you are about actually reaching the goals that you set out, and ultimately have the life you want.

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philosophy stoicism

197 – What’s Your Excuse?

What’s Your Excuse?

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“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice–now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! […] Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do–now.”

— Epictetus

We all have events and challenges that happen in our lives. That what life is all about. When the stoics use the term Amor Fati, what they mean is to love your fate, to love and accept what life sends your way. How you feel about the events that happen to you in your life will not change if they are going to happen or not. They will happen. What thoughts you have around these events, how you feel about them, and how you respond to them are the only things that you have control over.

If this is the case, why do we make excuses? Why do we come up with rationalizations about these how we do or don’t, especially when the rationalizations just make us feel worse about the actions we want to take anyway?

In the 1983 film The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum and Tom Berenger have this great exchange:

Michael : I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam Weber : Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael : Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

— Jeff Goldblum & Tom Berenger, The Big Chill

Why We Make Excuses

Part of the reason why we rationalize is evolutionary. On its surface, when we make excuses, part of it is that our brain might honestly be trying to figure something out. It might be trying to find reasons to do or not do what we want. If it is after the fact, we might be trying to understand why we did what we did. So what is the difference between a cause and an excuse?

A cause is a fact that can be proven.

An excuse is an explanation designed to avoid or alleviate guilt or negative outcome, perception, or judgement.

So what would be an example of a cause? The cause of why I cannot slam a basketball is because I cannot jump high enough to reach a basketball rim. My physique is such that I do not have the height or muscle to get even close to the rim. It has nothing to do with my desire to or how much I “want” it. It has to do with physics.

A rationalization on the other hand might be blaming a bad mood on getting bad sleep or that traffic was bad on the way to work. We use rationalizations to justify our own behavior and avoid taking full responsibility for our choices and actions.

The reason why this came up is because I mentioned to my partner about how I was feeling like I was not able to get myself organized because was in survival mode because of my incessant insomnia. I explained that I wanted to get more organized, but I was always so tired. I also talked about how working on mindfulness was too challenging because I was so tired all the time, and that I felt I needed to get my health back online so that I could focus on those things. She said those were just excuses, and that I was always going to be tired or have something that could be used to rationalize to myself or others why I did, or in this case did not, do something.

She was right.

This does not mean that I should forgo working on my health. Being healthy certainly helps with focus and the ability to think more clearly, but that I recognize I can find a way to get organized even when these things are happening. It might be more challenging, and I may not be able to do it how I want to, but that I can get it done. Simply put, you’re rarely going to have ideal conditions to accomplish your goals or develop your skill. Life happens, and if you wait around for things to be just perfect, you’ll never accomplish anything.

Personal Rationalizations

How often do we make excuses of why we do/don’t do the things we “should” do, such as cleaning the dishes, organizing our desk, or eating healthier food? We consider our actions wrong in this case because we have somehow decided that our actions are wrong. We have decided that eating that piece of carrot cake is wrong. Not doing the dishes right away is wrong. Having a disorganized desk is wrong. We make up excuses because we think we should do something and we don’t want to do it.

I think that if we aren’t honest with ourselves about why we do things, then it’s harder to be honest with others about things. If we practice giving ourselves excuses all the time, why would we suddenly be able to be more honest with others?

External Rationalizations

Why do we make excuses and and rationalize our behavior to other people?

When we choose something and it doesn’t work, we look for reasons outside of ourselves because of our ego. We don’t like to be wrong.

This begs the question: why are we so afraid to be wrong? What is it about being wrong that makes us avoid it so strongly? That we will double down in an argument, to prove our point to our detriment, ignoring facts and even logic, just to not be wrong?

From an evolutionary standpoint, it does make sense. In ancient times, if you made a wrong decision and you died, then the rest of your tribe could die because you were not able to bring back food. Our brains are wired for that kind of survival, where if you were wrong it could have ended your life and the lives of your family. By upsetting the wrong person, or choosing the wrong plants to eat, or not having the right weapons when you were hunting. Any number of scenarios that we rarely, if ever, need to face in our lives, but our brains are still wired for a different set of dangers. Luckily for us, our brains are also quite malleable, and we can learn how to recalibrate our responses to recognize what is truly dangerous and what is imagined.

We’re also afraid of the opinions or reactions of others. We’re afraid of being shamed or humiliated. This can have some pretty big consequences. For example, if we are wrong about something in our career and have to own up to it, it might mean that we lose credibility in the eyes of our colleagues. We may not get the promotion we were working towards. We might get fired.

Politicians and leaders are often afraid to admit they were wrong about something because people might no longer support or follow them. They try to spin things in such a way that the fault is on some other circumstance or some other person, or group of people, all in an effort to try and preserve their reputation.

We also make up excuses to avoid conflict.  Growing up, I was afraid that if I was wrong, I would get beaten by my dad. If I had a good enough excuse that could mollify him, then there was a good chance that I would be safe. Basically, I learned to be deceptive to be safe. I did it with the church as well, because if I did something that the church didn’t like, I could be shunned by my community. I could anger my father if I was kicked out of the church. I might not be able to get jobs in Utah if was not longer a member.

We aren’t necessarily afraid of being wrong, but we are afraid of the consequences of being wrong.

What Can We Do?

The more we can be honest with ourselves about what we really want to do, the better off we’ll be. The more we can be okay with the choices we make and decide what is a priority and what is not, the more we can let go of feeling like we have to justify our actions. You don’t have to justify your actions, you just have to own them. If you are in a grumpy mood, own it. Don’t make excuses why. Just own that you are, and figure out a solution to change it if you want, or just sit with that mood. If you don’t want to clean your desk, don’t come up with all the reasons why you can’t. Just decide you want to, and do it, or decide you don’t want to and don’t. Get rid of all the guilt and shame around it.

When dealing with others, be mindful of when you make excuses. Are you coming up with reasons so they don’t get upset? Then just stick to the causes of something. When you make excuses, you are trying to place the blame on someone or something else. If you just stick to the facts of what happened, you are more likely to understand the actual cause of something. Remember, a cause of something is a fact. An excuse is way to try and avoid the consequences.

Learning how to be honest with ourselves is very challenging. We rationalize our behavior to ourselves on a daily, if not hourly, basis. If we take the time to be intensional about our choices, we can get rid of a lot of guilt and shame for doing the things we already want to do, and we can be better at owning our choices and actions around others.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.