Imagine this: You’ve been diagnosed with a rare and serious disease. In hopes of keeping you alive, the doctor recommends a new, experimental course of treatment. It works for some people—maybe 60%. But it’s covered by your insurance, and if you are in the 60%, you’ll be successfully cured in six months. What do you do?
Of course, you say yes. Maybe you’ll get unlucky and it won’t work for you, but it’s worth a try. You’d probably try the treatment even with only a 10% success rate. The reality is that even the best drugs don’t work for everyone, and yet we still take them. But when it comes to finding our focus, so many of us are unwilling to apply the same logic.
As someone who literally wrote the book on distraction, I’m constantly amazed at how often people turn up their noses at tried-and-true wisdom. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say that no, they haven’t tried this strategy or that technique to stay focused, but that’s just because they already know it wouldn’t make a difference. They insist they simply can’t be helped.
“Sure, that works for most people,” they say, “but that just won’t work for me.”
Here’s the truth: Some no-cost techniques for staying focused, like building a schedule to replace your to-do list and converting that into a “time-boxed” weekly calendar, have been proven to be highly effective for nearly everyone who implements them. Saying something “won’t work for me” is simply a way to get out of trying.
I’ll offer another example. Let’s say your teenage daughter wants to play basketball with a competitive local team, but she feels unsure about trying out because she’s not especially tall. Only half of the players at tryouts will make the team, and the tryouts are in three months. What advice do you give your daughter?
You’ll probably tell her something like, “For the next three months, get out there and practice every day. Then, do your very best at the tryouts. Maybe you’ll get in, maybe you won’t, but at least you tried.”
You’ll say this to her because you know that even though not everyone will make the team, everyone who wants to be on the team should try out. Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s worth a shot.
I know people who complain all day long that they don’t have enough time and yet immediately dismiss the time-management methods that work for the majority of people, convinced they’ll be part of the minority. They rack their brains to think of one possible scenario where the advice wouldn’t fit and then use that one exceptional case to dismiss the whole idea.
In addition to being a failure of introspection and a self-sabotaging mental barrier, this is just faulty logic. It’s based on the premise that since there are outliers to a rule, they should make the rule according to the exception.
In reality, they’re looking for a reason to think of themselves as the exception so they don’t have to do the work of changing their behavior. They’d rather stay stuck than give tried-and-true tactics a chance.
Don’t fall for this excuse trap.
Look for credible sources who have done the research to provide science-based, practical solutions and then don’t just learn what to do—actually do it. If a method fails, you can move on to something else, but at least you’ll know you’ve given it your best shot.
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