“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
In a recent study* of how people approach personal growth, it was found that 90% of effort was spent tackling symptoms, rather than deal with the problems that cause them.
Excuses aren’t the root cause of abandoned goals, because excuses themselves are a symptom of a deeper problem.
Fear of failure isn’t a root cause, either, even though fear is a favored culprit in personal growth literature.
So what is the root cause of excuses and fears?
What Are You Defending?
There’s something wonderful you need to acknowledge and embrace about being human.
Everything in you is there to help you enhance your life and advance your well-being, including the most “negative” of emotions.
Fear is a healthy defense mechanism that helps to protect you from harm. If you had zero fear of heights, then you might have made a very silly (and life-threatening) move a long time ago.
Even your pain sensors exist to ensure that you don’t cause your body any damage, and that you give your injuries the attention they need for recovery.
There are no natural self-destruct buttons in human beings.
Everything within us has a life-affirming purpose.
And you don’t gravitate towards excuses because you love making them, but because they help to protect your self-image.
And that’s where most problems spring from.
You’re not directing your human faculties to the protection and advancement of your self, but your self-image, that impression you and others have of yourself.
Excuses overlook facts in order to create positive perceptions.
Fear of failure arises as your means of protecting your self-image from being tainted by the reputation of “failure”, even when the failures aren’t truly life-threatening.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get shot down if you make a mistake giving a public speech, but we’re too afraid of having our self-image and reputation tarnished that we’re willing to limit our life experiences so that we’re never caught making a mistake or putting ourselves in a situation where others might laugh at us.
We seek to blame others for our shortcomings, even when we know that doesn’t bring us any closer to our goals. But it does reassure us that our self-image is protected from criticism, and so we settle for broken dreams rather than a wounded self-image.
The cause of many, many problems in our lives isn’t the fear of failure or the fear of success. These are symptoms.
And they arise because we care more about how others see us and how we see ourselves more than we care about growing as individuals, and making mistakes along the way.
What would happen if you stop caring about what others think of you when you make mistakes?
What would happen if you stop identifying with the mistakes you make and the failures you experience?
What would happen if you stop deriving your self-worth from what you possess, what results you get and how others see you?
You’ll realize that you’ve been investing a great deal of mental and emotional energy in protecting your self-image, which could’ve been invested in moving your life forward.
If “hacking at the branches” is a strategy that hasn’t been serving you well in life, then “striking at the root” might be a better alternative.
It’s time you let go of the self-image that’s holding you back and embrace yourself – with all the weaknesses you possess – so that you can get to experience genuine growth in life.
* This study was conducted by me, in a dark room with 3 knives, a dartboard, and 2 bananas (a researcher’s gotta eat!).