Are excuses holding you back from living your best life?

Break free from the shackles of self-defeating excuses that prevent you from living at the highest levels of success, happiness and health. Dr Wayne W Dyer tells you how…

Man held back by a giant iron ball chained to his wrist / Concept of excuses

In addition to our genetic makeup, the other big excuse that most of us use to justify unhappiness, poor health, and lack of success is the family and cultural conditioning we’ve been programmed with. To that end, there’s a fascinating area of inquiry known as memetics, which deals with the mind and is analogous to the relationship of genetics to the body. So as the basic unit of genetics is the gene, the basic unit of memetics is the meme [rhymes with team]. Yet, unlike an atom or an electron, the meme has no physical properties. According to Richard Brodie, in his work Virus of the Mind, it’s a “thought, belief or attitude in your mind that can spread to and from other people’s minds.”

Once a meme is in your mind, it can and will subtly influence your behaviour. This is one of the ways you acquire a huge category of excuses that keep you in a rut. For example: “My memes made me do it! I can’t help it! These ideas [beliefs, attitudes] have been passed on to me from one mind to another for generations, and there’s nothing I can do about the way I think. These memes have been the building blocks of my mind, and I can’t deprogram myself from these viruses of the mind that just keep replicating and spreading. These ideas [memes] are so much a part of me that it’s impossible to ‘disinfect’ myself from the results of all of these mind viruses.” Every excuse is, in reality, a meme that was once planted in your mind.

Your two minds

Sometime ago I challenged myself to study the process of making dramatic thought transitions, using attitudes and behaviours that had been with me for a lifetime. For several years I scrutinized precisely what I did to undo old patterns in myself. This activity led me to question basic beliefs about the legitimacy of environmental and genetic authority in determining who I am and what I can change. Due to my success in modifying my thoughts and, subsequently, my actions, I developed a new paradigm for eliminating unwanted, lifelong thinking habits. At first glance, much of what I’m sharing here may seem radical and inconsistent with established psychological and sociological academic tenets. So be it. Here is what I believe—this is how I see it!

In a brilliant one-act play by Jean-Paul Sartre titled No Exit, the central character states emphatically: “A man is what he wills himself to be.” This idea of willpower is a core theme in much of my earlier writing, and I still strongly subscribe to the belief that we all have within us an invisible force that we recognize as will. But I also know that there are many facets of our lives that seem to be beyond the pale of the will—for example, it often isn’t enough to eliminate lifelong habits. Identifying and changing some thoughts, particularly those that have been with us for what seems like forever, requires a brand-new perceptual process.

In contrast to Sartre’s observation, Ralph Waldo Emerson offers this: “Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence.” In the 1600s, Benedict de Spinoza made a similar observation about the human mind, which I read in my college days and have never forgotten: “[T]he human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God.” I still apply this to myself whenever I question how or why I got myself into one of the many predicaments I’ve brought upon myself throughout my adult life.

The mind that Spinoza is referring to has no form or substance; is always working—even while you’re sleeping—and, most significantly, is your connection to Source. Viewed in this light, it is your personal God component, always with you and always ready to serve you in fulfilling another of Spinoza’s observations: “The mind’s highest good is the knowledge of God.” Yes, your mind is largely responsible for who and what you’ve become, but there’s also a beingness buried within you, in a place where your thoughts originate. Emerson suggests that it’s a mystery, “descending into us from we know not whence.”

These two ideas about human nature combine in you to form what I call two minds: The one that’s frequently referred to as your “conscious mind” is what I call “creative consciousness”; and the other is your “habitual mind,” which I call the subconscious mind. Yet whether they originate in creative consciousness or the habitual mind, I believe that any thought patterns that don’t enhance and expand your joyous development are excuses. As you’ll see, this means that you have far more influence than you’ve probably been led to believe to rearrange and change ineffectual and harmful beliefs or ideas.

Creative consciousness

In this paradigm, the conscious mind is more accurately described as the creative conscious mind. This close-to-the-surface, non-habitual mind makes endless decisions about what you wear, what you eat, what appointments you keep, what time you go to bed, and thousands of other daily choices in your life. This invisible and “placeless place” is the part of your brain that makes and cancels plans, adds new ones, and thinks continuously. This creative consciousness is always there, to the point that even when you want to shut it down, it can be extremely difficult to do so… the thoughts just keep coming. What an immeasurable benefit to consider that this vast, mysterious mind is really part of the Source that creates everything, as Spinoza suggests.

So if your mind is a creator, just as God’s mind is a creator of the universe, then it can perform at the absolutely highest level imaginable. The creative force asks for nothing and has no ego—it’s simply an instrument of giving, providing and offering at all times with no consideration for itself. Put another way, the highest calling of your conscious creative mind is to be the human equivalent of God’s mind. Yet you’ll probably agree that most of your thoughts focus on the relatively tiny universe of your human self!

Rest assured that you can choose to learn how to shift your everyday thoughts away from What am I doing? What can I get? and How quickly can I get it? to Spinoza’s concept of discovering the highest-functioning, all-knowing part of yourself. This may sound like a tall order, but I guarantee that reprogramming your creative conscious mind is really a simple matter. The endless thoughts of me, me, me are close to the surface and highly susceptible to change.

The creative conscious mind can do almost anything you instruct it to do: It can change thoughts at your bidding, practice affirmations you create, wander in blissful meditation at your invitation, and learn almost any new skill at your insistence. It can think of everything you direct it to. Through discipline, effort, and continual practice, it can also accomplish almost anything you focus your thoughts on.

The problem with creative consciousness is that its constant shifts and changes can overwhelm/flood you. It’s often referred to as “the monkey mind” because it keeps flitting about almost continuously, first having one thought, then another, and then still another. Most of this close-to-the-surface mental activity is the ego’s attempt to dance to the beat of rhythms and influences that are outside of you, which are probably unwanted and unnecessary, and running your life without your permission. Your creative consciousness has developed a weak connection that’s full of static, so its signals from a part of the infinite intellect of God are silenced by an ego-based accompaniment that broadcasts: What’s in it for me? How do I look? How much money can I make? How can I get ahead? Whom do I have to please? Why are there so many demands on me? On and on these thoughts come, then go, then come right back.

There’s statistical evidence that the conscious mind occupies approximately five per cent of the total workings of the brain, leaving 95 per cent to the realm of the subconscious. Percentages interest me less than the ability to sense your mind as not some amorphous component of your being that’s constantly changing from one ego-based thought to another, but rather as evidence of your nature, or your connection to the infinite intellect of creation. This style of magnificent respect alerts you to your ability to access the highest function of your mind.

There’s statistical evidence that the conscious mind occupies approximately five per cent of the total workings of the brain

The Habitual [Subconscious] mind

Man holding a blank white paper
Imagine that your subconscious is like a clean slate with no preconceived ideas

According to Tor Nørretranders, the author of The User Illusion, the subconscious mind has been calculated to process millions of environmental stimuli per second versus only a few dozen environmental stimuli per second that the conscious mind can process. Conventional psychological wisdom says that much of what you believe about yourself, along with almost all of your daily actions, is programmed into your subconscious or habitual mind. You spend a great deal of your time operating on automatic pilot, so to speak. In fact, you could visualize your two minds as co-pilots: the conscious mind is aware of its thoughts but is a minor player, like a real pilot in training; while the subconscious takes care of virtually everything you need to think, say, or do.

I take exception to this assertion that the habitual mind runs the show, doing everything that the creative mind isn’t paying attention to. According to this view, the habitual mind is like a computer running a downloaded program that will play throughout your life—it’s been permanently programmed from the moment of conception, and it’s next to impossible to get new software to rewrite existing programs. I simply cannot agree that a part of your mind was nourished by ideas, images, and input that continue to be necessary for your sustainability today. It’s my contention that this is a false belief that’s easily revealed as an excuse. I don’t believe that anyone has to live with the belief that they have programming in their subconscious mind that can’t be rewritten. I’ll explain my perspective on this issue.

If you’re the way you are because of something that’s subconscious—that is, below your level of waking consciousness—then it’s clearly something you can do nothing about. You can’t even talk about it, since it’s beyond your conscious mind. For the same reason, you can’t understand it; you can’t challenge it; and, most egregiously, you can’t change or fix it. How can you fix something that’s totally inaccessible? It would be like attempting to repair a broken watch that was sealed away in a vault: obviously, you’d need the combination to enter into that previously inaccessible space.

If something is subconscious and thus automatic, it’s believed that you don’t have a choice in the matter. And to me, that’s the most regrettable thing about this subconscious model: believing that you don’t have a choice. The truth, as I see it, is that everything you think, say, and do is a choice—and you don’t need to think, speak, or act as you’ve done for your entire life. When you abandon making choices, you enter the vast world of excuses.

Right now, decide to begin choosing instead of excusing. You can instantly decide to reprogram and direct your life toward the level of happiness, success, and health that you prefer.

I’ve had a downloaded pattern since childhood, and it concerns my stroke in my daily swim. Some people who have observed me making my way through the ocean have said that I swim as though I’ve had a stroke. I never paid much attention to what others said until I discovered that the way I kicked my feet [using only my right leg, while my left leg stayed motionless] was putting undue pressure on my back and throwing me out of alignment as I practised yoga and simply got older.

When I was advised to change the way I swam by kicking both legs simultaneously, my first reaction was to think, I can’t change my swimming style—I’ve been doing it this way for almost 60 years! I even swam competitively with this “Dyer stroke.” This is something I’ve downloaded into me from thousands of hours of swimming and is a subconscious habit. Yet after putting to the test the ideas I’m writing about, I was able to rather easily adopt a brand-new swimming stroke, even though I was 65 years of age at the time.

Just like my being able to rather quickly change a 60-year-old habit, you can access the program you’re operating with by examining your thoughts. Your habitual mind takes over when you choose to ignore your conscious beliefs, and you just continue to act in ways you’ve been programmed to. But you can shift to your creative mind and explore your options. You don’t have to buy the old argument that a part of you in inaccessible, unreachable, or buried so deep down inside that undoing early programming is impossible. You’ll never successfully reprogram your computer, or your mind, by telling it to stop spewing out the same garbage. You’re stuck until you change to a new operating system or download some new files… but first you have to know that this is an option.

Think of the many ways in which you identify yourself, particularly in the gray area of deeply entrenched thoughts. Identify the programs in your habitual mind that are so outdated that they’re hampering your system. Those attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts that don’t serve you are excuses, ultimately destined to be sent to the trash bin.

Mark Twain had this wonderful observation about how we change old, unwanted ways of thinking and behaving: “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” My objective is to help you coax down the stairs those ways of thinking that keep you from living your life at the optimal level. Should this seem daunting, know that it doesn’t have to be a lengthy, winding staircase that takes years to traverse. Or, to use the computer metaphor, your internal system is as capable of change as contemporary operating systems are.

Right now, decide to begin choosing instead of excusing — Dr Wayne DyerReaching into the part of your mind that works on automatic pilot as a result of early programming and conditioning isn’t nearly as troublesome as allowing it to continue to run your life. It’s actually quite uncomplicated and won’t take a great deal of time to shift from old habits to new choices. You are a part of the same intelligence that creates worlds; in fact, your mind is that intelligence. Knowing this, how could you consider a part of you to be unreachable or unprogrammable? No part of you is unreachable, no matter how automatic or habitual it may have become.

Certain aspects of your life may seem to be governed by a force that you’re unaware of, and you can feel that there’s no possibility of choice and that you’re imprisoned by your excuse inventory: I can’t really help it; it’s just my nature; I’ve always been this way. Talk about futility! However, anytime you choose, you can access your habitual mind and begin to reprogram it, changing patterns that may have been useful once but no longer work for you.

Seeing yourself through a new lens

Father of modern psychology, William James, urges us to be aware of the danger of living as if there are no choices. I am personally convinced that everyone has a capacity for greatness that transcends anything they’ve been taught to believe, that every being who’s ever existed is in fact a portion of the all-creating power of intention. Since we’re all pieces of the infinite creative Source, we should continually be telling ourselves, “I came from God, and since I must be like what I came from, I am a piece of the Divine.” Trying to imagine the all-creating spiritual force coming up with excuses for anything is impossible, because it is creating from its own consciousness.

Now put yourself in this picture. While your mind is part of the unlimited Source, it becomes limited when you believe it to be fallible, weak, impotent, or any other adjective that misidentifies with creative energy. When you edge God out in this manner, you invite ego—which is known as the “false self” by spiritual teachers of all persuasions—in.

I invite you to try on a new lens that lets you access your false self with its tons of excuses and its belief in limitations. As it edges God out, your false self forces you to part with ideas that prove you’re a spiritual being having a temporary human experience. Ego gives you a rationale for creating the rationalizations and justifications that eventually go on to direct your life. They become so embedded in what social scientists call the subconscious that your habitual mind turns into an excuse machine.

Allow yourself to look through your new lens by acquiring a set of beliefs that includes your spiritual or God-realized nature. It may feel a little unfamiliar, or even mysterious, at first, but be willing to allow your senses to adjust to this new way of seeing. Transcend the idea that your genetic makeup is static. With your new ability to perceive ego, you’ll become a wizard who easily dethrones the dictator of your false self, bypassing early conditioning imposed by people in your environment who have edged God out.

As you get comfortable with this new way of seeing yourself, ask yourself the following question: If no one told me who I was, who would I be? Quietly meditate on this by spending some time in the spaciousness of not knowing. Imagine that your subconscious mind is nonexistent and there is no storage receptacle for excuses during your life. There’s just an open and inviting clear space inside of you—a tabula rasa, or blank slate, with a magical surface that nothing adheres to. You might imagine that your everyday conscious mind simply doesn’t absorb the opinions of the folks you grew up with. In this little fantasy, there’s never been anyone telling you who you are. So who are you?

When I did this exercise, I found that my answer to the above question was quite simply: I would be anything that I, and only I, decided to be in this moment and all future moments. As the song goes, “I’ve gotta be me,” and that means jettisoning all of the excuses I’ve accumulated. My habitual life wouldn’t be based upon anyone’s early programming, since there wouldn’t be anyone who ever told me who I am. Or, as the Tao teaches:

Look to nature for your sustenance
Look to the great mysterious Tao [God] that
does nothing and leaves nothing undone
Observe how the entire universe and all of
these beautiful Tao-centered creatures work

Tao-centred creatures allow. They trust. They live here in the present moment and, most assuredly, they have no need for any excuses.

Applying your fresh perspective to common excuse categories

Now I’d like to show you how you can take the fresh perspective you’ve gained by looking through your new lens. The excuse categories of genetics, memetics, and consciousness are about to be shown the door.

Your new outlook on genetic programming

I’m sure you’re familiar with some variation of this popular excuse: “I can’t help it; it runs in my family.” New biology, however, has proven that beliefs can override DNA, so move what you thought was a fact to the “excuse file” by altering how you view its authenticity. You can change what you perceive as immutable and beyond your reach by eliminating excuses such as the ones in the genetic excuse category.

As Gregg Braden writes in his astonishing book The Spontaneous Healing of Belief:

Paradigm-shattering experiments published in leading-edge, peer-reviewed journals reveal that we’re bathed in a field of intelligent energy that fills what used to be thought as empty space. Additional discoveries show beyond any reasonable doubt that this field responds to us—it rearranges itself—in the presence of our heart-based feelings and beliefs. And this is the revolution that changes everything.

Here are two exercises to practice applying these ideas to your genetic program:

  1. Be open to scientifically verified idea that your beliefs have the power to rearrange and change the material world. Start by making this particularly pertinent for you in your physical and personal destiny by contemplating that more things of this nature are possible than you’ve previously experienced. Allow these new thoughts about your biology to gently enter your belief system. Encourage yourself to consider your beliefs as things that affect you, perhaps even more than physical particles do. If it suits you, you may even see beliefs as non-particles in the non-material or spiritual world.
  2. Create an affirmation that attests to this new no-excuses philosophy for genetics. Something from the following list would work fine, but feel free to come up with your own:
  • I can change my body’s infirmities by shifting my beliefs.
  • I have the power to undo old thoughts about my genetic destiny.
  • If I stay with them and live from my heart, my beliefs can inspire new talents if I so desire.
  • I can heal anything by healing my beliefs first.
  • I intend to keep my beliefs uppermost, and I refuse to blame anything in the material world for any deficiencies in my life.

Your new outlook on memetic programming

Man jumping from one end of rock to another
Take the jump, leave your self-limiting thoughts behind and embrace a no-excuses life

Again, this is an excuse category that you’ve probably depended on to justify why life isn’t what you really want it to be. These are the big mind-virus excuses. My family made me the way I am, and I can’t change it. My early childhood experience and all of the unfair criticism I received explain why I have low self-esteem. I’m stuck in this place because I’ve been infected by a multitude of mind viruses and environmental facts that have left me shortchanged when it comes to fulfilling a higher destiny. How can I change what I’ve imitated and mimicked for so many years? I’ve been infected by mind viruses, and it’s impossible to change.

What follows are two exercises to practice applying to your memetic program:

  1. Affirm: I believe that I am perfectly capable of overcoming any early conditioning I have adopted as a part of my personality and my current life experience. Know that research is demonstrating that the power of thought is aligned with the universal mind, which many call “the Tao” or “God”. Just hang on to this idea for now—it will become clearer as you progress through this course in Stop the Excuses!
  2. Assert that anything that’s been programmed into you and acts like a virus is perfectly capable of being deprogrammed if you decide it’s worth the effort. Remind yourself that since you’re not presently a victim of beliefs that were modelled for you when you were much younger, using these as excuses is no longer your method. At this point you don’t even have to know how to deprogram or disinfect yourself. All you need to believe is that you have the ability and will begin now.

Here’s an affirmation that will guide you to awareness and answers: I am much more powerful today than the old programs and mind viruses that I absorbed in my childhood. Telling yourself this will make your inner teacher appear!

Your new outlook on creative consciousness

The everyday activity of your creative consciousness also proliferates excuses. You might think that you have no control over the thoughts that just keep popping into your head, but consider this radical idea: Your thoughts are not located in your head. Thought is an energy system that isn’t found anywhere in the physical world. The universe itself and everything in it is both mental and spiritual in nature. You create a field of energy with your thoughts, and the field creates all of the particles, or what Lao-tzu called “the world of the 10,000 things.” This energy field is an important function of the body; your conscious mind is always working and connecting to this field from which everything is intended.

Apply these two exercises:

  1. Quiet the mind by practising daily meditation. As Sogyal Rinpoche wrote in the The Tibetan Book on Living and Dying: “The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well.” Find a way to give yourself that gift and access your conscious creative mind by eliminating unnecessary, unwanted, superfluous thoughts through meditation.
  2. Use positive proclamations daily that are life enhancing and align you with the loving Source of everything. Rather than allowing your thoughts to insist that something is wrong or missing, retrain your conscious creative mind with beliefs such as these: What I desire is already here; I just haven’t connected to it yet. It can’t be stopped because my thoughts are aligned with the mind or intellect of God.

Your new outlook on habitual consciousness

In this category you’ll find excuses such as: “I can’t help the way I am because I’ve had so many limiting ideas programmed into me. It’s my subconscious, so I can’t even reach in there and examine it, let alone deprogram myself. If you believe that your mind is below your level of conscious awareness, you’ve created a ready excuse to use whenever it’s difficult to change your thinking. And if the self-limiting thoughts have been with you for years, it seems like a perfect excuse. So rename the subconscious mind the habitual mind.

Habit implies that you’ve made the same choices over time, and your thoughts and behaviours are simply accustomed to a certain way of being. It also suggests that there’s room to make your thoughts less automatic and more aligned with the realm of choice. Practice the following as you start to eliminate excuses from your habitual mind:

  1. Begin noticing what you’re thinking as a way to weaken your reliance on the excuse of your subconscious. Repeating these quotes can be helpful: “Every extension of knowledge arises from making conscious the unconscious” [Friedrich Nietzsche], and “The unconscious… is dangerous only when our conscious attitude towards it becomes hopelessly false” [from Modern Man in Search of a Soul, by Carl Jung]. Two of the world’s greatest teachers state that you can change previously unconscious thinking habits and bring them to your conscious mind. Relying upon the excuse of a subconscious mind is both false and dangerous. Why not create your version of those quotes as well? Try something like this: “I am perfectly capable of reaching into my own mind and changing anything about myself that is supported by my habitual thinking patterns, even if they seem to be automatic at this point in time.” Speak your truth in a way that assists your choice to rid yourself of those excuses.
  2. Make this motto for your thoughts: Do good things, and don’t do bad things! Bad thoughts prompt you to engage in self-limiting behaviours; good thoughts, on the other hand, support your desire and capacity to live at high levels of joy, success, and health.

1. From Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, translated by Brian Walker [Harper Collins, 1994].

Excerpted with permission from Stop the Excuses: How to Change Lifelong Thoughts By Dr Wayne Dyer; published by Hay House India.

This excerpt also appeared in the November 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!


  1. Wow! Epic post! Great job and I love all the different perspectives and ideas provided. Thanks for pulling all this together.


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