I've listened to or read about people wanting to improve their lives by bettering their marriage, losing more weight, decreasing financial debt, going back to school, reading more books, or doing something else. But then these people follow it up with “I don’t have enough time” or “I wish I could make more time.” Let me say that if you tell yourself this, what you're really saying is that what you think you want to do isn't important enough to actually do it. If it were important, you would do it and there wouldn't be a question as to whether or not there was time because you would always make certain there was.

Most people reading this are aware of how influential strength training has been in our lives. It is evident in the choices we make to better ourselves or become stronger individuals. When I look at people in my life who have put their time into a physically demanding sport—whether it be powerlifting, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or anything else that requires a great deal of mental and physical exertion—most of them have a clear path in their life toward obtaining what they want. You never hear them say “If I can do this," “If I can make time for that,” or “I hope to do this.” They go out and do it. This doesn't mean that their end result won't be met with obstacles, because it will. But it means that they won't make excuses for what happens.

When I approach a decision to change my life or my current situation, I never have a plan B. A plan B will only distract you from plan A. Continue with plan A until you've conquered it. More times than not, plan A will take longer to reach than you originally intended. That’s life, where very little goes as planned. What you thought might take two years could end up taking five years. Life will test you to see how bad you want something. I remember in 2002 when I did my first deadlift. I barely locked out 225 pounds. It was actually too heavy because the guy who showed me told me to drop the weight because my form was awful. But I had to at least finish out the one rep.

I didn't deadlift much after that night until I watched my first powerlifting meet in September 2005. I went with someone I knew named Aaron Courtney, who at the time was one of the top deadlifters in the world. We spoke a lot about training and nutrition, but when I watched the meet, I noticed two important things. First, the people who were competing were insanely strong, and to get insanely strong, I knew I had to start squatting and deadlifting. Second, I realized something that had evaded me for years—I was training like a pussy. It was that simple. Most people in the gym do machines and the “easy” lifts because, well, they're easy. It's a false sense of accomplishment because you did something without really doing something. I know this is a broad generalization because there are those who have excelled when using machines, but they are the exception to the rule. There are those who simply can get strong by hanging wallpaper. Unfortunately or, in some ways, fortunately because continued hard work and dedication build character, they aren't most people, and I'm certainly not one of them.

I was never a gifted athlete, but I always prided myself on working my ass off to earn what I thought was mine. When Aaron mentioned that he deadlifted over 600 pounds at his first meet to win, I set my ultimate deadlift goal at 600 pounds. While a 600-pound raw deadlift is a far cry from a world record, it's certainly a very respectable lift and not something many people can say they've achieved. My first deadlift one-rep max was 225 pounds. Now, it's at 575 pounds, just 25 pounds away from my goal. Those 25 pounds have been the hardest ones I've ever had to work for. Life will test us to see how bad we want what we're after, and life was testing me with the difficulty in adding that extra 25 pounds. To be honest, I actually walked away from that goal for about six months last year. I got to the point where I was sick and tired of always having to hit numbers each night in the gym and it was wearing me down, both mentally and physically. I needed a break. It was nice to get my toe wet in another sport, but in the back of my mind, the thought of pulling 600 pounds never left. It was still there and always will be until it happens.

Now my training has started to come full circle and I'm back to hitting my numbers, getting stronger, and setting my sights on another meet in the distant future. I want to give myself adequate time so that I come in stronger than I have ever been in my life. To be honest, I want to accomplish this goal so that I can move on to something different because this lift has been on my mind every week for the past seven years.

When we decide to make a choice to better our lives, we need to apply the same principles we use to develop our training program to develop our new goal. If we devise new training guidelines out of the fear of not getting stronger or, even worse, of getting weaker, perhaps we need to develop a new guideline toward our new goal out of the fear of living a life in decadence.

When I train, I sometimes train as if my life is on the line. This might sound dramatic to most, but if I'm having an off night, I will spend some extra time getting myself into the mindset that if I don't get this lift, I'll be killed. I'll imagine someone holding a gun to my head, and if I miss it, they will pull the trigger. This is one of the more PG-rated thoughts I've had. It's one way that I've learned to operate and one of the resources I sometimes have to go to in order to accomplish what I set out to do.

There will be a point when it's time for us to put everything on the line and test ourselves with the choices we have made to become a better person. In the pursuit of this, sometimes we will fail. When this happens, it's imperative that we don't make excuses for what happened. People can see right through excuses, even the ones who proclaim the excuse. Excuses are what weak people use when something doesn't go their way. Don't be weak. Separate yourself from the crowd and show everyone that you are better than that. You will stand back up and keep pushing forward. A person’s true character is on display when they hit rock bottom. Don't be the person who pouts and complains and points the finger at someone else for why he didn't succeed. Instead, be the person who accepts the responsibility for failing, who analyzed why he failed, and thought about what he can do to improve so it reduces the chances of him failing again the next time.

If your goal is to improve your life by bettering your relationships, losing more weight, decreasing financial debt, going back to school, or reading more books, you need to do so out of the fear of the reverse happening. If you neglect to make your wife or girlfriend feel important, she will leave you. If you eat this pizza, it will cause you to get fatter. If you buy this new car, you will go bankrupt. If you don’t go back to school, you might never be able to apply for a good job. By realizing that the negative consequences of your actions are a real possibility, perhaps you'll make a more conscious effort to follow through with the new goal that you've set for yourself.

A friend of mine, Emma Williams, just competed in her first fitness competition last month at the 2013 NPC Northern Kentucky Bodybuilding, Bikini, Physique and Figure Championship. In four months time, she dropped 55 pounds. How did she do this? She did it by not making excuses and holding herself accountable. Emma didn't have a single cheat meal for four months and trained her ass off every week. No sweets, no pop, no skipping the gym, nothing. She made a choice and followed through with it. It was that simple.

So how do you go about making the correct choices and sticking to it? It's straight forward but will involve a lot of self-discipline, devotion, and patience:

  1. Decide what you want to do and accomplish. Be honest with yourself and be specific.
  2. Make a plan for how you'll get there. Keep it simple and don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. Even a simple checklist can be of value.
  3. Follow that plan. Realize that the decisions you make will determine the outcome. Make the correct choices.
  4. Be positive. Negative energy will never work with you; it will only work against you in your pursuit of being a better person.
  5. Don't make excuses. If we succeed, that's great. If we don't, it isn't anyone else’s fault but our own. It doesn't mean that we're bad or weak people. It only means that we need to keep working until we get it right.

It's that simple. There isn't anything complex about it. We aren't using calculus to try and determine the angular trajectory speed of when our Milky Way galaxy will collide into the Andromeda Galaxy. We're simply making choices that will better our lives.

If you have a goal or something you need to change that's dearly important to you, don't mess around with it. Do it! I promise you that once you accomplish what you set out to do, you won't regret it. It will only enhance your life and allow you to see that because you accomplished something so important in your life, you hold the ability to make other decisions that can have as much or more of an impact on your well-being. We need to be the curator of our lives. Knowing we have the authority to make the choices that decide what lives we lead is a very powerful thing to have. Each time you say that you want to do something and then follow it up with a reason why you can't, please realize that what is coming out of your mouth is an excuse, not a legitimate reason. Be a person of action, not excuses. Hold yourself accountable and make the choices you need in order to live a better life.