By Robert Pagliarini

I'm driving home from work. It's already dark, and the rain is pelting the windshield. In the backseat, I have my workout bag. In less than a mile, I have a decision to make. Do I turn left and go to the gym, or do I continue to drive straight and go home? Then the rationalizations start. What's the big deal if I miss one workout? I can exercise extra hard tomorrow. My body and my mind are all pleading with me to skip the workout, but I decide to turn left because I gave myself a unique and powerful gift.

During this time of year when we are focused on buying gifts for others, we should give ourselves a gift. However, this is a gift you cannot buy in any store and it's a gift that only you can give yourself. It's the gift of "at least."

The thought of working out for an hour was too daunting. The mental hurdle was too much for me to overcome. "I'll go for at least ten minutes," I told myself. That single message is what provided the mental shift that gave me the permission and the momentum to exercise that night. In an age when we are constantly trying to do more, and in a column where I encourage readers to capitalize on their other eight hours -- the time they are not working or sleeping -- it may come as a surprise to see me encourage you to do less, but there is power in "at least."

These two simple words can get you off the couch and can help you reach your goals because they crush the one thing that can impede your progress -- excuses. Whenever we are going after a goal or doing something we know we should do but don't necessarily see immediate results from, we can talk ourselves out of action. We'll look for any reasonable (and sometimes not so reasonable!) excuse. When this happens infrequently, it's harmless. But more often than not, one missed workout turns into two and three until we talk ourselves out of reaching our goal. A worthwhile outcome -- one that could benefit our family, our health, our finances or our community -- turns into another missed opportunity.

When the excitement of setting the goal turns into the drudgery of working toward it, you need a secret weapon. Something you can pull from your back pocket to ward off excuses and rationalizations. Give yourself the gift of "at least." By allowing yourself to do less, you'll actually do much more.

How can you use "at least" thinking? Don't feel like walking two miles? Tell yourself you'll walk for at least 20 minutes. If that's all you do, at least you got out and did something. Don't feel like committing to a three-hour writing session? Tell yourself you'll write for at least ten minutes. At the end of ten minutes, evaluate whether you want to continue. More often than not, you'll find that you'll want to keep writing. And that's the power of "at least." It not only gets you over the initial hump, but it usually keeps you going.

Master salespeople have used a similar tactic called the foot-in-the-door technique for decades to close more deals. The technique involves getting people to agree to a large request by first agreeing to a much smaller request. The lesson? Give yourself an inch, and you may just go a mile.

Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of "The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose and the national best-seller "The Six-Day Financial Makeover: Transform Your Financial Life in Less Than a Week!

Article: Copyright © Tribune Media Services

Never Let Excuses Drag You Down Again