No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline

Yeah, there is a colon right after an exclamation point in the title, (at least according to Amazon).

A Dated Self-Help Book, with a Bit of Useful Advice

While there is advice in this book that I believe is useful, I had to filter through a lot of filler and outdated perceptions to get to it. After a few chapters I started I realized that Brian Tracy, or his ghost writer, loves his filler, and started writing a 1-2 sentence TL;DR of the chapter. There is a “Law of …” in almost every chapter, in the 21 chapters of the book the phrase “law of” appears 48 times, with the word “law” appearing an additional 23 times, (probably in the phrase “Great Law” which Tracy also seems to love).

Despite being published less than fourteen years ago in 2010, No Excuses! contains some very dated attitudes attitudes and language. For example, people who are not deemed to be successful are referred to as “failures,” the author says that men and women who are not married to each other should not socialize one-on-one, and he tells the Two Wolves metaphor, but says it’s an “Indian” story, which Wikipedia says it is not, in 2010 a Canadian should have known better than to refer to First Nations people as “Indians.” Finally, he seems to think the main way to get ahead is to grind.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the positive.


Self-discipline is the ability to do what you should do when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.

  • Elbert Hubbard (allegedly, I didn’t check the reference).

I accept the idea that we can and should use self-discipline to do what needs doing, but I have trouble using my own self-discipline to do so. The main idea that sticks with me is that when I realize I’m not working, (or doing what I should be), to say “back to work” and get back to work, but this is not ground-breaking new thought technology.

Decide What to Do, then Do It

For many situations Tracy gives advice that boils down to “decide what to do, then do it,” which is logical, but I like having it laid out. He gives this advice in for most situations: becoming more “successful,” education, even being faithful to your partner!

Pre-Plan Days

A practical implementation of decide what to do, then do it, is pre-planning days. Tracy suggests writing a to-do list at the end of the day for the following day. He has a whole prioritization system where all things with the largest consequences, (good or bad), are done first, followed by medium consequences, and so on down the line, but it comes down to making a list the night before that, if complete, will make the day productive.

Repetition is Practice

Each time you do something the right way, you are practicing doing it the right way. This is brought up in the section on improving one’s character, on education, and on work. Getting in the reps helps us improve.

Invest In Yourself

Tracy spends a while extolling the virtues of self-improvement. He has a couple of “rules” for this:

  • Spend an hour reading in your field every day.
  • Invest two hours per day in personal excellence.
  • Invest 3% of your income back into yourself.

For the last two he’s talking about things like skills training, books, “audio programmes,” (ok boomer), and so on. It’s unclear if he means 2 hours + 1 hour reading, (I think not), but I don’t think the actual numbers matter so much as the constant journey. By building the habit of somehow studying every day we practice studying, making it easier, and we get better at our job, or whatever we are trying to improve.

Copy Successful People

Tracy says that we have already been shown how to be successful, it’s the same way currently-successful people got to where they are. So, if we want to be successful in a field copy what successful people did to get there. While I am sure there are enough exceptions that this advice should not be blindly followed, I think it’s a good starting point.

Persistence & Resilience

Part of “chose what to do and do it” is persistence: keep going until the thing is done. Persistence and self-discipline are very closely related. Related to persistence is resilience, which Tracy defines as how we respond to setbacks. Do we learn from them and come out even better? That is true resilience.

Get Enough Rest

For a guy who says you should get to work an hour before everyone else, work through your lunch, and leave an hour after everyone else, Tracy comes out pretty strongly in favour of rest. He reminds us both that we need to get enough sleep, and that we need to take vacations and weekends.

Want to read it yourself? Get from Amazon: