I had a dream once.

I wanted to retire at the age of forty. Well, that time has come and gone without much fanfare or any sign of retirement.

So what happened?

Lots of things. Some within my control, others not (and there’s the first clue as to what can stop you). Although, for the things that weren’t within my control, perhaps my reaction to them was and was found wanting.

Then again…

The more I read about cognitive biases, the less inclined I am to believe in the idea that we can have absolute awareness and control over our decisions and actions. In which case, relax. We’re not 100% responsible for what happens to us in our lives and how we react.

The one thing I do know is that I failed to plan a route to retirement. And without any plan, or a winning lottery ticket, there was never a hope in hell of retiring at forty. But don’t mistake a lack of planning for a lack of progress.

I have achieved many other things.

I’ve travelled a lot, living in several different countries. I’ve met lots of different people, some of whom were very interesting, others less so and one or two who should be avoided at all costs. I have a Masters. I’ve written a novel. I’ve also worked for some good companies and one or two not-so-good ones in a variety of roles. I have two lovely kids and an understanding (most of the time) wife.

All in all, I’m quite happy with my lot. Inevitably, as I see how my friends and family have progressed in their lives, I also look back and wonder why I didn’t achieve my goal or why I progressed in a different way. Not with sadness, but with curiosity. Not having a plan is obviously part of the reason, but what else was involved?

Maybe retiring at forty was just a dream and not a goal. Maybe I liked the idea of retiring more than the effort involved with making it a reality.

I’ve read quite a bit about psychology and successful people over the years, and it’s helped me think about how and why I may have made the decisions I did.

And one of the things that sticks out is the power of stories.

The story we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it, is the most powerful story of all. The objective truth of that story is almost irrelevant, what matters more is the consequence of that story. How it affects our decisions and actions is what makes the most impact on us.

Tell yourself you were just unlucky not to get that great job in New York and you can easily dust yourself off and try again. It wasn’t me! It was just bad luck.

But tell yourself you didn’t get a second date with that beautiful woman because you asked too many questions, or weren’t wearing the right shoes, and you might hesitate to ask another woman out.

And that’s when it hit me.

Maybe all this time I’ve been telling myself the wrong stories, tall tales that conveniently explain away my lack of early retirement.

In other words, what excuses – however reasonable they may sound – have I been telling myself that explain why I am, where I am?

It didn’t take me long to come up with a list. I’m not saying these are the actual reasons I personally didn’t succeed at retiring at forty.  I’m saying this list might be the kind of excuses I told myself.

I’ve been constructive.

So after each excuse, I’ve given a way to address it, because if there’s one thing I am determined to do, it is to learn from my mistakes.

Let me know if any sound familiar.

1. I’m too old.

What’s age got to do with it? Do you see Mick Jagger drawing a pension?

2. I don’t have time.

Nonsense. We all have 24 hours in a day, every day. That is fixed and unchangeable unless you own a flux capacitor fitted with a Delorean. Either reprioritise the task, reduce the scope of what needs to be done, increase the resource you have available to get it done, or defer the delivery date. All of those are possible, but not all are acceptable.

3. I have no idea where to begin.

Who does? Start small and keep chipping away at it. Focus on what is critical to do, not what “should” be done or what is quick and easy to do – because being busy is not the same as being productive.

4. I have no money.

Ask someone else to lend it to you. Yes they’ll want something in return but that’s the price of their investment.

5. I don’t have the right knowledge.

Google it or ask an expert. But beware of collecting too much information or relying on one source; it will skew your perspective and weigh your thinking down because you won’t be able to analyse all the data. What do you need to know in order to answer the question?

6. I’m not qualified.

Is a qualification strictly necessary? If it is, train yourself or find a qualified person to help you.

7. I have no will power.

Imagine how you’ll feel in ten years’ time if you don’t do it now. Start small and do things at regular intervals to build up a powerful habit of progress. Give yourself relevant rewards for your effort as well as your results.

8. My heart’s not in it / I have no motivation.

Not knowing why you’re doing something is the quickest way to lose interest and rob yourself of motivation. So be brutally honest with yourself: why do you want to achieve your goal, what would it mean to you? Knowing the purpose behind what you want to do gives it a meaning which can drive you to achieve it.

9. I have nothing to lose.

Make a public promise, or a promise to someone whose opinion and attention you value. Let them down at your peril. Or sell everything you own and invest the lot in your vision because burning your bridges – aka your escape route – will focus your attention on positive action for sure.

10. I have no permission.

Is it a legal or moral requirement to have someone else’s permission? If not, then you’re denying yourself an opportunity for no good reason.

11. I have no hope of success.

You don’t need to believe in miracles, but you do need to believe that you can achieve something if you keep taking small steps towards your goal.

12. I have no self belief.

There is always a reason not to do something and a lack of self belief is as good a reason as any. But if you truly have no self belief, find someone who does and sell them your idea or pay them to do the work for you.

13. The odds are against me.

You only have to believe that it is possible to achieve your goal, not that it is probable or certain. Remember: the odds are exactly that, odds. They’re not a guarantee of anything, even when they’re in your favour.

14. I have no ability.

Skill yourself up or pay someone else who does have the ability to do it for you or be your mentor.

15. I’m not in the mood.

Look at pictures of cute babies, kittens and puppies. Or watch something funny. Failing that, get some sleep, eat well and go for a run to get your heart pumping lots of lovely oxygen to your brain because that’s what it needs to make better decisions.

16. I have no limitations.

Believing you can do any and everything is calling yourself Superman. You’re not. You’re human. Your time, energy and resources are finite and can only be applied to a finite number of tasks at any given time. What do you want to do first? Start with that.

17. I don’t have the right tools.

As they say in New York: “When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Put it down and pick up another.

18. I’m not seeing any progress.

Are you working on the right problem? Reframe the question and you may suddenly find you don’t have a problem at all, or you have a different one to the one you first thought. Alternatively, how are you measuring your progress? Rome wasn’t built in a day and overnight success is the worst kind of bullshit to believe in.

19. I have no vision.

Where exactly is it you want to get to? What does that place look, feel, taste, sound and smell like? What would it mean to you to get there? Be that vivid in your thinking about it and it will seem more tangible and more within reach than just a dream.

20. I’m not being realistic.

Biologically speaking, your brain cannot tell the difference between objective and subjective reality – both types of reality are just a bunch of electro-chemical signals – and your brain doesn’t know if something is or isn’t actually real, fake or achievable or pie in the sky. You tell your brain what “is” and it believes or disbelieves you accordingly.

21. I have no plan.

You know what they say about that: fail to plan, plan to fail. Write one, keep revising it and put it into action. Step by step. One day at a time.

22. I haven’t got the right connections.

You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation right? So tweet Kevin Bacon and ask him if he can put you in touch with the right person.

23. I’m not willing to pay the price.

No pain, no gain. Get on board or wait for another train.