Excuses are one of the biggest obstacles that stand between ourselves and living the lives we are capable of living. Excuses are destructive, self-limiting and insidious - they might evolve as a form of self-protection, but ultimately will stand as a barrier to many meaningful experiences.
I’ve got a few deadlines coming up and a few things I want to achieve, which are starting to feel a bit overwhelming. I found myself making a few excuses and justifications to myself.
I never fully understood the incredible self-limiting power of excuses until I worked as a Personal Fitness Trainer. I’d wager that there is no field other than the health and fitness industry from where excuses pour forth so unstoppably from the mouths of people. Even telling a new person I met I worked as a Personal Trainer could bring forth a guilty tsunami of excuses as to why they didn’t work out/ate badly etc etc.
Health and fitness is a great spot to start analysing excuses, as when it comes to getting fitter and healthier there really is no obstacle that prevents someone from improving in some way. Regardless of age, gender, genetics, illness, injury - anything - you can make adjustments and changes to your lifestyle that will improve you in this area. If you are already mentally arguing this statement (what if I have no legs, one lung, work full time, am a single parent with 5 kids and a terminal illness….?), you are illustrating my point, that this is the industry full of THE MOST excuses. But WHY? This is an area where there is very few negative outcomes from a well-planned strategy. Positive changes can usually be attained relatively quickly, with relatively low time commitments and minimal expense. The actions required of someone to create change in this area are perfectly achievable - generally technically easy and easily adjustable to most lifestyles.
Art is another field brimming with excuses. It is not as prevalent as in the health and fitness industry though, as often people will just flat-out refuse to do art because “they just can’t”. Most people will have a point in their lives where their health and fitness starts to become a priority, and they aspire to better health, but art is something many are happy to fully abandon. For those who really want to do something to express their creativity or find a fun hobby or creative outlet, there are so many options YOU WILL FIND ONE TO SUIT YOU. Your skill will generally improve over time with practice. The results not especially important, as you don’t have to earn an essential living from it, win an award or anything, and the process is the important part. As with the fitness example above…WHY? This is an area where there is very few negative outcomes from a well-planned strategy. Positive changes can usually be attained relatively quickly, with relatively low time commitments and minimal expense. The actions required of someone to create change in this area are perfectly achievable - generally technically easy and easily adjustable to most lifestyles.
One thing I have learned from having MANY people tell me their excuses, most excuses come from a place of FEAR, and Fear of Failure is at the top of this list.
Excuses stunt our motivation and limit out our performance. However, they protect our ego.
For example, perhaps your first goal is improving your health by losing 5kg.
Why did you do miss your planned workout? Well, it’s not my fault…. I was too busy, it was too cold, I had a headache, I was feeling stressed, my leg hurts. Why did you eat that 5th chocolate when you were only going to have 2? Well, it’s not my fault…. I was really tired, I did a great workout earlier so it doesn’t matter, I was having rough day, I’m starting my diet next week.
You make the excuses and are trying to say: Hey, look at that, I didn’t fail… it wasn’t my fault. How convenient. But regardless of your ego, look at the results. Whether you made the excuse doesn’t matter. Without the action the result will not be achieved.
Most excuses are detrimental.
Whilst excuses are automatically designed to protect our ego, they ultimately erode our self esteem.
That’s because when we are honest with ourselves we can see them for what they are: self-limiting behaviours. They are also often a lie - mostly to ourselves, but sometimes to others. We apply excuses to many ideas and projects that are genuinely quite achievable to make us feel better about truly making the change or commitment required to see it through. I think that for these reasons, deep down we never really want to make an excuse, and no-one is ever interested in hearing them. It is far more fun to think and discuss what you CAN do.
There are a few types of excuses.
Actual lies - “I didn’t come because I was sick *fake cough*”. These are some of the worst, as lying usually brings on shame and guilt, which are never the partners of success. If you lie because you genuinely don’t want to do something and truly do not care about the results that are not achieved (no guilt), those excuse-lies are still detrimental as they will erode your relationships with people you are around as you will fail to be positive, accountable or reliable.
Self-Limiting Excuses - “I just can’t do it” This is where fear rears it’s head. Often we become paralysed here simply because of lack of knowledge. We might be unsure of what to actually do or how to do it. We fear looking stupid, messing up, anxiety kicks in and it’s just easier to stay in our comfort zone. Here is where we need to assess our real priorities. Changing a habit or starting something new is going to feel uncomfortable and we have to decide to either leave things the way they are or be prepared to work through the difficulties.
Blame-Redirecting Excuses - “I was too busy/it was raining/the program doesn’t fit me”. Again, this does no favours to your self esteem. You may secretly understand your excuses you make are weak *cue shame and guilt* or you end up affecting your relationship with yourself and others again by showing a lack of accountability.
The latter two can also be lies too, or at the very least exaggerations.
If you are the sort of person who can pretty much blurt out excuses automatically, there are ways to actively break the habit. You need to be prepared better for the obstacles you face when you take on a new project and you need to be mindful of identifying excuses popping out. See them for what they are. Acknowledge them: “Hello, I see you Mr Excuse, I know you like to pop up when I’m not feeling confident or struggling with committment to my goal. I know you just want to protect me from feeling crappy after abandoning my latest project (again).” Then let them go: “Thanks for looking in, but I really want to get to my goal this time. I’ve got a plan. See ya!”
Reasons we make excuses
INERTIA It’s really hard to get going. We like our comfort zones because they are, well, comfortable. But nothing really meaningful or interesting happens with your butt languishing in the same slightly creepy dent in the literal or metaphorical sofa. You have to know that meaningful change usually involves getting a bit uncomfortable. It might mean being a bit brave trying new experiences, you might have to risk looking silly trying out a new move, you might risk stuffing up whilst learning a new skill. You might have great initial success, then get sidetracked or sidelined and need to break inertia all over again to get going. You need to be ready to say, “It’s OK. I’ll do whatever is needed to get where I want to go. I want the result badly enough to ride out a bit of discomfort. All bumps along the way are part of the journey and will only add to my learning experience”.
FEAR & DOUBT These guys are great companions of inertia and are also liable to pop up whenever you are feeling a little uncomfortable. They’re the little demons whispering, “What happens if I fail? I don’t think I can do this”. This is where bravery is important. You need to trust in your process. If you prepare well for enacting your plan, these guys can take a sideline. When they pop ups their heads, you need to be able to visualise the end result clearly and have the small, achievable steps set out before you so you can push past.
READINESS is a big one. In order to feel “ready” to do something we need to accept that we’re ready to change and feel that we have researched, planned and prepared enough to enact that change. We also have to feel we’re at peace with any consequences of making that change. This can be a big sticking point, as anxiety can make you believe you are never ready.
So, let’s check. You have a goal. You know that some changes are required to get there and have identified them. You feel pretty comfortable that the changes you are planning are OK - sensible, workable and relevant to achieving your goal. You have researched a practical way of getting there and are putting preparations in place to get started. It’s important not to get too bogged down here, many will research indefinitely and never start to act, so put a final cap on it ASAP.
MOTIVATION Exactly WHY do you want to do reach this goal? If there are shades of grey here or a questionable motivation (eg. losing weigh to impress someone else), your chance of failure is much higher. Your goals need to be optimised perfectly for you. When you have a strong personal focus and you can truly visualise the results with wonderful colour and clarity, your drive will be so much stronger. Understand your motivation. Are you motivated towards a “prize” or a particular positive outcome (eg. being able to run a marathon), are you motivated by avoiding a negative outcome (eg succumbing to a weight-related illness). Some people are more readily motivated by a “prize” outcome, some don’t like change unless they are stressed or pushed into a situation so uncomfortable that forces their change. The way you respond to motivation may allow you to tailor a strategy best suited to your personality.
I get it. There are always plenty of legitimate reasons NOT to do something. Don’t want to do it? Well, don’t do it.
Ask yourself what might happen if you have a go at something new.
Then ask yourself what will happen if you never have a go at something new.
Hopefully the desire to change is greater than the desire to stay the same. That’s when things get interesting.