In the quest for personal and professional success, happiness and prosperity in life there’s one major concept which always seems to stall progress, and yet we all tend to give it tremendous power. It’s a bit insidious, deceptive, cunning, and omnipresent – the excuse.
Let me first go over some of the qualities of this entity we call an excuse.
- They can be invisible; hiding in plain sight and yet not noticed at all
- They lie and hide the truth
- Their magnitude is relative, but often irrelevant
- They can fool us, but not others
- And the list goes on
So what’s the main purpose of the excuse? It is simply a mechanism giving us permission to avoid change (usually out of fear, perhaps of a perceived risk). As a corollary to that, it also allows us to defy and reject someone telling us what to do (often leading to an avoidance of change).
Do we unconsciously try to resist change?
I’d like to discuss a little bit more about change. The philosopher Heraclitus said “the only constant in life is change”. Thinking about this, we could easily argue for or against this concept for a long time, however; The main question to ask yourself is “Do I have a purpose, mission, goals, dreams or objectives in my life?” The next question to ask is “Have I achieved all of those things yet?”. If you have not, then change is required. It could be in the form of learning, circumstance, sacrifices, self-development, relationships, discovery, experience etc.
Psychologically speaking, the brain tends to resist or even fears change. However, tendencies stemming from our innate human nature are not eventualities. We have an amazing superpower – let’s call that “the decision, or choice”. To exercise your own individual powers means you have individual freedom, which everybody values.
So why don’t excuses exist?
I’d like to go back to why excuses are merely illusions. As mechanisms to avoid change, excuses disguise themselves as completely natural and blend into daily life. The first step in reducing their influence is to become aware of when and how they occur. They may take the form of unconscious decisions or indecisions on small matters that prevent or avoid effort and change. Excuses may also be deliberate and elaborate decisions to change the outcome of more “meaningful” or high stakes situations. Regardless, they should all be seen as equal in their capacity to stall progress and personal growth.
Excuses are really deceptions
An excuse can tell a lie from yourself to yourself, or from yourself to someone else. What I find interesting is excuses used as a deception towards someone else are very rarely effective, as that person likely already knows it’s a deception. For example “Sorry, I have to cancel plans tonight because I got home late, the traffic was bad, I have a headache and my dog needs to be walked”. In someone else’s mind this translates to “I don’t feel like coming to see you today”. That person feels you have deceived them, even if only subconsciously.
Excuses avoid the fear of conflict
One of the main fears that excuses try to avoid is that of interpersonal conflict – or rather the risk of potential or perceived conflict before it even occurs. By avoiding a conversation that has the potential to require taking a position or making an assertion, that conversation will never happen and nothing can be learned or resolved as a result (this is avoiding change). This leaves an unspoken void in place, which both parties are likely aware yet neither wish to address (due to fear of conflict). It’s important to realize that such conversations can be very productive, and can relieve tension and strengthen trust if conducted with honesty and openness.
Honesty with yourself leads to personal growth
The version of the excuse which can be even more destructive is when you direct the lie at yourself. “I’m not going to go out today because I’m not going to enjoy myself”. Or, “I’m not going to volunteer to do that presentation because I’ll probably screw it up and make a fool of myself”. Those are honest excuses – you’re not trying to hide the reason for the avoidance. A dishonest one may be “I’m not going to do the presentation because I have a headache”. Remember to think about what the honest reason for the excuse actually is. That’s the first step to enable the choice to make a change.
So here’s how excuses don’t actually exist. Your personal super power “the choice” can invalidate just about any excuse. Paired with another power, called “honesty” – excuses simply vanish, replaced by opportunity and possibility. It’s all about being honest – not just with others but with yourself too.
How to make an excuse vanish
An excuse can’t exist if you simply state with honesty why you are making a choice or decision, or why you’re not making that choice or decision. This is respectful towards yourself as well as others. It also opens up opportunity. An example using honesty is “I’d rather not do that presentation because I don’t think I’ll be good at it”. The response from the other person could be “That’s ok, why don’t we work on it together, and practice first until you’re comfortable”. That response and positive outcome may not exist if the excuse was presented instead, and nothing would change in terms of the fears around presenting.
An important note – you are the only one who has the power and capability of invalidating your excuses. Other people can’t successfully invalidate them for you.
What about legitimate excuses?
Now, you may say “Well, that’s fine but there are some excuses that are really quite legitimate”. Let me offer an alternative way of looking at seemingly legitimate excuses. For example, “I can’t do the exercise class today because I sprained my ankle”. It sounds legitimate, however; this excuse is still an illusion. There are two ways to approach it using the power of choice. One way is honesty – to say “Because I sprained my ankle, I would rather choose to rest today instead of being active”. There’s a big difference here – the word “choose” vs the word “can’t”. One gives you power and opportunity, and one takes it away.
The other choice is to adapt to the new situation. Adaptation allows change to progress forward even when a strong ‘excuse’ is present. You could attend the class, and either do something active while sitting, or standing with crutches, or simply watching and visualizing. Adaptation to circumstances is a powerful skill.
Stand up to your own excuses and choose how you feel
The final way I’d like to suggest you think about excuses is as a sort of like an argument with yourself. There is a voice in your head is trying to convince you of something that isn’t going to serve you well in your own goals. So you challenge this voice. For example, the excuse voice says “I’m not going to finish that document today because I feel tired and unwell, and I’m not feeling very motivated”. Then, you respond to your own voice with “Oh yeah? You say you feel tired and can’t work? Well, let me show you! I’ll get that done, plus more. You can’t tell me how to feel! Let me show you what motivation looks like!”
You have this power to create energy in yourself. You have the power to affect the way you feel at any given moment. This is how you will feel truly free in your own life. This is when the possibilities, the opportunities and the motivation start multiplying.
While things outside of your control may influence the way you feel – if you allow ghostly apparitions of excuses to creep in, you’ve lost some of your very valuable personal power and freedom to an outside influence. It’s not fair to ourselves to allow these outside influences to control how we feel. It’s entirely within our control to invalidate any excuse, using honesty and adaptation.
With great power comes great responsibility, and by making choices and decisions, you automatically become responsible for them. Perhaps there’s another hidden way that excuses manifest, to shield you from the risk of taking on responsibility in your own life. That’s a good place to start, to reject the notion that you are avoiding this responsibility. I feel that you deserve to have full control over the course of your life and your ability to succeed, prosper and find happiness – do you feel that way too?