He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. – Benjamin Franklin
When was the last time you made a resolve to achieve something, set a deadline and then achieved it? Can you even remember the last time? I’m struggling. And the reason I am struggling to remember such a time is because of excuses. I make them for everything; consciously and unconsciously. Without noticing it, excuses have become a habit that I am struggling to shake.
In this post I want to talk about the excuses culture that we have develop within ourselves and why we use excuses to protect ourselves from feelings of failure and fear. Hopefully it will spur some readers out there into action.
Why we make excuses
Photo credit: Franzi in der Wiese
A few years ago I was sitting in the car with a friend of mine having a conversation (argument) about how I always seem to find a way out of things. At the end of the debate he said something that has stayed at the front of my mind, something that I think about whenever I am feeling like making an excuse. He said:
“You have always found things easy. You are good at everything. But you aren’t great at anything because you make excuses. You would rather be the ‘potential’ to be great than actually try and fail. And that is sad.”
He was right. All my life I have been naturally gifted at sport and academics. I didn’t have to work hard to get good. But I never really excelled at anything. I never worked really hard to become great at a certain activity. Why? Because I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of trying and not getting there.
My parents role in this habit
I never blame my parents for anything in my life. I simply do not feel like it is a productive exercise. But I can see how certain things they did impacted the way I turned out. And one of those things was how my mother always told me how amazing I could be. She would constantly tell me how smart I was, how good at soccer I was and how I could become something truly special.
But rather than spurring me on to excellence it seemed to do the opposite. I was comfortable being the potential for greatness. I was afraid to actually give it a shot for fear that I wasn’t actually as smart, talented and athletic as she thought. So I made excuses. Excuses so I wouldn’t have to try.
And we all do it. All the time.
Fear: the reason for most excuses
So why do we make excuses? Why do we find ways to get out of things? Well, for the most part, it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of trying and we are afraid of failing. We are afraid of change and we will do anything to keep the norm functioning. Fear is the reason most of us make excuses.
If you look deep into your own mind and your own behavior you will see that you make excuses to protect your sense of self. We spend our whole lives developing and ego and decorating it with friends and family and money and success and we will do anything to protect our concept of that self. Even if it makes us depressed and unfulfilled. And ultimately that is what excuses do, they make you feel unfulfilled.
How to stop making excuses and move forward
People say that the hardest thing you will ever do is quit smoking. But quitting excuses is 10 times harder. Excuses are the reason you started smoking, drinking and eating bad food. You make an excuse not to be healthy and an excuse not to be happy. Breaking the excuse culture is damn hard work. Here are some things you can do.
1. Realize that you do it all the time
As always, you need to take a look at yourself and really truly realize that you make mistakes. Find concrete examples of where you have sabotaged your progress by making an excuse and remember that incident. Bring it to mind whenever you feel like doing it again.
2. Look at your (lack of) progress
Take a look at how much progress you have made with your meditation, athletics, mortgage repayments or family weekend time. See how many excuses you have made and how that has affected your progress is a very real way. Until you can see that it is doing damage you will have no real impetus to stop.
3. Realize that death is coming
People always send me emails saying that I am too depressing when I talk about death. I always reply saying “it is depressing not to talk about it”. For too long our species has made death a taboo subject when, in fact, it is the only thing in life that is certain. Understand that death is coming and that you have no time for excuses. Not any. Its too hot, too cold, too nice inside, I’m too tired, I have a headache… all of those sound like absolute bullshit when you are on your deathbed looking back at what you didn’t achieve.
4. Realize you do it out of fear
If you go up to a fat man in the street and tell him that he is a coward he will probably punch you in the face. Men don’t like to be considered afraid, but that is exactly what we are. We make excuses because we are afraid. Why, then, do we still do it? If someone told us that we were afraid of something else we would do everything in our power to change and prove that we are brave. Do that now with excuses. Prove that you are not afraid of failure, change or losing the norm.
5. Be different in five years time
How different are you now to five years ago? Are you more loving, compassionate, patient, strong, rich, happy, thin, etc.? Take a look at whatever goal you have in your life and see how much closer you are to it now than you were five years ago. If you can say you are happy with your progress then chances are you don’t have a problem with excuses. If you are almost exactly the same then you can bet your right eye on the fact that you are stagnant because you are sabotaging your progress by saying “its too hard” or “its too cold outside”. Be different in five years time and stop making excuses.
Do you make excuses?
I would love to know how many of my readers consider themselves to be excuse makers. What kind of excuses do you come up with and how (if at all) have you dealt with them? Have your excuses held you back from being all that you can be? And how have you felt the weight of this “potential” slowing you down in life? Is it easier to not try?