Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Excuses, excuses, excuses.
There is such a negative connotation with excuses. Have you noticed this?
The world is riddled with versions of mantras expressing the sentiment that there are or should be no excuses.
As much as I can appreciate wanting to push past excuses to make some permanent meaningful change, I think that there is an inherent flaw in this mantra that is worth exploring.
In order to come to terms with this flaw lets take a minute to explore what excuses actually are so that we can understand how to work with them to create the change that tend to accuse them of preventing.
What is an excuse?
If you take the judgment and negativity away, an excuse is basically just a reason why something can’t, won’t, or hasn’t been done. That’s all it is—a reason why. And if you think of it as that you can start to catch a glimpse of why the idea of no excuses can be so harmful.
No excuses means that you can’t have a reason why you can’t or won’t do something. It is a form of willful blindness that says if you want to accomplish whatever goal you are pursuing then there is nothing that should stop you. However, if you wanted to exit a room with a locked door, then closing your eyes and running towards that door while claiming that it being looked is just an excuse would probably result in you experiencing extreme pain while simultaneously failing to achieve your goal of exiting the room.
I know that the metaphor sounds silly, but that is how we approach life when we use a “no excuses” attitude.
The truth is excuses are the things that block us from doing things and some of them are valid. If we look at excuses and understand what they are telling us about the things that block us we have a much better likelihood of making adjustments to set ourselves up for success rather than failure. To use the same room metaphor, let’s say that your goal is to exit the room. Instead of saying I’m just going to do it—no excuses. You look at the very valid excuse that the you can’t get out because the door is locked. Now that you have looked at it you can come up with many possible solutions to address the problem and leave the room.
If excuses are just reasons why we can’t do something then looking at them is extremely powerful because it allows us to address the underlying blockages that are preventing us from moving forward. This is the important part. Achieving goals is not about ignoring the very valid reasons why you have not been able to achieve them in past, it is also not about saying there are all these very valid reasons so I’m just going to sit here and not try.
The “no excuses” mantra is powerful and at times very effective because it eliminates the option of not addressing those underlying blockages. The negative connotation we have with the idea of excuses exists because false excuses are often used as ways for people to avoid taking responsibility for the true, valid reasons why they are unable or willing to do something that they claim they want to do.
Excuses in this light are a way of bypassing responsibility. Responsibility is simple the power you have to influence the outcome of something. So excuses become blockages that keep us from experiencing our own inherent power to create change either in our lives or in the world around us (but mostly in our lives). When the excuses are valid and we are looking at them honestly noticing them gives us more empowerment because we can address them directly and move them out of the way. However, when we are using false excuses to keep ourselves from seeing the true reason for blockages or from moving towards are goals, they are disempowering. These types of false excuses make us victims.
Like the word “excuse” the word “victim” can conjure up a lot of negativity, but there is nothing inherently wrong with being a victim. It is, however, an uncomfortable place to be because it implies powerlessness. There are times when we truly are powerless to a circumstance but if we are living in a constant state of victimhood it is because we are holding none of the power or responsibility for our lives, in order to stay in this state and endure the pain that often accompanies it we need to build up and believe in false excuses and often we will do this on an unconscious level in areas of our life that we are not ready to accept responsibility for. Again, this is not a judgment. There are times when we aren’t ready for a certain level of change or responsibility and there are valid reasons that prevent us from wanting to make changes—but being aware of when this happens gives you the power to step into a place where you can identify the true excuses and address them when you are ready.
So, how can you tell a false excuse from a true excuse?
There may not be one exact answer, but the most efficient way to tell these types of excuses apart is to sit and look at them and then come up with ways to address them. If you are able to easily address an excuse but you find yourself constantly choosing not to address it, then it is probably a false excuse and the real excuse is something deeper.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that you want lose weight but your excuse is that you have time to make healthy food.
Before I finished writing that sentence several ways to address that excuse came to mind. There are endless ideas, suggestions, and businesses that have sprouted up to address that very problem. If you chose not to use one or multiple of those resources to do so, then the question becomes why not?
Now here you can come up with several more false excuses and it might be beneficial to sit and write them out just so you can practice seeing and addressing them. If you do this long enough and keep asking yourself “why don’t I use this solution” you will eventually start to find your way to a true excuse.
In many cases where the thing you are trying to accomplish has constantly alluded you, the true excuse will be a very strong emotion. Most likely it will be an emotion linked to a particular memory or set of memories. This doesn’t always have to be the case, but it often is because there are so many ways to address things on a physical level. Weight-loss alone is a multimillion dollar industry filled with solutions, yet so many people struggle to make any of the solutions work. Why? What’s the real excuse? The real reason?
There isn’t a generic answer I can give here, but if you are able and willing to look honestly at whatever that root cause is you can start to transform it. In this example the true excuse could be that you feel insecure and need to keep fat around you to feel safe. It could be that you eat because you are afraid of your thoughts and doing so keeps you occupied with the sensation of eating so that your mind does not wander to places you don’t want it to go. It could be that you feel like something is missing your life and you are trying to fill it up the empty sensation by over eating.
Not every true excuse is going to be so deep and over-whelming, but if it isn’t then the process of brainstorming is likely to lead to a solution which you can then implement and move forward. If none of the brainstormed solutions work then you are left with these much deeper, more complex reasons for not being ready to adjust that part of your life.
So what do you do if you come across one of these deeply rooted true excuses in an area of your life that you desperately want to be able to change?
The first thing you do is be gentle.
The level at which this true excuse exists is deep and painful and being harsh about it will only create more pain in that spot. So first give yourself a break and allow yourself to see this very true, very painful, very real reason why you have struggled to move forward in this area of your life. Allow yourself to feel compassion for the pain that exists here and understand why it has been so difficult for you to address it. Do not beat yourself up over it or minimize it, but as much as you are able allow yourself to see it.
Once you see it—if you are in a place where you feel able to do so safely—allow yourself to feel it. If you are not in a place where you can safely feel and process the pain associated with this deep, true excuse but you want to get to a place like that then this is a good time to look for resources and people who can help you create a safe place to explore the feelings.
In the coming months I will be offering one on one coaching sessions to help people work through some of these types of difficulties, if that is something you are interested in please send me an email or sign up on the blog page so that I can send you a notification when spaces open up. You can also seek help from counselors, therapists, spiritual practitioners, or trustworthy friends and family.
I am a huge advocate of taking responsibility for your life because doing so is incredibly empowering and one of the most effective ways to create change. However, becoming overly zealous about taking full responsibility and steering that wheel at all cause can lead to some painful outcomes, especially if we are doing so while ignoring the very present and valid reasons why we have not been able to make those kinds of changes in the past. Taking responsibility means being able to influence outcomes, it doesn’t mean that you can just wake up one day and do everything you ever wanted, but that you can wake up one day and start to look at where you want change to occur—understand why it has been so difficult to create change there in the past and then with understanding take steps to make it easier to find a true solution that works for you.
If things were as simple as saying “no excuses” and doing whatever we wanted then life would be much easier, but it is very rarely that simple and continually struggling to achieve something that you desperately want is often an indicator of a deeply painful, true excuse that has yet to be uncovered and resolved. In these cases, gentleness, understanding, and presence work much more effectively than trying to willpower through and force things to happen before they are ready.
Excuses exist for a reason. There is nothing wrong with looking at them and addressing them so that we can move forward with greater freedom and understanding.
Thank you for reading. Have a great night.