If ever there was a habit that so many of us needed to break it would be making excuses. Once we start making excuses it can become so automatic that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. All we know is that we have goals that we want to reach, but we’re not making any progress.
I used to be the queen of excuses. I had one for every occasion. I had excuses I told other people, I had even more excuses that I told myself. I didn’t really look at them as excuses, though. To me they were perfectly acceptable reasons for why I did or didn’t have to do something.
“I don’t need to workout, I’m tired”
“I had a long day, I can get carry out”
“I don’t have to start that new project right now, I’m too busy”
Some of these excuses might be perfectly valid reasons every once in awhile, but if you find yourself saying them all the time — especially if it’s gotten to the point where it’s automatic — those aren’t valid reasons anymore.
And if you really are so busy or so tired that you can’t find ways to workout or get healthy food or spend time on things that matter to you —then it’s time to set some boundaries and work on your time management.
WHAT ARE EXCUSES?
When I was in the height of my excuse making habit, I really didn’t see them as excuses. To me they were totally valid reasons for my behavior. I never challenged them. They were my thoughts, if I thought them they must be true.
If my brain told me I was too tired to work out, I must be too tired. It didn’t matter that the reality was that maybe I was too tired because I wasn’t working out to begin with. And that it would be in my best interests to suck it up and work out so that I would feel better. The excuse popped in my head and I rolled with it.
If this is your reality too then how do you identify an excuse?
An excuse is an invented reason to defend our behavior. It’s blaming an internal issue on an external problem.
For example, I was always late. Well, some things never change, but I have gotten better about trying. But in my twenties I had no good reason to be late so much, it was just my time blindness that I let get the better of me.
I would never blame the fact that I needed to go to bed earlier so I wasn’t so drained in the morning, so that I could leave myself more time to get to work. It was just the traffic was so bad today.
Internal issue = poor time management
External problem = traffic
I hated pretty much every job I had in my twenties, so really I just had such a hard time getting myself to get up and go that I would be late every day. But I didn’t want to come to terms with having to find another job, so I would just make excuses for my behavior.
This is not to say that there aren’t actual times when traffic is a valid problem. It becomes the excuse though, if you’re using it every day to cover for some other facet of life that you do have control over.
WHY DO WE MAKE THEM?
Just like so, so (so so so) many of our other behaviors, excuses usually come down to fear. Fear of failure, success, embarrassment, responsibility, change, mistakes, on and on. There may also be additional limiting beliefs thrown in there that you won’t have enough resources or you don’t have the support. Again more fear.
As I have written about before, fear has the power to take control of our brain. The fight or flight reflex lives in the oldest part of our brain and once it takes over, we have little capacity for rational thought. We stop being creative or having the ability to picture our lives as they would be if we would just get passed our fears.
This speaks to why the excuse tape has the same lame ones playing over and over. When you’re in fear you can’t come up with anything better — and at that point your only goals is to avoid dealing with the fear. An excuse makes it go away — if you have a reason you don’t have to deal with what you’re avoiding then not only do you get to avoid it, you don’t have to feel guilty about avoiding it.
HOW DO I STOP MAKING EXCUSES?
Notice your thoughts
The first step with stopping excuses is the same as it is in changing any thought pattern – notice the thoughts. Because making excuses becomes a habit you probably haven’t even noticed how many times you’re giving yourself (and others) excuses. They fall out of your mouth with little to no effort on your part. It has become the way of things.
In order stop making the excuses you need to notice them in the first place. Spend a few days being mindful of your excuses. Set an alarm for multiple times a day to remind you to bring awareness to what you’re thinking. Notice any times that you have said yes or no to something and consider the reason that you did that.
Did you say yes to that donut? Was the reason because you haven’t had one in awhile and you thought you’d really enjoy it? Or was the excuse because you were stressed and deserved sugar to cope?
If it helps, carry around a little journal with you and make a note every time you hear a reason or excuse pop into your head. This might help you see patterns of behavior that you have and help you see what you might be avoiding.
Challenge your thoughts
Once you become aware of the excuses themselves you will have to start challenging the thoughts as they come up. When you find yourself automatically thinking an excuse, you need to ask yourself
Is this true?
We’re in our heads 24/7/365 so we tend to believe everything we think. But our thoughts aren’t always true. They can stem from old habits and fear and that inner child that desperately wants to keep up safe and comfortable — even though it doesn’t realize we can handle way more that we could when we were a kid.
The next time that you hear yourself coming up with an excuse, ask yourself whether this is a valid reason or if this is an excuse you are using to avoid something uncomfortable – like a fear.
If you have found that it’s an excuse, then you need to dig into it a little bit. Ask yourself some questions to get clarity on your motivations:
- What are you afraid of?
- Are you assuming something bad will happen that there’s no precedence for? (that friends or family might make fun of your dream when they never have before, for example)
- Will you survive if this bad thing that you’re worried about happens?
- Would it be worth it to push through your fears if it got you to what you wanted most?
- How important is the goal to you?
- What is the trade off? (dealing with the discomfort of your fear vs never getting what you want)
By working through some of these questions that are pertinent to this excuse you may find that your fears are not really founded. Or that if they are, you might have been inadvertently blowing them out of proportion.
Maybe some people will laugh at you or talk about you behind your back — but you’ve survived worse. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter what life choices you make, people are still going to judge you. You might as well be happy with your life.
Changing habits is hard. Getting over fears is hard. Doing it all alone will make it even harder.
Changing thought patterns is especially difficult because as I said we live in our heads. Someone can see you biting your nails and tell you to stop, but they’re not going to see you thinking your excuses.
However, whether or not you’re making excuses will show in your behavior. If you’ve made a 100 excuses about why you don’t need to go to the gym, and now you’re starting to go every day, people will notice. And if you tell those people about what you’re trying to do, you can get yourself an accountability team going.
These are people who you know will call you out on your shit. The ones who will say that they support you and love you, but you’re making excuses right now. Time to suck it up, buttercup.
Often when we want to make an excuse, we look for validation. You’re feeling tired so you complain to your mom that you’re tired and you don’t want to work out and she tells you how you’re such a hard worker and you deserve some time off. Excuse validated.
We will often run to the very people we know that will validate our excuses. So these are the people that you need to enlist to catch you. You need to explain that you’re trying to overcome your excuses and better yourself, so if they hear you giving what might be an excuses, to let you know.
This will both stop you from going to get your excuses validated, and also give you some people to support you on your personal growth project.
NO SPACE FOR EXCUSES
Once you have become adept at noticing and blocking your excuses, you will start to find that they don’t come up as much as they used to. And when they do they are very obvious about their intentions. It starts to sound a little more like a whiny child that doesn’t want to do their chores than a legitimate voice of reason you should pay attention to.
I have been tackling my excuses for many years now and I feel like I have finally turned a corner with them. In fact the tactic that I use now is simply to not leave space for them to pop up in the first place.
I have separated the decision making process from the taking action process.
In a regular day we make 100s of decisions — what clothes to wear, what to have for lunch, whether to call or email that coworker, whether to work out, what time to go to bed.
However, at all those decision points, we leave space for an excuse to pop up.
In order to avoid this I have started making my plans and arranging my calendar long before I ever plan to take action.
I recently made a decision that I have been avoiding for months. That decision was to move my workouts to the first thing in the morning.
I am 110% NOT a morning person. I hate getting up. It takes me forever to get my brain online. I don’t feel human without coffee (yes I’m aware that’s a problem).
But my schedule wasn’t working. We have so many activities with homeschool and every day is different. I was finding that I wouldn’t get time or motivation to work out until right before I needed to make dinner. Doing this then made dinner late, which means my precious 7-9pm work slot would get cut short, and it was just not working.
Something had to change.
After much self cajoling and making a whole color coded excel spreadsheet to prove to myself that this was not only the ONLY way, but would make life so much better, I convinced myself that this was the right decision.
And then I started. No excuses.
The decision took a lot of work, but once it was done there was no more challenging it. I would not question whether I was going to get up this particular morning and work out. And because I never allowed myself to question my decision, there was no space for excuses to arise.
That’s not to say that my brain doesn’t still try to toss in one or two every morning when I’m trying to drag myself out of bed, but what it does mean is that they are easily shut down. I simply tell myself this is a decision I made and there’s no getting around it.
Excuses pop up when you tell yourself well maybe I could just…..
But if you don’t allow that thinking to happen, then excuses are just background noise you can ignore.
This technique takes some experience with changing your mindset and also a good deal of self awareness about the way you think. I didn’t start here. That’s why I put this as a second option. The above technique is what I used to get to the place where I could just change my mindset and therefore change my behavior.
If you want to start here, by all means give it a shot. But if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to use the mindfulness route above first to get the clarity you need on your thoughts so that you can kick those excuses to the curb.
Excuses easily become habitual thought patterns that can be difficult to notice and change. By becoming aware of what we tell ourselves we can examine the fears behind the excuses and overcome them so we can reach all the goals the excuses are preventing us from obtaining.
If you’re struggling to stop making excuses so that you can reach your goals, contact me here. Coaching is a great way to figure out what’s behind your excuses so you can overcome them.