I have a confession to make. Until a few years ago, I was the master of excuses. I blamed my weight on bad genetics, I convinced myself that every small victory was a reason to drink, and I believed that, as a shy person, I was incapable of standing up for myself. Spurred by an eye-opening health diagnosis, I was done making excuses, and I became my own drill sergeant. I called myself out on my bullshit excuses every minute of every day, and my life took a turn. Having dug myself out of the trenches, I now understand what the human mind and body is capable of. Excuses rob us of our full potential, and it is time to fight back.
Every one of us has formulated an internal story about ourselves, which drives everything we do. We believe these stories to be our reality, but often they are not factual. In essence, excuses are derived from these made-up stories, and they function to validate our behavior. They are self-destructive coping mechanisms that cause us to believe we are victims of our circumstances, which breeds helplessness. Excuses let us off the hook for mediocre or lazy behavior. We all think we are doing the absolute BEST and that disadvantageous factors are simply out of our control. BUT THEY ARE NOT! The ability to curtail these excuses can be the avenue that leads us to achievement.
How to Identify Excuses?
a) Cultivate mindfulness
According to legendary mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” If we can remove the emotion and think critically, we begin to separate our personal beliefs from the realities of a situation. In becoming more mindful, you begin to hear yourself use excuses and a red flag appears, cautioning you to rethink what was just said.
b) Ask a trusted friend or family member
If self-reflection feels difficult, when we are so convinced our story is the truth, it can be helpful to involve another person who knows you well. Ask this person, “what excuses do you hear me making?” and listen to their insight. DO NOT argue with them! That is your excuse-making brain talking.
c) Make a list of goals and reasons why they are not being achieved
Writing can open doors in our mind and provide clarity. Let’s say your goal is to work-out for 30 minutes in the morning, but you rarely do because you “don’t have time” and “you’re not a morning person.” First, identify your excuses: 1. No time 2. Not a morning person. Now challenge these excuses. Why do you feel like you have no time? Perhaps you stay up too late binging Netflix and hit the snooze button more than once the next morning. Or maybe you wake up, grab your phone, and spend 15 minutes mindlessly scrolling before you even get out of bed. These habits are due to poor time management and are fixable.
How to Take Back Control of Your Life?
a) Start small
Take your number one goal and make that the focus. Don’t try to change multiple areas of your life at once.
b) Catch yourself and immediately correct the behavior
As mindfulness develops, you will start to identify excuses as soon as you express them. Label them and tell yourself, “that was an excuse for my behavior.” If you stated, “I am not a morning person,” immediately rephrase it and say, “I am working on my skillset to become more productive in the mornings.”
c) Make a plan and stick with it
Realize that behavior change takes time, and you will likely have moments of frustration and will want to fall back on old tendencies. In resisting these regressions, we are strengthening our mind until our new thought patterns become automatic.
d) Prioritize valuable goals
We naturally make time for things that we value. Using the prior example, if you see value in morning exercise, then make it a priority and take the steps needed to ensure that it happens. Set the alarm to go to bed, create the ideal sleep environment, move your phone to another room, and do not touch in for one hour after waking.
Excuses are our built-in defensive strategy, and it can be hard to break the cycle. Less than 25% of the people reading this will do the work required to change. There is no question that change is hard, and in doing so, we become vulnerable and unsure of ourselves. However, it is during these transitional periods that incredible growth happens. You will begin to stand out as a person who is free from excuses. I encourage you all to be extraordinary in a world full of ordinary. You might be surprised where it takes you.