Life can be a complicated dance, and one thing is sure — we are all likely to make excuses for our mistakes along the way. That is because none of us is perfect. Sometimes we fall short and fail in our personal behavior, and the consequences of excuses reflect that. When faced with situations, the final choices we make (whether good or bad) to handle the challenge will illustrate how effectively we manage our lives.
Let me give you a simple example. A few weeks ago, I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner. Unfortunately, “something came up at the last minute at work,” and he told me he couldn’t make it. I am sure this is an excuse we’ve all heard countless times.
This friend has severe FOMO, which dictates how he lives his life. It is no surprise that a few days later, I found out he ditched me to hang out with another group of people who were out.
People can be highly imaginative when it comes to making excuses. As in my friend’s example, we use them to get out of situations every day for various reasons.
There are many excuses we make every day, ‘I can’t exercise because I too tired,’ ‘I forgot to call my best friend on their birthday because I had to work,’ or ‘I am late for an appointment because I was stuck on a call.’
Sometimes, we make excuses just because we don’t want to commit to something or want to leave ourselves open in case something better comes along. Or, perhaps we are just lazy and tend to procrastinate instead of making a commitment.
However, other times, we use them to remove ourselves from something that may be difficult or undesirable or something that is generating fears, worries, or uncertainty.
In this article, I will deep dive into the problem of making excuses, why we do it, how to recognize we are doing it, the consequences of making excuses, and eight steps to stop making them in our lives.
But let’s start with the story of a Hollywood A-lister whose career came crashing down, not because of the act she committed, but because of the excuse she gave for why she did it.
How the consequences of excuses derailed a Hollywood A-lister
Winona Ryder obtained her first movie role in the 1986 romantic comedy Lucas at age 13. By the time Ryder was only 18, she was a household name. During the late ’80s and ’90s, she was THE conversation with memorable roles in Reality Bites, Beetlejuice, Girl Interrupted, and Edward Scissorhands.
Ryder’s life and career skyrocketed, and she was a top A-lister in Hollywood. During this time, she started dating Johnny Depp. But their breakup in the early ’90s, coupled with the harsh Hollywood culture of that time, produced a far darker life for her.
This life fell apart when Winona Ryder was 30 and was arrested for shoplifting at the height of her fame. She was ultimately caught by security cameras, removed anti-theft tags from the stolen Saks Fifth Avenue items, and placed some of her stolen goods into a Barney’s shopping bag. It wasn’t the theft that caused Ryder’s fall from grace; her excuse for doing it was even worse. She claimed, “a director [of an upcoming movie] suggested she do this for research.”
Ryder was ultimately found guilty of grand theft and vandalism for shoplifting more than $5,500 worth of designer goods from Sax Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. She vanished from public view for many years, and the incident squashed her career as a sought-after leading lady.
I use this story to illustrate the destructive power of excuses. As I discussed in the beginning, we use excuses for many reasons. In the case of Ryder, psychiatrist Patricia Farrel revealed, “It had nothing to do with money, and everything to do with getting relief from all her troubles. She acted irrationally because she was in great pain and feeling lonely.”
Why do people make excuses?
The nature of excuses is enticing, and the desire not to want to do something can be tied to valid, rational reasoning. For the most part, excuses tend to be a vehicle of short-term satisfaction. Like the consequences of many of our choices, they bring with them immediate fulfillment at the expense of something more significant down the line. That is because excuses shift our reasoning from a more threatening basis impacting our self-esteem to a less threatening one.
When we make excuses, they are almost always tied to one of three reasons: fear, indecision, or failure to take responsibility. To quit making excuses, we first must determine which one applies to us.
Attempting something new and pushing out of our fixed mindsets can initially feel overwhelming, but commonly, beneath these feelings are underlying fears such as encountering failure, nonacceptance, missteps, or being unfairly evaluated by others. Often, holding these beliefs can restrict you from moving forwards, and instead, we use excuses to evade feeling the fear.
We all have emotions that drive our decisions, and one of our most potent needs is to possess confidence. Because of that, we are driven to avoid pain and seek things that we know will bring pleasure. Feeling prepared is a crucial factor that helps us to take action when we plan to make a change.
When we face indecision in a situation, our brains prefer making excuses over dealing with uncertainty. We may not always be 100% prepared for everything we do. Sometimes we are indecisive because we want to make everything ‘perfect’ before getting started. This indecision can cause us to procrastinate and not move at all. It ultimately leads to more excuses, and we can become stuck in a cycle of perfectionism.
Failure to take responsibility
Those who make excuses also often come across as lethargic, uninspired, and indifferent. When we give excuses, we are doing so to lessen our responsibility in any given situation. In other words, we use excuses to justify our actions, even though they are often wrong. We try to convince others that things are not entirely true, but worse, we end up doing the same with ourselves. When we do this, our conscious actions cause ramifications on our unconscious behavior.
What are the consequences of excuses?
Excuses are something that literally every one of us has used, in one way or the other, in every facet of our lives.
These excuses may be for differing reasons, but they share one common characteristic — they are one of the worst things you can do to yourself.
Excuses are frankly just a gentler word for betrayal. When we’re not responsible for our actions, we shift blame from ourselves to someone or something else — fair or not — we are making excuses. And while excuses are not necessarily wrong, they are not welcome in our life.
Excuses may be a way of seeking forgiveness or mitigating personal responsibility, which might lessen the impact on the other party. However, when we make excuses, it is also an intentional action to manipulate the emotions of others. We do this as a way of trying to create a positive outcome, but most of the time, it ends up just backfiring, causing self-harm.
These consequences certainly don’t result in a very intentional lifestyle. In fact, they paralyze us and prevent moving forward in our desire to become passion-struck.
If we want to overcome our excuses, we must admit that we are making them and why. Of course, this may not be as easy as it sounds. However, it’s absolutely essential if you want to avoid surrendering to the unavoidable consequences.
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself:
- What are the excuses I tend to make?
- Why do I make excuses?
- What are the reasons I don’t accept who I am?
Following that, list down the consequences resulting from the excuses.
- How are these excuses prevent me from advancing?
- How are they impacting the other person(s)?
- How do they hinder my ability to become who I aspire to be?
8 techniques to stop making excuses
So, we now have covered why we make excuses, how to recognize we are making them, and the consequences they can have on our lives. Now let us go into some ideas, suggestions, and techniques to eradicate them from our lives for good.
Before drilling into these techniques, it’s essential to recognize that the excuses we make often lead to us becoming stuck in life.
If we desire fulfillment in any field of endeavor, it requires a period of pain or discomfort where we must embark into unfamiliar territories that lead to unexpected outcomes. Keep this in mind as we discuss the following suggestions.
If we desire to stop making excuses, the first step is always to realize that we and we alone create the life we desire. Developing the willpower to take responsibility isn’t an inborn strength. Instead, it is a skill that is developed through relentless practice.
Impulsivity can be a significant issue in achieving our goals. In my interview with Katy Milkman, a behavior scientist at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, she advised that a solution to this is to turn our impulsivity into an asset by making virtuous behaviors fun.
So, when we find ourselves in a situation where we are tempted to make an excuse, instead of relying on willpower to resist temptation, we learn how to make good behaviors more gratifying in the short term. An excellent way to practice this is by making a pre-commitment and rewarding ourselves for the progress.
The pathway to any success in life is to take massive, intentional action. The ability to make difficult choices is a top trait of those desiring to achieve their goals and an essential skill for everyday life. However, we often suffer from “analysis paralysis” when we make excuses.
To stop making excuses, as Astronaut Wendy Lawrence told me in our interview, we must stop procrastinating by allowing ourselves to dream our dream through continuous action toward our desired future.
We can facilitate habit formation by tracking our behavior if we want to avoid making excuses. Our habits are the default settings for our behavior. Thus, by monitoring our behavior, we can avoid forgetting to follow through, ensuring that we celebrate our successes and hold ourselves accountable when we fail.
Frequently, the excuses we make result from a lack of perspective. During my interview with Navy SEAL and Astronaut Chris Cassidy, he told me that one of the biggest lessons he learned from his time in space is to see the world and himself through a different lens.
Often times our lack of perspective prevents us from seeing the bigger picture and the consequences of our actions. When we switch perspectives, we see that problems are opportunities, not obstacles, and we alter how we see the situation before committing to making our excuses.
Exercising personal adequacy
People who make excuses likely have an overarching narrative of their inadequacy that is blocking their path forward. These narratives are the anecdotes we tell ourselves about who we are.
During my upcoming interview with Dr. Nate Zinnser, a performance psychologist at West Point, he told me that he found through his research that positive self-affirmation effects on behavior change lead to a greater sense of personal adequacy. Thus, through self-affirmation techniques, we learn new skills and stop negative behaviors like making excuses.
Overcoming the middle problem
Robin Sharma said, “All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and so gorgeous at the end.” As we approach changing our behavior, the beginnings are often clearly marked; however, the middles can be ill-defined.
In my interview with Ayelet Fishbach, a psychologist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, she says that we sometimes slack off in the middle because the middle actions don’t seem to matter as much. To shorten the middles, she recommends setting subgoals, where we can minimize the tendency to cut corners in the middle and reduce the middle itself.
We must act unconditionally if we desire to transcend where we are today. To do this, we must learn to love others without expecting anything in return. We must speak honestly with those we interact with and respect others and their views; otherwise, we truly do not respect them. The only way we improve the world is by improving ourselves by becoming more virtuous. This starts by making a simple choice, in every moment, to treat ourselves and others as the means and not the end.
Benjamin Franklin once said: “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
As brutal as that sounds, it’s likely not far from reality. Sometimes we get so consumed in creating excuses about how situations or events didn’t turn out as we had desired that we fail to focus on making the best of every situation — no matter the outcome.
At the moment, some excuses might even appear harmless. However, the reality is that the consequences of excuses we make take us further away from living our best life. Even more, we will likely miss opportunities we might never get back and fail to build skills and aptitudes that contribute to our growth and improvement.
Trust me when I say that if you desire to live intentionally, then there is no room for maintaining the status quo and keep palming off excuses. If you are the one making the excuses, then you must be a part of the solution and face your fears with certainty and responsibility.
You’ll know you’re living with intention when you don’t have to make excuses. Instead of making excuses, start making better intentional choices aimed at where you want your future self to be, not where you currently are.