Refuse The Excuse

Posted on Aug 20, 2008

Earlier this week, I found myself regularly resisting the urge to make excuses for not getting things done. Welcome to my stream of consciousness: “Well, the grocery shopping can wait, because I have all week to get that done. Oh, man, I am just not feeling it today, so I’ll tack those last 10 swim laps onto the next work out. I stayed up way too late last night, so I’ll just leave the banking until later.” Et cetera. You get the drift.

We can all certainly conjure the memory of what it feels like to make an excuse and, subsequently, leave something we decided earlier to do undone.  If you really examine how you feel after that scenario, what feelings do you experience? For me the feeling that comes to mind is feeling defeated, like I cheated no one but myself.

The seductive siren song of the ever-ready excuse had me thinking and way in my head: Where do the excuses come from? What do we gain from making excuses? Why would we make excuses to ourselves? And, most importantly, how do we stop making excuses?

Fundamentally, an excuse is a shift of blame or responsibility from oneself to another party or circumstance. In giving excuses, we are attempting to abdicate responsibility for our actions, to justify to ourselves that there is a solid reason we are not accomplishing what we set out to do. Excuses give us a sense of false comfort and help us rationalize away our lack of productivity. The more we rationalize away our personal responsibility, the more we internalize helplessness. Ultimately, an excuse creates the illusion that we had no choice in whether or not we met our goal.

Making excuses is a habit. Some of us are in the habit more than others. Unproductive habits can be broken with commitment to change and persistence. Framing everything we do as a choice and taking responsibility for our own actions smashes the paradigm that we are just passive observers of our own lives – the difference between a swimmer in the ocean headed in a chosen direction and the driftwood she encounters floating on the waves in her path.

When we frame all of our actions as a choices we reclaim our responsibility and, therefore, can reclaim the successful results of our actions. The cliché visual I have is the tired image of the angel on one shoulder, devil on the other. The angel is whispering, “Won’t it feel fantastic to celebrate completing the whole project today?” The devil is screaming, “No, no, no! Sit here. Don’t move! It feels so great to do nothing. Just leave the rest for tomorrow!”

The key to refusing the excuse is making the choice and accepting the consequence. Even if we choose to sit, do nothing, relax and accept the consequences of taking a break at that time, we can enjoy the rejuvenation that taking the break provided. If we had made an excuse instead of making a choice, we would be left feeling guilty and helpless instead of rejuvenated.

Where the angel and devil scenario sends us awry is in symbolizing that one choice is better than the other. If, after weighing the consequences, we are willing to accept the consequences of whatever choice we make, we should proceed with that choice without further judgment. If we deem so after reflection on the consequences, it is okay to take a break or do our task another time. When we take responsibility and own the choice, we can accept the empowerment that comes with choosing.

On my own attempts to refuse the excuse this week, I conquered the grocery shopping and did the laps during that workout and then some. That feeling of accomplishment, of refusing the excuse, empowered me. It demonstrated my own resolve and left me feeling a bit better equipped to refuse the excuse next time. As for the banking, I am choosing to relax in the sun for a bit today and leave that for tomorrow – and it feels fantastic!