Habitually making excuses is a form of self-sabotage that can limit possibilities and lower self-esteem. You are more likely to avoid new experiences and reject potentially exciting opportunities. The impact can include reinforcing unchallenged fears and limiting beliefs about your capabilities.
Over time, this can lead to a negative view of life focused on downsides and difficulties with failure lurking in the shadows. The solution to excuse-making is to raise self-awareness and deal courageously with whatever is holding you back. This article looks at how you can go about this.
Why do we make excuses? Humans are hard-wired to escape threats, whether real or perceived. Self-preservation is a remarkable motivator. The same instinct can be seen in excuse-making when faced with difficult decisions or dealing with change or uncertainty. Sometimes the reason is a lack of self-belief or worry that things will not work out. The result is the same: excuses become an avoidance strategy that protects against feelings of failure, guilt or embarrassment.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it” – Brene Brown
The upside to excuse-making. Perhaps you lack the know-how or planning skills to move forward? Identifying this provides an opportunity to fill the gaps before diving in. Language such as ‘I must’ or ‘I should’ can indicate that you don’t own a goal, and maybe others have suggested. It is worth examining if the goal is valid or if you are people-pleasing. Sometimes excuses are made because there is anxiety about change. Recognise this and practice self-compassion as this will help you overcome your fear and enable you to act.
The downside of excuse-making. Reinforcing unchallenged fears and limiting beliefs can damage self-esteem. The result is that enthusiasm, creativity and a sense of adventure are effectively blocked. Feeling diminished and disappointed may lead to lower expectations for what you want out of life. Making habitual excuses can lead to behaviour such as catastrophising situations, taking things too personally or over-generalising fears.
Finding a way forward. In all scenarios, self-reflection is a useful process to identify the real issues before deciding what to do about them. The answer is not punishing yourself but to raise self-awareness so you understand which beliefs are driving behaviour. Examine why you might be holding yourself back. Imagine what your inner mentor would say to you – perhaps supportive words of encouragement. Vital to this process is catching yourself in the thrall of excuse-making. Then you can make a conscious choice rather than being on autopilot.
“I attribute my success to this; I never gave or took an excuse” – Florence Nightingale
Below is a framework that identifies why you find excuses and helps you understand what drives this behaviour. You can reflect on the impact this has on you and decide if you want to make a change. Then you can consider a different approach that might achieve a better result. Finding the motivation to move outside your comfort zone requires courage and this can be challenging. So be kind to yourself as you approach this exercise in addition to being factual, candid and honest.
Begin by writing down the outcome you wish to achieve. Now think of the excuses you regularly make such as ‘I don’t have enough time’, ‘I was too tired’, ‘I don’t believe it will work’ etc. What are the beliefs behind these words? Are these helpful, or do they hinder you? Acknowledge these without excessive self-criticism. Now for each excuse, answer the following questions:
What is the underlying belief, thought or fear? Pause and notice the feelings that arise as you do this. Make a note of what you discover without self-editing or suppression.
What is the impact of this excuse? How are you affected? Your relationships? What opportunities might you have missed?
What if the excuse didn’t exist. What would happen? Think about the outcome that you could achieve and why this would be important to you. What difference does this make to your motivation?
Ask ‘what else’ and allow further thoughts to flow. With the knowledge you have gained, what action will you take to address the issues that you have uncovered.
Write up your notes and review your work. Focusing on what you will do first, break this down into small steps and take one action today.
“When you are good at making excuses, it is hard to excel at anything else” – John L. Mason
You have a choice. Live a life of regret, or you can take back control and decide what you want, then work towards achieving this. It takes courage to face up to excuses and effort to replace these with reasons that motivate you to act. Change isn’t easy, so be prepared for days when you may slip up. Use these times as opportunities to strengthen your resolve and push on. Your eventual success will be all the sweeter for it.
If you’d like to receive my monthly newsletter for tips and strategies for navigating modern life more successfully, you can subscribe via this link: https://www.beverlylandais.co.uk/blog