Stop Making Excuses That Hold You Back


We hear them constantly.

Whether it’s, “Now is not the right time,” “There’s nothing I can do,”  “I got stuck in traffic,” or “I had to work late,” our lives can sometimes seem to be a constant web of excuses.

We’re all aware of excuses that we hear, but what about our own excuses?  You know, the ones we use to rationalize the truth, explain a mistake, or handle a work/life situation?

According to Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David in her book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, “Making excuses is normal.”

David explains how “it’s important that we have narratives that help us make sense of our lives and worlds.”  However, she cautions against allowing excuses to become so prominent that they hold you back, and compromise your hearts and values.

When Excuses Overwhelm Reality

Being aware of your excuse-making helps determine whether it’s the thinker or the thought in charge.

If the thinker is in charge, then you’ve retained control over the excuse.  When the thought takes charge, then you’re not making personal progress.

How does one discern the difference between the thinker and the thought?  Here are two important signals:

  • You’ve heard it all before. The excuse is becoming a familiar pattern, and it’s skewing your objectivity when dealing with a situation.
  • An excuse allows you to put aside negative emotions. Instead of confronting a problem or situation, the excuse pushes the discomfort away. The discomfort or emotion is gone but there’s no personal growth and less value.

When you spot these warning signs you know that you thoughts are in charge. For such situations David details some tips to get back in the driver’s seat.

  • Look to your values for balance. It’s easy to diffuse or delay a difficult situation with an excuse. For instance, an you might suddenly become “too busy” when faced with giving negative feedback to an employee.  By turning to a mental rationalization, you are allowing the fear of confrontation to take precedence over your values. Instead, think abut your values and whether you think it is fair to the individual if you don’t give them proper feedback and delay the situation.
  • Think about your long term growth. Are you retarding your personal growth by relying on an excuse? If you catch yourself making an excuse instead of working out a problem, are you really moving toward becoming the person you want to be in the long run?
  • Try changing your perspective. We all develop patterns of thought. Those patterns become so ingrained that they are reflexive.  David calls this “self-verification.”  The safety of familiar thought patterns can be difficult to notice because our brains interpret the familiarity as “safe and normal.” The most important change that can be made is by looking at a situation from a different perspective.  She suggests that by, “imagining that you are giving advice to someone else,” you can change your perspective of a situation.  The simple truth is, it’s easier for us to give advice to others, we just need to listen to the advice we would offer to another, and then apply it to our situation.

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