The Excuses Culture: Why We Protect Ourselves With Excuses

Power Nap
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He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. – Benjamin Franklin

When was the last time you made a resolve to achieve something, set a deadline and then achieved it? Can you even remember the last time? I’m struggling. And the reason I am struggling to remember such a time is because of excuses. I make them for everything; consciously and unconsciously. Without noticing it, excuses have become a habit that I am struggling to shake.

In this post I want to talk about the excuses culture that we have develop within ourselves and why we use excuses to protect ourselves from feelings of failure and fear. Hopefully it will spur some readers out there into action.

Why we make excuses


Photo credit: Franzi in der Wiese

A few years ago I was sitting in the car with a friend of mine having a conversation (argument) about how I always seem to find a way out of things. At the end of the debate he said something that has stayed at the front of my mind, something that I think about whenever I am feeling like making an excuse. He said:

“You have always found things easy. You are good at everything. But you aren’t great at anything because you make excuses. You would rather be the ‘potential’ to be great than actually try and fail. And that is sad.”

He was right. All my life I have been naturally gifted at sport and academics. I didn’t have to work hard to get good. But I never really excelled at anything. I never worked really hard to become great at a certain activity. Why? Because I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of trying and not getting there.

My parents role in this habit
I never blame my parents for anything in my life. I simply do not feel like it is a productive exercise. But I can see how certain things they did impacted the way I turned out. And one of those things was how my mother always told me how amazing I could be. She would constantly tell me how smart I was, how good at soccer I was and how I could become something truly special.

But rather than spurring me on to excellence it seemed to do the opposite. I was comfortable being the potential for greatness. I was afraid to actually give it a shot for fear that I wasn’t actually as smart, talented and athletic as she thought. So I made excuses. Excuses so I wouldn’t have to try.

And we all do it. All the time.

Fear: the reason for most excuses
So why do we make excuses? Why do we find ways to get out of things? Well, for the most part, it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of trying and we are afraid of failing. We are afraid of change and we will do anything to keep the norm functioning. Fear is the reason most of us make excuses.

If you look deep into your own mind and your own behavior you will see that you make excuses to protect your sense of self. We spend our whole lives developing and ego and decorating it with friends and family and money and success and we will do anything to protect our concept of that self. Even if it makes us depressed and unfulfilled. And ultimately that is what excuses do, they make you feel unfulfilled.

How to stop making excuses and move forward

Stretch it Out!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Triphamr

People say that the hardest thing you will ever do is quit smoking. But quitting excuses is 10 times harder. Excuses are the reason you started smoking, drinking and eating bad food. You make an excuse not to be healthy and an excuse not to be happy. Breaking the excuse culture is damn hard work. Here are some things you can do.

1. Realize that you do it all the time
As always, you need to take a look at yourself and really truly realize that you make mistakes. Find concrete examples of where you have sabotaged your progress by making an excuse and remember that incident. Bring it to mind whenever you feel like doing it again.

2. Look at your (lack of) progress
Take a look at how much progress you have made with your meditation, athletics, mortgage repayments or family weekend time. See how many excuses you have made and how that has affected your progress is a very real way. Until you can see that it is doing damage you will have no real impetus to stop.

3. Realize that death is coming
People always send me emails saying that I am too depressing when I talk about death. I always reply saying “it is depressing not to talk about it”. For too long our species has made death a taboo subject when, in fact, it is the only thing in life that is certain. Understand that death is coming and that you have no time for excuses. Not any. Its too hot, too cold, too nice inside, I’m too tired, I have a headache… all of those sound like absolute bullshit when you are on your deathbed looking back at what you didn’t achieve.

4. Realize you do it out of fear
If you go up to a fat man in the street and tell him that he is a coward he will probably punch you in the face. Men don’t like to be considered afraid, but that is exactly what we are. We make excuses because we are afraid. Why, then, do we still do it? If someone told us that we were afraid of something else we would do everything in our power to change and prove that we are brave. Do that now with excuses. Prove that you are not afraid of failure, change or losing the norm.

5. Be different in five years time
How different are you now to five years ago? Are you more loving, compassionate, patient, strong, rich, happy, thin, etc.? Take a look at whatever goal you have in your life and see how much closer you are to it now than you were five years ago. If you can say you are happy with your progress then chances are you don’t have a problem with excuses. If you are almost exactly the same then you can bet your right eye on the fact that you are stagnant because you are sabotaging your progress by saying “its too hard” or “its too cold outside”. Be different in five years time and stop making excuses.

Do you make excuses?

I would love to know how many of my readers consider themselves to be excuse makers. What kind of excuses do you come up with and how (if at all) have you dealt with them? Have your excuses held you back from being all that you can be? And how have you felt the weight of this “potential” slowing you down in life? Is it easier to not try?

25 thoughts on “The Excuses Culture: Why We Protect Ourselves With Excuses

  1. Wow. What a great kick-in-the-rear post. Excuses all over the place, in my head, out of my friends’ mouths, co-workers…everywhere.

    Yes, for me, being ‘good’ at things comes very easy – being great at something – I have no idea. Now my curiosity is raising her head….”What would I be great at….? I have no idea.

    I use everything from ‘not enough money to do this project’ to ‘I’m too tired to even think about “this” – but I can spin a huge web of energy of excuses…”

    I believe it is time to re-allocate energy usage.

  2. Hi DM

    That quote of your friend really touched me! I even wrote it up and out it on my refrigerator. I would LOVE to say that I don’t make excuses and I would love to say that I follow trough. But the fact is that im only human (oh shit! Is that also an excuse?!) No but really, I think I was a great article, and very relevant for me. Iโ€™m to run 12 km in 2 weeks, and I canโ€™t run 5 now without fainting from exhaustion. So I train by running 5 km every morning, and its here that excuses turn up. But that still dose not change the fact that I MUST fun 12 km I 2 weeks.

    From now on I will look at my refrigerator every morning ๐Ÿ˜‰

    All the Best Tor, Denmark

  3. Excellent post!
    I believe if you are only ‘interested’ in something, you will do what’s convenient.
    But if you are ‘committed’ to something, you will do whatever it takes.
    And so, absolute commitment is the only antidote to excuses.

  4. TDM…

    You have hit bang on target with this post, thank you. I liked the comparison between being good at something and being great.
    When I see someone who is incredibly adept at their work, it really motivates me. And “not making excuses” is one of the reasons why they are that way.

    I have to be conscious from now on.

  5. Thats me!!! I cant believe you have written so much about me! ๐Ÿ™ Your friend’s quote has taken me by my legs and turned me upside down. I almost always make excuses, mostly to myself. I’ve not tried a lot of things I was interested in, and did a lot of things that just came my way. Why? Doing those things I was interested in came at a price – change. I was afraid, and never tried. Its easier not to try, but you end up being cold, lifeless, aimless, and not happy.

    I’m going to print that quote and look at it every moment.

  6. Thanks man. Good post. People are afraid of change. People like familiar. Even if familiar is a bad situation. I think you want to change or you don’t. You gotta make a choice.

  7. You said, “We are afraid of trying and we are afraid of failing. We are afraid of change and we will do anything to keep the norm functioning. Fear is the reason most of us make excuses.”

    That is so true! If we don’t try, we can’t really fail because we didn’t try in the first place. But if we do try and fail, that is such a blow to our egos.

    I loved your entry. Especially because you expressed yourself better than I did last when I talked about this very thing on my blog.

    I am working this very thing in my own life right now.

  8. Hmm, there’s a side of me which agrees with what your friend said, etc. but there’s something else I have found with age. You assume that there is something, some way ‘better’ to strive for – why? Perhaps there is nothing to strive for, perhaps everything just ‘Is’ and then there is no need for excuses at all. lol

  9. Hmm… your story sounds eerily like mine. And I see from some of the above comments that “our” story is all too common. Time to ditch the excuses! I’ve adopted a micromanagment-type list of goals, small things that I set out to accomplish every day. In my mind, there’s no reason NOT to achieve those tiny little things, so buh-bye excuses.

  10. This post could not have come at a better time for me. I’m in a transitional period and have been resisting change for almost 4 years. Fear of the future is the breeding ground of my excuse excess. I’m afraid that if I try, if I do everything right, and still fail, then I’m worse than a failure and my life will change negatively. But, the change I’m facing will more than likely result in positive change. The possibility of negative change is remote. But, the POSSIBILITY is what scares the living hell out of me.

    Absolutely wonderful to read this article. Thanks!

    Note: some will say change is change, but I’m of the belief that change can be considered positive or negative (i.e., going to prison is usually a negative change and getting an exciting new job is usually positive change).

  11. Interesting article. I’ve become aware of this tendancy in myself recently as well. However, in my own case, I find it more a fear of success rather than failure that motivates my excuses.

  12. Isn’t it fascinating how fear is the root emotion behind every negative thing we do or see in the world? Making excuses, in my opinion, is something that people do because they do not want to be responsible for their actions or whatever.

    When I was sad and depressed, making excuses was really easy and a way of life until I realized that I am the creator of my reality. Fear does raise its ugly head every now and then but then I realize that it is an illusion and I work through it.

    As FDR said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

  13. You hit me right on the head with the everything comes easy comment. School, work, and sports just seem to come without much effort and I have paid for that dearly because I have never went from good to great at anything. I am glad to see that so many are struggling with the same thing I am. Death to the infiexcuses!

  14. This is a very powerful article into how our thoughts work and what ultimately gets us to do or not do something. You can’t do start it tomorrow. You need to start now!

  15. This article really gets into our thought process and what ultimately gets us to do or not do something. I think it is great to challenge people’s thoughts and actions and get them to not change tomorrow but to change today!

  16. I don’t agree with your friend.
    There is nothing wrong with being good at lots of things and not great at anything.
    If humans were one dimensional then he would be right. We would need to excel at something and devote all our time to it.
    But we are multi-dimensioal beings. Explorers in a sense.
    Striving to be the best at something is fine if that is what you want but striving to just enjoy life and try many things isn’t a bad trait either.
    LIfe isn’t a race, it’s a journey with lots of side trips along the way to distract us..
    Like your writing style by the way..

  17. Simply… great post!

    I just had a conversation with my roommate earlier today about not doing the things we really want to do and not excelling in life. I am totally an excuse maker. Thank you for this!

  18. Ben Franklin quoted that nobody wins an argument.A person who is convinced of his mistake is still of the same opinion still.Voltaire quoted that even though I do not agree with you but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Hemm.I believe in both.Never argue with someone.Agree with them in so much that you can.Never point out their mistakes blatantly.Be indirect.Try to look at it from their point of view.Any and all argument when it is tinged with emotions is unhealthy.Things are blown out of proportion. When we are calm,rationality sets in.Be reasonable.There are inductive reasoning,adoptive reasoning,fallacious reasoning among others.No smiles for that increases the others agitation.Potray your willingness to listen and that you are trying to understand.When there is a discussion along those lines, understanding and hard feelings are negated.Cordiality is important.I beg your pardon on this but tis something I believe in. We are human beings.We are given by God the ability to think.So use it.Sometimes following the heart is not the best way.Use your better judgement.

  19. Incredible timimg with this post. I stayed up late last night working on a post about how I always make excuses for not “living up to my potential”, for not being fearless and authentic.

    Thanks for the nudge to complete the piece and then post it.

  20. Thanks so much! I have been making excuses for why others may not want to be with me to protect myself from them leaving and I am ready to face this and STOP acting like this because I want to truly find happiness in myself and in a relationship. I don’t think I can let myself be truely loved until I face this.

  21. How much more can we take? How many more excuses are we going to make. It is my belief that EVEREYONE, in one form or another makes excuses. It’s a killer that goes unpunished.

    “You cannot get an A if you are afraid to get an F”
    Origin: unknown.

  22. Hi, it’s a second post of yours I read and I absolutly love it! I love that you are clear and summerize well. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It helps to collect even easier a bigger picture of “the big picture”.. Nice article! And defenetly keep talking about death! Death is the only thing certain thing in our lives – well said ๐Ÿ˜‰ Now I feel safe, no matter what happens deth will safe me ;D

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