How would you live your life if you were suddenly unable to make excuses for anything? How would your conversations change, and how would you do things differently if you couldn’t back out and could be truly honest about your motives?
We all make excuses. They seem to grease the wheels of business and friendship in so many ways. We explain why we forgot our friend’s birthday or why we were late to an appointment or why we said something we didn’t really mean to say. The other person in this arrangement politely nods and doesn’t really listen, accepts the excuse and the underlying apology politely, and we move on with our day. If you’re like me, you do this multiple times in your day over situations big and small. In fact, I find myself making excuses when I don’t even need to. And that got me thinking about excuses and how we use them. And that got me thinking about what I would do instead.
The problem with making excuses is that they allow us to give up our power and transfer responsibility for our lives and our decisions onto something else. We give our power away to the circumstances in our lives instead of taking charge and controlling the circumstances we are given to the best of our abilities. By making excuses, we allow our personal power to erode slowly, incrementally with each excuse. Pretty soon, it isn’t just the weather that gets in our way, but also the line at the coffee shop and the poor phone connection that are taking control of our lives. We can always make a different decision, and that is where we are truly powerful. When we excuse ourselves from making better decisions by assigning them to our situations or circumstances, we not only explain away our mistakes, but we don’t get full credit for the good things that we do, either. That is what giving our power away looks like.
Listen to yourself the next time you are making an excuse. Usually you’re not being truthful, not entirely. Traffic and parking may have made you later than you would have been anyway, but in reality, you left 10 minutes later than you intended to. And by making the excuse and having it accepted, you’re learning that it’s okay to leave late and blame your poor timing on something else. We don’t have to learn anything or change our behavior if it’s someone else’s fault. By making excuses, we block our own development because we don’t see where the changes need to happen or what we will gain by making them. We spend a lot of time and energy thinking of what we will say, what we will blame our lateness on this time. We choose to be power-less and take less responsibility for our actions and our lives.
Often we imply an apology within the excuse. However, whether the apology is implicit or explicit, it is weakened when we make an explanation along with it. An apology is a powerful form of communication if done sincerely. A sincere apology includes a plan to do things differently next time because we realize how much we have hurt another. An excuse allows us to shirk that responsibility, and the resulting apology falls flat. The other person may even accept our explanation, but the apology is weakened by that action.
Excuses are disrespectful to others. By making an excuse, we are not acknowledging the other person’s importance. We are telling them that their time and efforts aren’t appreciated. We are telling them that other things in our lives take precedence over their needs and that they aren’t important to us.
So what does living without excuses really look like? It isn’t easy. Being sincere and truthful to ourselves and others requires that we examine our behaviors and thoughts. It requires that we notice when we are feeling the need to make explanations about our behaviors. It requires us to say no to things we don’t agree with and to say yes to the things that lift us up and inspire us to grow. It requires the people we are in relationships to help us live differently, and it requires us to be vigilant about our own tendencies to want to be lazy and give our power away.
Notice when you are making excuses. See if there is a way to be truly honest instead. Try it for a day or a week and see if your communication with others doesn’t deepen or grow or change. See if it doesn’t change how you think about your commitments to others. You might be surprised by how others respond to you when you are no longer making excuses.