Hard decisions, difficult conversations, or taking action towards life changes are common challenges we put off to another day.
Sometimes we don’t even realize we put it off. Weeks or months may go by before we realize we didn’t take any action towards that ‘thing’ we’ve been meaning to do.
Why we make excuses
When faced with difficult activities our ego becomes afraid. We feel this fear in the form of a faster pulse, heavier breathing or a tightening in our stomach.
To avoid a potential situation of getting hurt, disappointed or rejected, our ego makes excuses to keep us from the confrontation. It is easy to generate a long list of excuses and no matter how silly or unreasonable the excuses are, they seem real and powerful because we created the excuses that way in our minds.
A personal story
For a year before I left my day job to pursue my interests, I rationalized staying in my current position. I wanted to leave and I knew it was the right thing to do, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Every time I wanted to take action, I was mauled with excuses. Overwhelmed, I started writing all the excuses running through my head.
At first, my excuses seemed legitimate and rational, like concerns about financial resources or starting over in another field.
But as I kept writing, the fears driving my excuses surfaced. These were the real fears holding me back. They ranged from self-doubt, worries about people’s perceptions, images of worse case scenarios, and pressure of not ‘measuring up’ to people.
As I wrote these down, the fears started losing power. After I read my excuses after a good night’s sleep, the excuses that were once distressing now looked so manageable. Some excuses seemed silly and exaggerated, and some worse case scenarios weren’t bad at all.
My fears had great power in my head, but on paper they were weak and easy to handle.
Dealing with excuses
Excuses are like monsters that hide in dark basements. Once you turn on the lights a few times, they disappear and never return.
The key weapon to defeating your excuses is your own awareness. When you are aware you’re making excuses, you shed ‘light’ on these dark corners of your ego and once you shine light on there a few times, those dark corners simply go away.
Here’s how you can fight your excuses.
1. Observe yourself
Every time you feel afraid and want to put something off, observe what your ego is saying and how you body is feeling.
Observe your feelings before you make the excuse, during and after you make the excuse. Do you hear voices that tell you “it’ll never work”? Do you feel scared? Does your body feel tense?
Silently observe yourself without comment or judgement, as if watching yourself in a film. Don’t even interrupt yourself from making the excuse. Just watch.
2. Observe your excuses
In addition to observing yourself, feel what’s really behind the excuse. Are they fears about money, other people’s perceptions, personal failure?
Again, make no judgement as you watch yourself make the excuse. Don’t criticize or fight your feelings. Again, just watch.
3. Write them down
Write down your excuses and the fears driving it.
When you write one excuse down, you may find other excuses rushing out too. Write it all down. The more excuses and fears you get out of your system, the more you’ll be aware of your dark corners, and the faster you’ll free yourself from what’s holding you back. (Continue reading to see some of my excuses, and you can print out a list to write your excuses down too.)
What to do with your excuses
The day after you write your excuses, read your excuses with an open mind and curiosity. How do you feel about the excuses now? Are your fears less overwhelming?
Some of the things you wrote down may now seem irrelevant, silly, or you’ll suddenly know how to mitigate some excuses. You may even laugh at how melodramatic you were.
To bring even more awareness to your excuses, post the list in your office or living room wall. Even if you don’t read them again, just keep the list up – you know what’s on that paper.
By being aware, you’ll eventually stop connecting to the excuses and they will lose their power over you. You’ll also feel less inclined to make excuses in the future now that you’re aware of yourself making excuses.
If you need a nudge to start unleashing your excuses, here were my excuses for not leaving my day job to pursuit my own interests (in brackets are my realizations after I looked at the excuse on paper.)
Some seem ridiculous now that they’re on paper, but these were once very real when they were only in my mind.
- I’ve invested so many years in my current field. I’ll have to start all over again. What if I never make as much money as I am now?
(I’ve been working for less than 3 years since I finished university, why wouldn’t I eventually make as much money doing something I’m genuinely interested in?)
- I’ll have to do more schooling. Everyone there will be younger and sharper than me. What if they laugh at me for trying to go into a ‘younger’ field? I’ll be like the senior citizen who sit in on university lectures.
(Other people’s opinions has no bearing on how well I do. And I’m not old, I’m in my twenties, I still get carded at the liquor store.)
- What if I’m not good at it? What if I don’t have anything to show for it after one year? People will pity me for quitting a respectable and decent paying job to do something I’m not good at. Then they’ll be secretly happy that I failed.
(If I like it, I’ll naturally become good at it. Other people thinking I’m bad at something doesn’t impact my potential or my actual abilities. If it turns out I’m really not good at it, I will try something else or go back to my old industry.)
- l’ll have to use my savings and lose a year of income. I won’t be able to buy my own place anymore. In a few years my friends and classmates will have their own condos and i’ll still be renting.
(Oh well! I’ll live.)
- This is too stressful to think about. I have a headache. I want to go to bed.
(Wow, I’m so dramatic. I should be an actress.)
As you shed light on your excuses, they’ll slowly dissipate. Depending on what you’re making excuses from, it might take one day or many weeks until you fully let go of your excuses.
Just observing yourself, so that you’re shining awareness and light into your dark corners. It works.
If you find yourself making excuses again, deal with them the same way.
1.) Observe yourself making excuses
2.) Observe the excuses and the fears fuelling them
3.) Write them down so you can really see your fears. Stick it on your wall and leave them there until you no longer feel connected to the excuses.
No matter how long your list of excuses is, if you follow these three steps, one by one they will vanish and you’ll be free to do what is right for you.
Fears have great power when they’re inside your head. They grow and mutate into giant trolls. But by being aware of them, you can bring them outside where they no longer have control over you.
How do you deal with excuses and fears? If you want to let out your own excuses and fears, you are welcomed to post them in the comments below. You may find it liberating :)
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