I recently started volunteering with a group of women who are rebuilding their lives and was asked to begin our time together by leading the daily “Morning Meditation”. They use a lovely little book called Keep It Simple as the inspiration for these daily times of reflection and discussion, and on “my” morning the topic for the day was excuses.The reading opened with a quote from the 18th century English poet, Alexander Pope:
“An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie.”
Just now, I looked up the quote and discovered there is a second part to it, which reinforces what I am about to discuss with you:
“…for an excuse is a lie guarded.”
As one of the women pointed out, when we tell a boldfaced lie we know it. There is guilt, however fleeting; a lie by its nature pricks our conscience. We know we’ve done something wrong, even though for whatever reason in that moment we didn’t have the courage or character to do the right thing.
But with an excuse, what we say to others or ourselves seems plausible, even reasonable. Maybe we truly believe in our excuse, because we really haven’t looked too closely at it (and deep down don’t want to, it’s serving us somehow).
To quote more from the text in the little book:
“Excuses. They’re lies. We use excuses to hide from ourselves…Excuses keep us from ourselves. They keep us from our Higher Power.”
So how can you sniff out an excuse that’s really a lie? One way is to test whether it holds up across circumstances.
A great example was provided by one of the women. She said that we can use rainy weather as an excuse to conveniently avoid something that would be healthy to do. We might not go out for a walk for the exercise we really need “because it’s raining”, yet might easily go out in the rain to go buy something that we’re craving that’s not good for us (a pack of cigarettes, for example).
Do you have excuses like this in your life?
The exercise for the day was to list your five most often used excuses. Why not get out your journal or a piece of paper and do that now?
Here are some of my favorite self-sabotaging excuses I came up with, in case they inspire you to come clean with yourself, too:
1) I escape things I don’t feel like facing, or avoid important things I should be doing, by parking myself in front of Netflix with something yummy to eat (I love to distract myself both visually and also through my taste buds, so that my escape feels complete). I tell myself that this helps me unwind after or during my day. There’s truth to that, but it’s not healthy when I use this to run from facing things in my life I don’t want to look at too closely. I do that a lot.
2) I have struggled for decades with my spending habits. Because I don’t have a salaried job and my income is based on so many different activities and variable factors, it’s impossible to predict what my income will be each month. I use this as an excuse to avoid making and sticking to any kind of budget. Truly, I do know what I can expect as a baseline income, and I also know that if I want to have any kind of savings for a rainy day I need to rein certain spending areas way in. My areas of overspending have been the same for a very long time. I really just don’t feel like reining them in, because the things I spend my money on bring me lots of in-the-moment joy (I prefer not to think about the future pain that causes) so I use the variable income as my excuse to avoid changing that. Ugh.
3) I love to eat out, it’s one of my prime areas of overspending. Some of my favorite excuses are:
I worked really hard today and deserve to relax and treat myself.
I had a rough day and I deserve a treat.
I don’t have much in my refrigerator and the things I do have would take too long to cook and I’m hungry right now.
I’m going to see a friend later so the most efficient thing to do to save time and effort is have dinner out with her instead of making myself something now. (hmmm…suddenly being hungry “right now” doesn’t matter quite so much if I have to wait to go OUT for dinner)
I’m proud to say that this month I did make an attempt at a proactive budget and shaved several hundred dollars off my usual spending on food and dining out. Ironically, I do regularly track my spending after the fact. I’ve done that monthly for years, I just don’t do much to rein in the actual spending. Ugh.
I made lots of meals this month using vegetables and other wonderful foods that had been languishing in my freezer forever (some for over a year!). It felt really good, and really wasn’t that painful. I hardly felt deprived and felt quite proud of myself. (I even proudly posted some of the things I made on Instagram www.instagram.com/drsusanbiali )
Be honest with yourself. How would you really like to live your life?
What would you like to have more of, and have less of? What are the things that you need to start doing (or stop doing) in order to have more of what you’d like to have in your life? What excuses keep getting in your way?
Take a brutally honest look at your most common excuses and then watch out for them. See if you can start catching yourself in the act. When you do, throw those excuses out the window, one by one, and instead start changing yourself and your life for the better.