Excuses, we see them on T-shirts saying “My dog ate my homework” or “My bikini says I should go to the gym today, but my lounge pants say who cares?” Whether it be work, social or personal, when it comes to finding reasons we aren’t doing something, we’re masters at finding ways to put the blame on someone or something else, so we don’t have to own the responsibility ourselves. But why do we do this? As a nutritionist and wellness coach, with over 20 years of clinical practice and thousands of visits with clients, I have heard the gamete of excuses people have when it comes to proactively changing their health, social, personal and/or professional habits for greater wellness, and the one commonality I have found for excuse making seems to be rooted in the following forms of fear:
What fears do we have that help us make excuses?
Fear of the Unknown
People tend to be very cautious in taking risks that might upset their current reality, resistant to making the slightest adjustment to their comfortable daily behaviors, even if those behaviors are not in their best interest. For example on a small scale, people often hesitate to try new foods or new hobbies because it disrupts their comfortable routine. On a larger scale, people hesitate to make a career change or a lifestyle change because they are afraid that the outcome will not be worth the risk, and so they stay in their situation, wishing they could be brave enough to try something new, hiding behind an excuse like “it’s just not the right time”.
Fear of Consequence
Sometimes people fear embracing what they already know to be true, and make up excuses for not facing the outcome. If there is an impending deadline for work that someone has neglected to pay attention to, and they know that the consequence of missing the deadline could potentially mean that they might be fired, they might choose to tell their boss that they “didn’t have access to all the data in time” instead of owning the responsibility of the consequence. One might dismiss exercise by rationalizing away the accountability of their fitness by saying, “I’m tired. I’ve worked all day and I just don’t have the energy to work out,” followed with a binge eating session while watching TV, which can lead to the consequence of weight gain and/or the return of old unhealthy habits. Embracing the fear of consequence, means becoming exponentially and internally more honest, which is vital for cultivating self-respect in both personal and professional success.
Fear of Failure
Failure is one of the biggest reasons that prevent people from being pro-active in making healthy lifestyle changes. Fear of not being successful at something is intertwined with not being able to take risks. According to Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, being proactive is “one of the most important characteristics of successful and personally effective people” and states that quality as the #1 building block to all of the other 6 habits of successful people. According to Business Insider, “successful people react differently to failure than unsuccessful people. Successful people don’t like to fail, but they are not devastated or paralyzed by failure. They use failure as a tool to learn what they did wrong.” As a life coach, I have found that the fear of failure, especially in making healthy lifestyle changes, is the primary reason that people create excuses such as, “Eating fried foods is just my family culture,” or “I have so many things to change, there is no way I will be able to do them” and “I’m just too old to change my habits.” Self-talk is the key to building up the confidence needed to transition from the “I can’t” to the “I can” mentality and take the leap into the unknown-to fail or succeed.
Fear of What Others Think of Us
Caring what other people think of us would seem to be a teenage problem, but it applies to adults as well. In my experience, often the biggest reason that adults resist change, is because they want the support and approval of their family and friends. It is easier to make career choices, lifestyle changes and personal habit improvements when we know we are doing it with someone else who wants us to succeed. When couples come to me before beginning an eating and fitness plan, one of the greatest concerns shared is that one party is ready to commit, but is waiting to do it until the other party has given their approval and support. People may not want to be concerned about what others think of them, but the specific approval of those they love and respect, means that can let go of some of the fear felt in taking risks alone.
Fear of Hard Work and Dedication
Sometimes people are just plain lazy. Everyone experiences times when they need to relax, but when one’s baseline of survival is to put in as little work as possible without committing to anything, then they might be dealing with a lifestyle disorder called laziness. Laziness is also associated with procrastination, which according to LollyDascal, President of Lead From Within, “. . . is the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s demotivating and leads to apathy.” Being afraid or apathetic toward setting goals, learning something new, using energy towards achievement or even exploring something different, is one of the hardest fears to overcome, and also one of the most detrimental qualities to progression in both business and personal success. It is much harder to motivate someone to make healthy changes, when they fear something that requires them to be proactive-so laziness it would seem is a sickness that attacks success before it has even had a chance to grow healthy roots for change. Lazy individuals seem to stay paralyzed by their indifference to overcoming their fear of change.
There are many more reasons other than just the 5 stated above, that could be explored and discussed for why people create excuses; but in my experience, some level of fear is at the heart of what prevents people from making changes to things that are the most difficult for them to face. So how can we overcome these fears? We can simply start by addressing the way we talk to ourselves, about ourselves. If we focus on the fear of change, then our self-talk will feed our minds with negative energy, preventing us from moving forward. If we focus on overcoming the fear, then our self-talk can become the positive fuel lighting our success on fire! It is a basic solution to what seems like an overwhelming task, but often, the simple things we do make the most impact.
Exercise for Success:
- Write the words “I AM . . . ” on a sticky note
- Choose a positive quality about yourself-a power word that describes how you feel and fill in the “I AM” (i.e. “I Am Strong”) on your sticky note
- Place the sticky note on your mirror, your dashboard or your office computer so you can see it
- Repeat your “I Am” statement at least 10x’s/day for 1 week, and pay close attention to how it makes you feel when you say it.
- At the end of the week, add another positive “I Am” statement and repeat the process again.
This exercise is to strengthen your self- perception and help you better understand that you can achieve the changes you desire to make.