Why you keep lying to yourself
And how to start finding your own truth
I really want to go to the gym, but I have such a headache. I would love to come to your party on Saturday, but my parents are visiting this weekend. If I had the money, I would take a year off and travel the world. If I was twenty years younger, I would start over with a completely different career and life.
Recognize any of these excuses? We have all said or thought something along these lines in different situations in our lives. But excuses don’t really exist. I mean, they are nothing but lies, really. It’s actually strange that there even is a word for them. As if it is somehow not a real lie if we call it something else.
The other day, when I had decided to go to an After Work with an international community I joined recently, I used a perfect excuse on myself. I used several, actually, just to be really sure that I covered my own.., eh,.. butt. I decided that not only was I way too tired to go out for drinks, I also noted that the weather was terrible and that I probably had better things to do. I was sure there would be other opportunities in the future to mingle with like-minded people and to expand my network — something I have been wanting to do for a long time now…
So why do we do this? Why do we use excuses to avoid things that we claim to really want? I started thinking about it and the way I see it there are only two reasons behind any excuse:
1. We don’t want to.
2. We are afraid to.
That’s it. There is no third option. Either we don’t want to do something, be somewhere or commit to something and then we use an excuse. Or we want it, but don’t know how, are not sure if we can handle it or are unsure about the outcome and therefore we come up with an excuse — sometimes as a justification for others, but just as often, as a way to convince ourselves that it is a bad idea and that way we can stay in our comfort zones and not take any unnecessary risks.
Knowing that excuses can only be one of these two things, they should be easy enough to handle. But it can be extremely difficult to figure out which one of the two reasons that is hiding behind a particular excuse. This is certainly the case when others use excuses on us, but surprisingly often, it is just as difficult to know what’s behind our own excuses. Especially the ones we use on ourselves.
When we say things like ”that’s just not my thing” or ”I could never do that”, is that really true? Do we not want those things or is it simply easier and safer to stick to what we have always done? We are often so used to our own lies and limiting beliefs that it is actually almost impossible for us to distinguish between our fears and the things we truly don’t want.
Would you do it if you were younger, prettier, richer, more educated or whatever excuse it is you are most often using? If the answer is yes, then you are most likely just being held back by fear in one way or another.
And the opposite is of course true, too. If all the conditions were optimal, the stars aligned and you had a perfect path ahead of you and you still wouldn’t do it, then it most likely really isn’t your thing.
That seems super basic — and it is. The trick is calling the excuses out for what they are. While we can never truly know what is behind others’ excuses (they might not even know that themselves!), we should definitely learn to identify our own. We can’t deal with fears we are not aware of, after all.
I often use excuses to protect myself from judgement. In fact, I sometimes offer up excuses before I even need them. I will say things like ”I am going to try this business idea, but the market is really tough, the competitors are fierce and maybe I won’t like it or have enough time to put my full effort into it, but I’ll just give it a go.” That way, I am fully protected if it all fails. I could just pick up any of these excuses that I have already lined up.
This is a habit that is difficult to shake, but now I have started to either say nothing at all about my experiments (after all, nobody has asked about things I may half-heartedly try to do) or I try to own the fact that it wasn’t successful or that I didn’t want it enough to make the required effort. Let’s be clear, keeping quiet is playing it safe of course, but it’s still better than showing up with excuses. And as for owning our failures or admitting that we had a change of heart, that just shows that we at least took action and stepped outside of our comfort zones in the first place. I say we get a participation prize just for doing that.
I sat down to make a list of things I want in my life in the long term. Then I made a list of short term steps that may help to get me there. The list of short term action steps is full of things I don’t want to do or know that I will struggle to build up the courage to do. I know I will tell myself endless excuses to avoid them.
Sometimes I really am too tired and sometimes it really isn’t the best day to take that step even if I know it is something that will help me with what I want in the long term. That’s okay, as long as I am honest with myself and it’s a one-time event. We need to distinguish between reasons and excuses. There are reasons for things, which are true. And then there are excuses for things, which are lies. The same fact, e.g. I don’t have the money, can be a reason for why we can’t buy that online course we want to take, but it can also be an excuse for why we are not taking it (we don’t want to cut back on other things we spend our money on or we are afraid that we won’t fit in or keep up with the course).
If I start seeing a pattern in my behavior, it’s time to call myself out on the excuses. I am an introvert and I will usually go to great lengths to avoid uncomfortable social situations, but then I look at my list of things I want for myself in life and a rich social life is on that list. So something doesn’t add up.
Now I know that I only have three options in that situation;
1. take it off my list of things I want and accept my situation as it is;
2. face the fact that fear is stopping me from moving forward and deal with that;
3. find a different way to reach my long term goals.
Continuing to feed myself excuses though, can obviously not be on that list of options, as it will get me nowhere and only cause frustration and in the end leave me feeling truly unfulfilled. And this, of course, goes for anything we say we want. Do you really want to get fit? Then stop making excuses for why you can’t go to the gym today. Either accept that you will not be fit, get to the gym whether you like it or not, or start training at home if that suits you better. Anything else and you are just lying to yourself and others.
Although this should be obvious, I still believe that getting clear on what our excuses really are about is a good practice to learn. It helps to distinguish between fears and wants and to see when we are just getting in our own ways.
In addition to writing my lists, I have found that asking myself questions until I get to the bottom of all my excuses is also a helpful way to understand what is really going on. When I feel that I am unsure about something I ask myself why. Once I get the answer, I ask why again. And then I keep going until I get to the real reason. Usually, the real reason comes up only after the fourth of fifth why. I am so used to just telling myself that I don’t want something because I am too tired or too busy, I rarely go deeper than that. But when I do, the truth comes out.
It’s also far too easy to use simple, day-to-day excuses when we don’t need to, just because it’s more comfortable. Another good practice is to be honest in these situations and not use an excuse just to avoid possible conflict. We are allowed to say no, even if we don’t have other commitments. Simply saying “I don’t want to do that” can be a struggle, but that’s when the list of long term goals comes in handy as a road map to see where we are heading. That helps to set the priorities straight and to be more aligned with our own truths.
In the end, if we can’t even be honest about where we want to go, how could we ever get there?
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