Taking Stock of the Worst Excuses
The end of the year is an opportune time for reflection and review. We take stock of our memorable experiences, accomplishments, regrets, and failures.
Instead of focusing on what I did or didn’t do, this year I’d like to look at the excuses I used (or others used with me) most, and what I learned from them. I invite you to look at how you experienced them and, more importantly, how you’d like to handle them from now on.
So here are my excuses.
I. I forgot
Every time someone says to me I forgot, I hear one thing only: not important enough, or doesn’t matter.
At this time and age, there is no excuse for forgetting anything. We have free digital apps for calendars, alarms, and reminders. We also have inexpensive paper calendars and planners, or notebooks.
I’m not talking here about people with serious memory loss issues. From personal experience, I can tell you that the people who have trouble remembering tend to write things down.
I’m talking about the rest of us who can read and write, and have the ability to remember and write things down.
Using I forgot as an excuse is not only irritating, but insulting—to oneself and others.
The message it conveys is: it wasn’t important enough for me to remember. And it wasn’t important enough to write it down and remind myself.
An example of needless struggle
During January of this year I got a notice that my electrical bill wasn’t paid. I forgot to pay the bill.
I’ll spare you the tiresome details but a five-minute bill payment took me more than half an hour to deal with, plus an unquantifiable amount of self-inflicted grief.
Feelings of embarrassment, anger, and anxiety took over. I rushed to pay the bill and ended up making a payment to the wrong account. I realized it after the payment was finalized—and the anger escalated to fury. I had to spend more time to sort out the payment.
Why did I forget the bill?
Why we forget
I can only think of two possibilities when it comes to why we forget.
We overestimate our ability to remember. We can’t possibly remember, off hand, every bill we have to pay, every meeting we have to attend, every birthday and social commitment.
We don’t take the commitment seriously. And this is the one that irks me the most. In this case we take the consequences of forgetting lightly.
The first was my reason. But the reason doesn’t matter when it comes to dealing with the consequences of forgetting a commitment.
Forgetting as an excuse creates emotional struggle and judgment, and strains the best of relationships. It also complicates simple things that can be done almost effortlessly.
Write things down. Use a calendar and send reminders to yourself, if you need to.
After the electric bill fiasco (okay maybe a bit exaggerated), I decided I am not going to rely on memory to pay bills anymore. I logged into the account online and noted the date when the bill notification is sent.
Then I added the item to the calendar and set it to repeat throughout the year. I did the same with every expense and credit card account I have.
Now I add to the calendar routine household tasks like cleaning the water filter. Why? Because if I rely on my memory, I’d probably do it once and forget about it for months, then beat myself up.
I automated important and repetitive tasks and that cleared a lot of mental and emotional clutter. I see the notification and do it the same day. Then I’m done, and I don’t have to worry about it again.
Bottom line is: write things down as soon as they come to mind. The best option I found is to use a calendar and set it to notify you by email. You still have to be mindful of what comes to your inbox—and do it.
II. Not enough
Not-enough excuses are rooted in limiting beliefs and doubt. They will show up from time to time. The key is to not let them take over and paralyze you.
Some of the ones I experienced this year.
Not enough time: Again the message I get from this one is it’s not important enough to make time for it. If there is too much to do, and so little time, we need to clarify our priorities.
I failed to make something a priority and that was by choice, nothing else.
Not enough worth and/or ability: I think I’m not social enough. I don’t have what it takes to follow through with learning anything about music. And when I’m procrastinating about writing I use I don’t have anything useful (or of substance) to share.
Another one is I’m not ready enough. I used this one with writing as well—more research and more learning and the book remains unwritten.
There are so many variations on not enough: Not smart enough, not attractive enough, not old enough, not young enough, not rich enough, not healthy enough, not educated enough, and so on.
Why we use not enough?
Looking into my own use, I can tell you the majority of it is conditioning. I automatically go to the programmed response (in my case retreating and stopping) I’ve had for years.
The second part is resistance. Whether we fear something new, or we view what we want to do as a struggle, we start looking for ways out before we even try.
Give the following recommendations a try and see what happens.
1- Avoid logic. If you get one thing out of this article, please let it be this: Don’t argue with excuses. One thing I used to do (still catch myself doing it every now and then) is having a mental conversation with my excuses.
Most of our excuses are emotional and irrational. Emotional conditioning lays way deep in memory. It’s best to let it be and focus on what we can do in this moment, and then the one after. Which brings me to the next step.
2- Let go of resisting excuses. Let go of wanting to get rid of your excuses or the emotional reasons behind them and do something—not to prove the excuse wrong, but to release yourself from feeling stuck and confused.
3- Take tiny action. Do it anyway can be a cliché to some. But it works. I’ll paraphrase it to say: Do a tiny step anyway. And then repeat it again, and again, and again.
The smaller the step the easier it is to let go of the excuse. Doing something so small won’t trigger a defensive emotional response. It’s when we want to jump with both feet into something big that we freak out.
Action and repetition bring clarity. You either start doing more of the action (and build momentum). Or you decide it’s not for you and drop it. Before you know it, you don’t need an excuse anymore.
4- Feel the excuses and continue to take small steps. Doubt and resistance might creep up at any time. And that’s fine. Allow the thoughts and emotions to be, and continue with the small action.
If the feelings start to intensify and not-enough takes over, stop for a moment and see if you can take a smaller step.
5- Trust time and respect consistency. I’m learning more and more that the key to meaningful progress it to stick with something small and do it on a regular basis. A small step, repeated enough times, accumulates and gradually gets bigger, without forcing you to take a leap.
My relationship with blame this year has been cold and distant—which is a very good thing. I caught myself a few times before the situation got overly dramatic.
If you tend to blame yourself, others, circumstances, or god, please read this article.
The thing I want to emphasize here is: blame is about control. If we let go of wanting to control outcomes or other people, we can do our thing and move on. If things work out, great. If they don’t, we move on anyway.
Here is a short list that sums up my lessons from this year’s excuses.
- Write things down and follow through and you won’t forget a thing.
- When you feel not enough in any way, let the feelings be, and do one small thing many times over.
- If you catch yourself blaming anything or anyone, take a breath and let go of wanting to control life and others. Surrender is the perfect antidote to blame and control.
All of the above actions are simple, but not easy. We need a great deal of awareness—and a greater deal of desire and discipline—to continue moving forward, in spite of subconscious excuses and limitations.
It all starts with one small step.