It’s so easy to make excuses for ourselves. Not in the, “Sorry, I would love to babysit your pet ostrich, but if you’ll excuse me…” way, but in the “Well I can’t do that because…” way.
But what’s the difference between giving an excuse and giving an explanation?
The way I see it, an excuse is used as a deflection, a.k.a. something you use to avoid a certain, often negative outcome. Think, for example, of a child who has just broken a vase in the house by running where they weren’t supposed to run, and their parent is wondering how that happened. The child would look for any way to get out of a punishment, and will minimize their role in the incident by blaming it on another person (“So-and-so pushed me, that’s why!”) or even a nearby object (“The chair was in the way and I fell!”).
I consider an explanation, on the other hand, as an admittance or a statement of facts. In this hypothetical case where the parent is looking for an answer, the child states exactly what happened (“I was running and knocked into the table.”). The child takes responsibility for their actions and plainly says what occurred. There is a chance they’ll still get punished, but their honesty will be rewarded in the long run.
These examples are rudimentary, but often when we think we’re giving an explanation, it’s really an excuse in disguise. I’m certainly no stranger to the art of excusations, and I must be mindful of when I’m trying to save my own hide by trying to use my past to excuse my present.
“I can’t do XYZ because of ABC” … “If blah would happen, then I’d do blah” … “I don’t have time or money to do blep” …
There will always be reasons why we can’t do something, and some of those reasons will be valid. However, we rely too much on excusing ourselves and using that as a barrier not to move forward. If we use chronic illness or chronic procrastination as a crutch, then we’ll never get anything done. We’ll never grow, and we’ll never change.
How do we stop making excuses?
At the end of the day, it’s all about being objective with ourselves, as if we are someone else. If you didn’t know your life story, if you’d just met yourself today, would what you’re saying be a passable reason? Is something physically barring you from completing your goal, or is the only roadblock yourself? Are you throwing other people under the bus to minimize the risk of personal punishment or failure? Naturally, all these vary on a case-by-case basis, and, as mentioned before, some excuses/explanations are valid.
Being aware of how we think and how we speak is essential. Ask yourself these questions, understand if, when, and why you’re making excuses, and do your best to continue moving forward.