I heard it once said, “Most people consider a good excuse and no result to be a result.” Some examples of this adage:
- I was late because the subway was down (late + difficulty = I’m reliable)
- I didn’t talk to that girl because the bar was loud (no phone # + loud bar = I’m bold)
- I didn’t finish that painting because work got in the way (no painting + busy job = I’m an artist)
- I’m single because there are no good men/women out there (alone + lack of suitable partners = I’m a good partner)
- I didn’t lose that weight because of the holidays (fat body + social eating = I’m healthy).
A well-thought out excuse makes otherwise crappy results acceptable. It maintains a peace—however uneasy, with whatever impact—between what we do and what we say we want and are committed to. We say we want to be reliable, bold, creative, in a relationship, healthy, but because of subway delays and Stovetop Stuffing it’s okay that we behave differently. The impact of the excuses is that friends and colleagues wait (or tire from doing so), we live afraid of talking to women, we feel creatively unexpressed, we live cut off from prospective mates and inhabit unhealthy bodies. But it’s okay, we have a good excuse.
Excuses obscure a dark truth: that we might not be committed to the things we say or think we we are. A person who is committed to being punctual will be on time regardless of train repairs; he’ll get out of the train station and take a cab if he needs to. A person who is committed to being in a healthy relationship will figure out what’s in her way of achieving that. She will not blame a sparse dating pool.
Assuming we want to line up our commitments with our actions, we have to stop excusing our behavior. We have to acknowledge results as they are: that we were late; that we didn’t talk to the girl; that we didn’t finish the painting; that we are alone; that we are fat. It’s not that these results are bad. It’s that they don’t accord with what we want and are committed to. In fact, the excuses verify that our results are not want we want. If they were those things, we wouldn’t need to excuse our behavior; it and our commitments would line up.
All of this came into relief for me after a frank talk last night. My friend bludgeoned me with the contradictions between what I say I want and am committed to and what I’m doing. I say that I want and am committed to being a personal development author and speaker and that I want to make my living doing it—a living that could support a family. What I’m doing is writing away without clear direction, much less remuneration. I’ve been pitching a book idea to literary agents, but even that has been only half-thought out. I didn’t do market research. I didn’t run it by the people in my life. I didn’t do the things necessary to make sure I fulfilled on my commitment.
My excuse has been confusion: that I don’t know how to do the things I want to do. I’ve reasoned that I will figure it out soon. This excuse doesn’t not ameliorate my rapidly emptying pockets.
This leaves me with a pit in my stomach. The pit is the turd of commitment, wondering whether it’s going to be released or if I’m going to get off the can upon which I sit. Will I act now (the only time a committed person can act) or salve these contradictions with another, more elaborate excuse? (I’m leaning toward the former route).
With this in mind, here are some things to contemplate for your life:
- What do you say you want or are committed to that you are not doing?
- What is the impact of not fulfilling on this commitment? Wasted time, dejected friends, unexpressed desires, poor health, etc.
- What excuses make your lack of results surrounding your commitments acceptable? Lack of money, time, a tough childhood, a rough time in your life, an unsupportive environment, etc.
- What are your excuses hiding? For example, that you are not in fact committed to the things you say you are, that you are afraid you won’t be able to fulfill on them, etc.
- Write out a list of the results in your life that contradict your desires and commitments. Write them undiluted by excuses.
- Commit to one thing for next week to fulfill on a desire or commitment. For example, commit to meditating 10 minutes every morning without fail. Note your excuses when you don’t want to fulfill. See how these excuses stop you in every area of your life.