How to be a better human being
This is Part 1 of a 3 on how to be a better human by learning how to stop making excuses, stop judging and stop complaining.
At a glance, they may seem unrelated, apart from the fact that we all do all 3 sometimes. But there is something else they have in common - their incredibly destructive potential in our personal lives and our professional lives.
Today we are going to tackle how to stop making excuses. So lets start of with what are excuses??
Here are some words that describe what they are and why we make them...
If at least three of these words apply to you, you’re most likely struggling with constantly finding excuses.
"I failed the test because the teacher hates me."
"I’m too old to start dancing."
"I’ll start working out on Monday. It’s bad mojo to begin in the middle of the week..."
We all make excuses from time to time. The common perception is that excuses are a façade for laziness, while science shows that they can be seen as coping mechanisms. Psychologist Alfred Adler suggests that people blame outside factors or minimize the importance of a situation whenever they feel unable to take responsibility or face the truth with the goal of maintaining a positive self-image.
Researchers Higgins and Snyder conducted a study where they split participants into two random groups. They were given the same learning task, but one group received positive, while the other one received negative feedback.
Those who received negative feedback rated the task as difficult more often, while the group that received positive feedback rated it easy. Participants in the second group needed to come up with an excuse for their supposed failure. Almost none of them took personal responsibility for the “failure” to maintain a positive self-image.
The mechanism that generates excuses is the unpleasant state of feeling discomfort when our thoughts, beliefs, and/or attitudes are inconsistent.
If you believe that you’re a good student, failing a test brings you into a state of discomfort.
As human beings, we strive for internal consistency: we want our thoughts, beliefs, actions, and the outside world to be aligned. Once we experience inconsistency, we search for ways to resolve it. We try to justify our behavior by adding new aspects to the story, or we flat out avoid the contradictory information that causes the inconsistency.
Here are some of the rationalizations we use to justify our behaviour and excuses.
“Sour grape” rationalization: “I failed the exam because the teacher hates me.”
Trivialization: changing our beliefs to reduce the importance of the situation and the level of dissonance. “The exam wasn’t that important anyway.”
“Sweet lemon” rationalization: “That person is boring, I didn’t want to date them anyway. They’re much better off with X.” “I didn’t want to get into university, I wanted to take a year off and travel.”
Distraction: instead of doing what we’re supposed to do, we procrastinate, while convincing ourselves that we’re doing something good like resting, researching, reading, cleaning, talking to friends, etc.
The underlying reason for making excuses may be discomfort, but what is the real reason?
Fear of failure;
Fear of responsibility;
Fear of uncertainty;
Fear of embarrassment;
Fear of change;
Even fear of success (procrastination—as success itself comes with certain responsibilities);
Lack of confidence that induces fear.
If making excuses becomes a life-long strategy, things could easily go way off track. Refusing to take responsibility, losing other people’s trust, procrastinating, and not reaching full potentials are only some of the consequences.
Luckily, we can all put a stop to that. And it’s not a matter of talent, environment, or even intelligence: it’s only a matter of will and choice.
How to Stop Making Excuses
1. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
While comparing ourselves to other people is human nature, it also makes us vulnerable to the fear of underachievement and failure.
The only comparison worth our attention is with ourselves. How do you picture the best version of yourself? How close are you to that image? What do you need to achieve that?
2. NURTURE A POSITIVE MINDSET: PRACTICE GRATITUDE AND AFFIRMATIONS
Excuses are made out of fear and dissatisfaction. Negative emotions and attitudes generate negative behaviors. The best way to put an end to this is to focus on the positive. There are two excellent practices for boosting your morale and instilling a positive mindset: keeping a gratitude journal; and practicing affirmations.
Instilling a positive mindset is a process, not a one-time trick. Take time and be consistent with your daily positivity practice.
3. REDEFINE THE MEANING OF “FAILURE” AND “MISTAKES”
Fearing failure is at the core of making excuses. This fear can be so strong that we start avoiding risks at all costs and fall victim to our own mindset and the belief that our abilities, talents, or personal limitations are predetermined and carved in stone.
If this becomes our only reality, what else is there but to make excuses, delay finishing projects, procrastinate, or blame external factors for our lack of success?
Luckily, no one's abilities are carved in stone. Hard work and redefining the meaning of success, mistakes, and failures are the way towards achieving a growth mindset and a more productive life.
Failure and mistakes are an inevitable part of life. Reaching a goal means surviving a long sequence of failures and learning from the many mistakes you make along the way.
Instead of fearing failure, start seeing valuable lessons in it. Instead of believing that you’re not smart enough for something, believe that you’re on a long journey of learning a new skill.
4. REALIZE IMPERFECTIONS ARE OKAY
Imperfections are not something to cry about, they’re what makes us unique human beings. Dwelling on your imperfections can only slow you down and throw you deeper down the well.
Take time to accept your mistakes, process them, analyze lessons you can learn from them, and move on.
Spent an unplanned amount of money? Failed an exam? Fell out of your weekly schedule? Over promised and under delivered?
That’s fine. No reason to dwell in the guilt or see yourself as unable to continue striving towards your goal. Accept what you did and move on. Life can be much simpler than you think.
Next week we will chat about how to stop complaining. Til then write out some affirmations, put them everywhere you will see them, read it to yourself through out the day and see how your brain starts to become more positive.