Q:  “Why can’t I do the things I want to do?  There’s so much I know I’m capable of and I never actually do it.” 

A:  “The trick is to realize that you’re always doing what you want to do. Always. Nobody is making you do anything. Once you get that, you will see that you’re free and that life is just really a series of choices. Nothing happens to you.  You choose.”

This was an unusually powerful dialogue given that it was from a rather formulaic rom-com movie The Answer Man, starring Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham, (https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/answer_man) in which Daniels plays the bitter and reclusive author of a wildly popular self-help book.

Daniels’ answer to the question is so true and so powerful:  Our lives are the result of our choices.  We have the power to choose to pursue something.. or to make an excuse for why not.

You’re probably not even aware of it, but I’ll bet that if you started paying attention to your day, there is at least once—and likely more times—that you subconsciously use some excuse for why you can’t do something that is beyond your comfort zone or normal routine.

I see this all the time.

I recently got a call from one of my dearest college friends asking for help putting together her résumé. After more than 35 years at the same company, she has decided it is time to make a change. Now she just needs to follow through and actually do it. This will not be easy for her, since she has given her heart and soul to this business…and this is not the first time I’ve heard her make the same declaration. We’ve had very similar conversations  numerous times, and her fears and negative self-talk inevitably provide plenty of rationale for why it’s not the right time to make the change…even though she knows inside that she needs to go and has needed to go for decades.

We all do it—make excuses, that is. My friend’s excuses have included very real and good reasons—her daughter was at an age that she needed her mom’s attention, and a change might detract from being there for her daughter…or there were financial obligations that needed to be cleared up with her business partner before she could separate…or she had some health issues for which she needed insurance, and walking away might put that in jeopardy. All very good and very important and very valid reasons. Or were they just excuses to avoid the really tough decision that she needed to make for herself? It’s very likely that she could have gotten another job that provided health insurance and even one that would allow flexibility to be available for her daughter.

Another friend of mine sacrificed her own ambitions and interests to be an incredibly devoted wife and mother. Her husband was a “master of the universe” and very much the alpha in the relationship. Over time, my friend’s confidence and belief in herself waned because of his chronic down-talking to her. When their marriage hit a rough patch, I tried to encourage her to pursue interests on her own—go to school, join a book club, start a hobby. She yessed me for a while but never pursued any of those options. Instead, she chose to accept her role in the relationship and make do. My view: It was safer to not try than to try and fail, which would have reinforced her lack of self-esteem. What a tragic shame. She might have succeeded but will never know.

After hundreds of episodes of Bar Rescue, hospitality expert and show creator Jon Taffer wrote a great book about the excuses he has watched people use in an effort to avoid making changes in their lives. Fascinatingly, these people are holding on to their excuses while watching their businesses and livelihoods fail. They are losing their homes and their families but would rather hold on to their excuses than confront their challenges. In his book, Don’t Bullsh*t Yourself: Crush the Excuses That Are Holding You Back, he details the six categories of excuses that people use…

  1. Fear…of all sorts—fear of failure, embarrassment, death. “What if” is the self-limiting phrase of fear.
  2. Knowledge…or lack thereof. I don’t know enough to take the plunge.
  3. Time—never enough… or never the right time.
  4. Circumstances—the weather, the kids, the spouse, the in-laws. There is an endless list of external factors that you feel are out of your control.
  5. Ego. Ah, yes! All those presumptions about our limitations—I’m not smart enough, attractive enough, experienced enough…the family is against it.
  6. Scarcity—not enough time…can’t find the right people…can’t afford it.

Jon and I had a very colorful conversation about the ubiquity of making excuses in  a recent podcast.

But it’s not easy to change. You think you can’t magically find more time or money or skills? Ask David Goggins, ultramarathoner, retired US Navy SEAL, former US Air Force Tactical Air Controller and author of the book Can’t Hurt Me which I highly recommend. If anyone had excuses for failure, it was David Goggins—a hellish childhood full of emotional and physical abuse…financial struggles…bullied at every corner throughout school…and even some serious health challenges, including a congenital heart problem that he didn’t discover until after years of super-human physical feats.  But as he fought through each challenge, he realized that there was nothing in the world as powerful as his own mind and attitude and that by developing what he calls a “calloused mind,” he could push past any and every excuse—physical, mental or emotional. You just have to want it bad enough.

As I talked to my friend about her résumé and job change, I could hear the array of excuses that peppers not just her language but her entire thought and being. I suggested that during her journaling practice, she start watching out for the excuses that she is using to avoid the pain of change. They’re there. We all have them. They can be as simple as not exercising today because you went to bed a little late or eating that extra scoop of ice cream after dinner because you had a bad day and “deserve” it. They’re big, small and in-between. And every time you use an excuse, you’re holding yourself back from getting what you really want out of life.

Watch yourself today, and see what you see. It could be the opening of a whole new path.