Excuses vs Reasons: How to live with no regrets
Having worked in mental health for over 15 years, I’ve noticed a lot of patterns of how people speak about their past decisions, their present selves, and decisions about their future. One trend that is undeniable boils down to what I refer to as: “Excuses vs. Reasons”.
For our purposes here, let’s define these terms.
An excuse is expressing justification for failure to do something.
A reason is a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.
They sound pretty similar, right?
Here’s the key difference, an excuse keeps us stuck in a place where we dismiss the control and choices we have in our life. A reason puts us in a position where we can learn and therefore take action and make an informed decision to move forward.
Personal growth tip – focus on reasons not excuses
Here are examples from my life as to how decisions can be impacted by whether we use excuses or reasons with past, present and future situations:
26-year-old me chose not to pursue a PhD in my field
Excuses: It is too expensive. It will take too long. I probably won’t get in because the schools are competitive.
Reasons: I was scared. I had self-doubt. I did not trust my own level of self-discipline to follow through, or my ability to handle the disappointment in myself if I didn’t complete the program.
36-year-old me wants to share my writing, though hesitates to do so
Excuses: I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said. I am too busy to devote time to writing. I don’t know where to start.
Reasons: I’m scared to be vulnerable. I have self-doubt about the quality of my writing. I’m overwhelmed by the process.
I would like to eventually be fully self-employed
Excuses: It would be dumb to leave the security and benefits of my job. There are so many private practice therapists in my area already. I have two young children, so it’s not the time to make a change.
Reasons: I’m scared, I have self-doubt as to whether I can have success in self-employment, I’m overwhelmed by the elements I need to consider in the process.
Do you notice how my excuses tend to boil down to time, money, and comparisons to others? Meanwhile, my reasons are feelings-based and are pretty much identical through the three situations: fear, self-doubt, and being overwhelmed. The excuses are dismissive and about external matters. I can justify and not sit with it. The reasons are internal, the root of what has stopped me, and I can do something about them. If I just sit with the excuses, I’m not taking any risk. I’m not acknowledging that I have some control in the situation. And I might have future regret that I didn’t explore it more.
How shifting your mindset can help you create your best life
Let’s be clear. Focusing on reasons instead of excuses might not result in a different outcome. For example, the excuses I gave not to get a PhD resulted in me not pursuing it. When a few years later, I revisited the idea of getting a PhD, I focused on the reasons why. I stepped back and did some research. I spoke to other PhDs in my field and looked at school programs. I thought about what I wanted my future career to look like, and ultimately decided that it isn’t the right choice for me (yet, at least, I haven’t shut the door completely).
The difference is still an important one. When focusing on the reasons, I was in control. I was able to make informed decisions. I questioned my assumptions and faced my fears. This put me in a position where I am less likely to have regret. Why didn’t I get a PhD? Because it wasn’t the right choice for me. That’s the reason. And I can be confident about it.
There is a Yiddish proverb that sums it up better than I could. It goes: “The girl who can't dance says the band can't play.”
So, what do you want to do?
Blame the band (excuse)
Acknowledge that you aren’t dancing because you don’t know how (reason)
Learn to dance (turn your reason into action)
You can be someone who focuses your energy on elements out of your control or you could recognize where you have control and going with it. It doesn’t mean you have to learn to dance or get a PhD.
It’s acknowledging where you have choice and taking action move forward with that choice. Then you can figure out how to overcome that self-doubt.
What excuses are you giving for not having the bravery and courage to try something new?