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I never understood my parents when I was growing up. I would do something to get in trouble, and they would always ask me why I did it, followed by the part I never got; "And I don't want to hear any excuses!"

No matter what reason I gave them as a child, they always told me it was an excuse.

To me the "excuse" was simply the exact reason why I did what I did. It seemed so plain and obvious that at times I wondered if I might be a child genius who was smarter than his parents. Well, turns out, over the years, I've discovered the genius theory was incorrect. I have discovered however why my parents always thought my reasons were excuses. It's because I didn't understand excuses.

Simply put, excuses are reasons given for not doing what you're supposed to that didn't really prevent you from doing what you're supposed to (follow that one did ya?).

If your doctor instructs you to lose 150 pounds or you'll die of a massive coronary right in your favorite living room lazy-boy, and you tell the doctor that you just can't forgo your extra-large pepperoni, sausage, Canadian-bacon, hamburger, and anchovies pizza every night, then you've just given him an excuse.

Of course you can forgo your pizza, you just don't order it.

On a logical level, we can all sit here and read this post and think to ourselves, "Duh, I know what an excuse is, I'm not a complete idiot", but on a day-to-day level, it's surprising how many of us still cite excuses as reasons for not getting things done.

  1. I don't have the time
  2. I was just swamped at work
  3. I was really tired today
  4. the weather was bad outside
  5. My back hurts
  6. gremlins stole my briefcase
  7. Aliens abducted me again last night
  8. The Nazi-zombies invaded today at lunch

All of these are typical excuses (omit the last three, obviously). Notice how all of them have something to do with you yourself? I don't have the time, I was really tired, my back hurts. These are all things that are in your control, to a certain extent. Here's the question you need to ask yourself to clear up the fog that blurs the line between an excuse and an actual valid reason:

Is the "excuse" something that was actually in your power to change?

For example,  let's assume I was told to go run a mile. I respond by saying that I can't because my back hurts due to the massive 200-car pile-up I was involved in a week ago, which is why I'm wearing a back-brace. 

This would qualify as a actual reason why I couldn't run a mile.

If I just really didn't feel like running a mile, and I had a little twinge in my back anyway, then saying I can't run a mile because my back hurts is just an excuse, especially when I know I could have run a mile no problem.

(I use the running example because in the military, I'm expected to keep up certain physical standards, and there's a Physical Test once every year you must pass to retain your job. You wouldn't believe some of the excuses I hear from grown men with families to take care of whose job depends on their physical fitness… and it's really not a difficult test either).

Throughout this coming week, every time you give someone (and yourself), a reason for why you didn't do something, take just one second to stop and ask yourself, "Is this 'reason' a valid reason truly beyond my power to change? Or is this actually an excuse?"

It helps to be brutally honest with yourself as well.

Tips to stay focused on the week’s concept:

1. Write the week’s concept down on a post-it or a scrap piece of paper and post it somewhere you will see it on a daily basis, such as your fridge, the bathroom mirror, or even the dashboard of your car (people who ride with you think it’s weird, but it works!). The point is to be reminded of the theme often throughout the day.

2. Each night before bed, brainstorm two or three ways to apply the week’s theme, and jot them down in a notebook, in your planner, or E-Mail them to your office E-mail address. Then, actually apply them the next day.

3. In the morning before your day begins, take a moment to think about the weekly concept and how you will apply it throughout your day.

4. Every night, reflect on how you actually implemented the weekly concept and how it has positively changed your way of thinking or behavior.

5. During lunch or sometime half-way through your day, take a moment to sit in a quiet place and re-commit, reminding yourself to view the rest of the day through the lens of the concept of the week.