Take a moment to think of a few things that show up on your to-do list day after day and never get done. Why haven’t they been taken care of?
There may be some good reasons why you weren’t able to finish that project or why you showed up late to work. But there’s a better chance the excuse you came up with is a lie you tell yourself to rationalize not doing something important.
And if you take the time to analyse the lies you tell yourself and other people each day, you’ll start to realise that lying becomes an incredibly easy, and incredibly dangerous, habit to pick up.
Coaches at the New York-based Handel Group who work with high-level professionals at companies like the New York Times and Sony categorize these self-sabotaging excuses into three types:
The Weather Reporter: This is the way things are.
In the same way a meteorologist tells you how the day’s going to unfold, you’re telling yourself that there are just some things that can’t change.
These are statements like, “It’s too late in my career to start my own business,” or something like, “I’m not a numbers person so I wouldn’t be able to understand how my 401k actually works.”
You can even bring science into the mix, blaming your genes for your temper or seeming inability to wake up early.
“All of this helps prove your point or position on the topic on which you are reporting,” Laurie Gerber, Handel Group president and life coach, writes in a blog post. “But you’ve conveniently forgotten that you are the one who collected the skewed data that got you off the hook for going for what you want.”
The Brat: I don’t want to make the effort.
Pushing your career forward often requires doing things that make you frustrated or uncomfortable. If things turn out to be more difficult than you predicted, you behave like a bratty kid instead of putting forth effort.
“As kids we’d whine, whimper, cajole, charm, and even tantrum to get our way, but this would be slightly embarrassing as an adult, so we do it a bit more subtly,” Gerber writes.
These can be excuses like, “I missed the deadline for this project because I ran out of time,” or, “I should start saving more money, but I don’t have enough energy at the end of the day to cook at home.”
The Chicken: I’m afraid.
And then there are the excuses founded on fear, namely a fear of failing and being less happy than had you never attempted the challenge at all.
Gerber says that fear is often disguised as blame placed onto someone else, a situation, or some other hurdle.
Examples include, “I think my boss is micromanaging me, but I’ll bring it up when I’m not as busy,” or, “I’ll be ready to start my book after I improve my writing for another year or so.”
The Handel coaches recommend writing down something that you’ve dreamt about for a long time and then follow that up with a list of excuses as to why that dream has not yet been achieved. Then go through each excuse and determine which of the three categories it fits into so as to better understand the mechanics of how you’ve been using it. Finally, write a counter-statement to each excuse that illustrates a way in which you can immediately start breaking the bad habit.
In the end, it’s all about being truthful with yourself.