Change & the Wisdom of Excuses

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One of the most difficult aspects of real change is getting past our excuses. Our outward excuses show our internal habits of thinking. Our thoughts drive our behaviors; we defend our behaviors with our excuses.

For example, John was a retail store owner. When he opened his retail store, he never imagined he would need outside sales skills. He thought that as soon as his doors were open the business would roll in; people would come in with checkbooks open and credit cards out. But that was not the case. To increase sales, he had to go out and sell. John did not think of himself as a sales person and lacked sales skills. As John and I explored the world of sales and focused on building his sales skills, he made excuse after excuse for why he could not be successful at sales.

“I don’t have the outgoing personality you need to be good at networking.”

“I feel bad about interrupting people at work.”

“I don’t like receiving cold calls and I hate making them.”

What I heard: “I’m afraid, I’m not worthy, and I’m stuck,” all tricks of the mind, designed to keep you safe and in your comfort zone. When we argue for our excuses, we avoid one kind of discomfort in exchange for another — in John’s case, a failed business venture. John closed his business a year after our work together, still resisting the sales role, still arguing for his excuses.

I​ get it. I have my own struggles with fear & self-worth. And I, too, have felt stuck in my own negative thought patterns about myself and the world.

I​ also know that change happens from the inside out. Change starts with a challenge — a challenge to your own thinking. Your mind (ego) knows and likes you how you are, and keeping you the “same” is how it works on your behalf to you safe. We behave in alignment with our thoughts. Change your thoughts & you change your behavior.

T​his is where it gets tricky.

Scientists tell us that a​bout 88% (give or take a percentage or two) of our thinking happens in the subconscious; routine habits of thinking about ourselves and the world. For example, you may feel awkward when praised in public, even when the praise is earned & deserved. In a client’s lobby, I met a woman who cried when she received flowers from her children because she didn’t think she’d done anything to deserve them, and she didn’t know what she would do in return to make it up to them. Talking with leaders about giving positive feedback & praise, a manager said he could not give praise to people for what he considered doing their job; they had to do something extra to deserve it. (Do you hear it? ​I’m afraid, I’m not worthy, I’m stuck).

Think of a goal that you’re not taking consistent action on — or that you’ve been making excuses for not getting to. Write down your goal — then write down your excuses. Be brutally honest with yourself. Remember, all excuses give some degree of internal satisfaction, no matter how temporary that satisfaction or how permanent the losses may be. When you’ve exhausted your list, read each excuse aloud to yourself, and listen for the underlying message your excuses are sending. Which excuses are rooted in fear? Are there excuses on the list about worthiness? What are you making up about being stuck? It could be that this goal is not as important to you as other activities in your life and the excuses offer air cover.

T​he idea here is to look at your excuses in black and white, but without self-judgment or shame. Try to remember that your mind made up those excuses to serve you. It’s how your mind keeps you safe — and your mind does its job well. This is you being human. So cut yourself some slack on the details and look inside your excuses for the real message they have for you about you & your habits of thinking.

N​ow imagine these are not your excuses, but those written by a friend. What would you do or say if they presented this list to you? Would you validate them? Would you tell your friend they are right to be afraid? That they are unworthy? And they should just stay stuck? Of course not. But we do tend to accept when our own inner voice speaks to us in that way. I don’t know about you, but the voice in my head can get nasty in its efforts to keep me safe.

Make a habit of writing down your excuses along with your goals and over time you’ll start to see patterns in your excuses. The patterns offer clues about your subconscious habits of thinking.

T​he pattern I’ve had to work most on is around self-worth. My mind has had a lot of success holding me up with excuses filled with self-doubt, thoughts resembling impostor syndrome, and questions about my value. Somehow, regardless of all evidence of past success, my mind can still talk me out of my best laid plans — though these days the impact is more temporary & my skills at recovery are much improved.

I’ve spent a lot of time hiding behind my excuses without understanding what they are for. I​ was first taught to use will-power to overcome negative thinking, as if controlling my mind was the only way to get past my excuses. Will power has its place, as do affirmations, though I find they are both more powerful when combined with other tools.

M​y favorite and most powerful weapon against my own mind is a simple question: What If?*

W​hen my mind is busy trying to convince me I’m not good enough, I counter with what if. What if I was good enough? What would that be like? How would that feel? When my mind interferes with this new line of inquiry, I thank my mind for the information it has to share and tell it I want to play with the idea of being enough for a bit. (It is, after all, my mind.) And I start again. What if it was true? What if I knew I was enough? And what would that feel like if I could feel it?

W​hen I lean into the feelings of being enough, I feel free and powerful and bold. That space is so much bigger (and a lot more fun) than thinking I’m small & being afraid. And I can visit that feeling of freedom and courage any time I want or need to. You can, too — though y​ou might need a coach to help, as I did.

Excuses give helpful information if you are willing to look at what they are trying to tell you about your habits of thinking about yourself and the world. When you find yourself arguing for your excuses, that’s your mind trying to keep you safe inside old boundaries and well within your comfort zone. When you argue for your excuses, that’s what you win. If you engage with your excuses, you’ll find there’s a better way. Imagine the possibilities. What if…

*​A shout out to Jennifer McLean, a gifted coach & healer, for the life changing ‘what if’ process. For more information, please visit www.McLeanMasterworkscorporate.com.

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Susan LaCasse

Susan LaCasse

Susan brings 25 years experience in driving change in a variety of project and leadership roles. Common to these roles were leadership development, process improvement and change management.

Susan is a student of human behavior, constantly seeking the latest in theories and tools. She also understands how organizations work. Together, she uses this combination to help her clients create positive, lasting change. Susan is a unique combination of coach, catalyst and trusted adviser.

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