Are you making excuses all the time? You will be surprised to know that they have a hidden meaning and reveal a lot about you.

We’ve all got that friend that’s always late or one that complains that it is too hard to lose weight. Who hasn’t heard about that person who is so busy they haven’t got time to fit in their mates?

Thing is, isn’t our destiny in our own hands? So what are we really saying when we are making excuses all the time? Are we just lying to ourselves in order to rationalise the excuse, or do we actually believe what we are telling others?

When we are making excuses, we are literally excusing ourselves from that situation. But wouldn’t it be better to face up to the reality and deal with it in a mature way? Why do we want to let ourselves off that easily? Surely, if we face up to what we are excusing, we could lead better and more fulfilling lives. So why is it so tempting to come up with an excuse?

When we let ourselves off a particularly tricky task or goal the negative relief that we feel immediately afterwards reinforces that the excuse was a good decision. It justifies our excuse and as we felt good when we used it we are more likely to repeat that behaviour.

The way to stop this reinforcement is to understand exactly what we are really saying when we are making excuses and to try and change that behaviour.

3 Kinds of Excuses

One paper published in 2011 by University of Manitoba psychologists Tara Thatcher and Donald Bailis might shed some light on why we make excuses in the first place.

It appears that failure of some kind is responsible for the majority of excuse-making. Making an excuse distances us from this failure and protects our image. Thatcher and Bailis determined that there are three kinds of excuses:

  1. Prescription Identity (PI) where an individual wasn’t bothered about doing a task in the first place.

    Example: “It wasn’t my job to ….”

  2. Identity Event (IE) where the individual had no control over the outcome of an event.

    Example: “There was nothing I could do.”

  3. Prescription Event (PE) where the event itself is blamed and not the individual.

    Example: “No one told me what I should do.”

Here are examples of what we are really saying when we are making excuses:

“Sorry, I’m late.”

Obviously, you are not sorry or you would have made more of an effort to get there on time. If lateness is a consistent issue with you, then there are several reasons you are using this excuse.

You do not value the time of others and believe that you are more important than them. Therefore, they won’t mind if they have to wait for you.

You are also not taking responsibility for your own time management. It doesn’t take much to get out of bed in time and to know exactly how busy the traffic on the way to work is going to be.

These are all signs you are in a childlike state and believe that people will make allowances for you. But in reality, you should grow up and behave in a more mature way.

“I’m just too busy.”

We all lead busy lives, but if yours is significantly busier than other people’s, then you should look at your time management.

If you are always too busy, you are implicitly saying to others that you have a higher social status. Whereas others have free time to enjoy themselves, you are saying that you have so many responsibilities you cannot afford the time to stop.

What you should realise is that in the 21st-century people are not impressed with busy people. These days, it is all about the work/life balance and you obviously haven’t got that right.

“I’m just not good enough.”

We all feel this at some points in our lives, but some people use this as an excuse to get out of doing things. If your inner voice is constantly telling you that you are not good enough, realise that the inner voice belongs to you and you can change it.

Even if at first you don’t believe what you are saying, that you are good enough, over time, this message will penetrate your subconscious and affect you in a more positive way.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

It is clearly not you if you say this to a person you want to break up with. If it is usually their behaviour that has prompted this outburst. But if you take the blame in this manner, you are trying to make the other person feel better about the break-up.

The thing is you are not doing them any favours in the long run by dismissing the factors that lead you to this conclusion. Better to be straight and tell the other person what the problems were so that they and you can rectify bad behaviour and move on in a more constructive way.

“I’m not ready.”

Many perfectionists will use this as an excuse in order to put off an end goal. It could also be an indication that we are avoiding starting something we are afraid of. When you actively sit on a plateau and resist change, you are letting fear control your life.

Change can be upsetting and frightening, but it does happen and we have to learn to adapt to it, not fear it.

“I’ll do that later…”

What’s wrong with now? Is fear stopping you from performing a certain task? Are you always waiting for the ideal moment to start/finish something?

As parents know, there is no ideal time to start a family. You will never be rich enough or settled enough, but sometime, we just have to bite the bullet and see where it takes us.

How to stop making excuses:

Understand where the excuse is coming from. Is it fear of the unknown, are you setting impossible goals that simply cannot be attained, or do you need to give someone the benefit of the doubt?

Realise that we all make excuses at some point and allow people to be fallible human beings. By recognising our own failures and foibles, we can be more understanding when others are making excuses.

Help the excuse-maker save face by realising that some people are making excuses when they feel threatened. Give them an ‘out’ and let them know that they don’t need to make excuses in the future.



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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Alex

    I don’t think you quite understand the definition of an excuse. “Sorry, I’m late”, is not even slightly an excuse. It is an admission of your mistake and an apology. If you then proceeded to give a reason as to why being late was not your fault, then you could call it an excuse.

    “If you are always too busy, you are implicitly saying to others that you have a higher social status.” – Believe it or not, some people do have extremely busy lives and do not have time to do whatever you want them to do. If you perceive this to mean they think they are more important than you, perhaps you need to consider why that is.

  2. Jeremy

    Thanks for this article, it clarifies a lot of the things done by the people I know. It’s surprising that friends will frequently propose a time to do something, and then not come through. When this becomes a pattern, I might point this out. After all, I’m expected to do something, be available, or show up at some agreed to time or place. It impacts me, and I feel “fooled” into coming through, which doesn’t feel good. So, in these cases, where I’ve done my part, and been disappointed, it’s surprising, and further damaging to trust when I am blamed because I’m not as busy and don’t understand, or told “no”, what I am experiencing is not really what’s happening. To explain this behavior, another friend suggested that people are aspirational, and say want to hit the gym, and then don’t, and so we should give ‘em a break. But say you convince me to meet you at the gym and you flake, over and over, you’re just messing with me in real life for the sake of your aspiration. Oh yeah, and you’re not hitting the gym either. Seem like it turns a win-win scenario into a lose-lose, with the consolation prize being that it’s not anybody’s fault. Lame.

  3. Antonio Farfan-Fiorani

    An Excuse is an ignorant’s option of first choice, both as a shield and as a weapon.
    The Truth and to tell the Truth is the only way it must be.

    Two well-known quotes to illustrate this:
    1.- “I don’t have time for your CONVENIENT IGNORANCE” – Scully, “The X Files”
    2.- “How do you evaluate THE RISK OF NOT DOING SOMETHING?” – “Zero Dark Thirty”

    Extrapolate this to a Physician-Patient Relationship.
    Get this?
    Extrapolating again: Poor Patient, just to begin with!

    Very GOOD article, but just for the ones who won’t say “I don’t understand” (the ones who are “Convenient Ignorants”).

    Tell the Truth and ask if you don’t know It.

    My truth?
    I am dying due to my “excuse-making so-called colleagues”. I know a lot, but I am no genius. Therefore, I won’t get help, and I am living on borrowed time.

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