THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

Excuses, excuses. As a teacher, I heard so many of them, but what makes us need to make excuses? I’m going to consider excuses in this piece - provided that my cat doesn’t come to curl up on my lap for a cuddle or I’m tempted out to potter in the garden that is!

WHAT IS AN EXCUSE?

An excuse is an explanation for something that went, or is going wrong. It is our way of expanding what may be a reason for this happening in order to excuse, or justify it having happened, either to others, or to ourselves. An excuse may be a reason, but a reason is not always an excuse.

EXCUSES FROM CHILDHOOD

Sometimes genuine reasons can seem so far-fetched that we can wrongly jump to the conclusion that they are in fact porkie pies, fibs, excuses. My teenage sons took over the task of rotovating an area of my garden. They insisted that I leave them to it. Silly me – I did. On my return, there appeared to be some progress made though the job was far from complete.  Their excuse – the hedge had caught fire, so they had to put it out. In fact, their excuse, was a genuine reason. However, the hedge didn’t simply decide to self-destruct, rather they had syphoned petrol from the car, spread it over the grass and set fire to it – and the hedge - though luckily not themselves. Moving the rotovator and their jackets from against the hedge revealed the damage. They felt that they had done a good job as there was, in fact, a patch of grass-free earth. However, when I pointed out that they hadn’t actually removed, or even damaged the roots and so the grass would re-grow, their smiles disappeared. So, was this an excuse or was it a genuine, though somewhat quirky, reason for the task not being completed? Maybe my instructions needed to have been more specific. I admit that I was surprised that I didn’t have this thrown at me as a further excuse for the task not being completed to my satisfaction.

EXCUSES USED BY OTHERS

A couple I have come across include -

An employee couldn’t come to work because she accidentally got on a plane.

‘I forgot it wasn’t the week-end.’

Another said that a bear had attacked their car. Guess I can empathise with this one. OK, we don’t have many bears in Cheshire, however, I did come face to face with a bull in the middle of a country lane on my way to work. It didn’t make me late though, as I always allow extra journey time for traffic jams, accidents – and obviously the occasional wandering bull too. I was able to abandon my car with hazard lights flashing and dash to the nearby farm house for assistance. No way was I going to take this bull by the horns, literally or otherwise. I arrived, still in plenty of time and the added bonus of having a story to tell. Had I actually been late, guess I had a genuine reason to give to others, though it could well have sounded like a fabricated excuse.

But what if we aren’t directing our excuses at others?

WHY DO WE MAKE EXCUSES TO OURSELVES – ON BEHALF OF OURSELVES?

I am well aware that some of my ‘reasons’ for not doing things, can run along quite inventive lines. They are well beyond my cat requiring cuddles or my apparent need to garden; especially when there will almost certainly be occasions when I seek excuses for NOT gardening. What makes me feel a need to do this? Is it to salve a guilty conscience or simply to make me feel not quite so bad about allowing myself to be waylaid by something that was, at that moment in time, more appealing to me? Do I have a mentally written hierarchy of things I get pleasure from doing all the way down to things that I will use any excuse for avoiding doing? Are my excuses simply one aspect of my ability to, at times, procrastinate? I refer you back to a blog posted back in 2016 on this subject. 

Our excuses represent our inner voice. Maybe acting for our good – well, sort of – by giving us a reason to postpone a task if we are maybe feeling tired, uninspired, or simply not on top form. The excuse simply means that said task is deferred as sadly the task fairies don’t flutter down to take it on for us. We still have to bite the bullet and do it when we feel more able to do so.

What if that inner voice is acting as a put-me-down making us feel that we aren’t capable of carrying out the task, not good enough. A whole host of negative self-suggestions may be given or implied. These excuses can prove to be counter-productive as we will almost certainly fall into the trap of believing our own press. I can very readily come up a situation which falls well and truly into this framework, when my inner voice and its excuses have led my self-doubts to multiply. The task in question is sitting on my dining room table awaiting completion. However, my self-excuses have me totally convinced that should I endeavour to complete the task, I will make a right royal mess of it.

HOW CAN I STOP PUTTING MYSELF DOWN THIS WAY?

In order to change a behaviour, which may well have become a habit, you need to find out just what is going on. In this instance, just what are the elements involved in the process of making the excuses. To do this, you need to be open and honest with yourself, otherwise you will be papering over the cracks which are almost certainly going to re-emerge.

None of us is perfect. You know what – we all make mistakes – some far more public than most. BUT, you have it within yourself to change and a positive step towards making long-lasting, life-changing changes is to stop making those excuses. Sorting out what needs changing may sound easy, but sometimes we don’t accept, or even see that some things that we do are problematical for us. A positive sounding board may help – either a friend who will risk your wrath with their honesty, or a therapist – if I can help, do get in touch

You need to be able to face your fears – the fears that are probably behind those negative voices. You need to be aware of what they are and recognise how they are affecting you. Take my task –  a craft that I haven’t done before. I have seen work done by friends and by people that I know and I am afraid that my skills will not measure up to theirs and my finished product will not meet my standards, their standards or the standards of the person for whom the project is a, long put off, gift.

In order for us to face up to our fears, we need to put away the big stick which we all too readily use against ourselves. We need to be kind, compassionate to ourselves; to think of ourselves and talk to ourselves as we would to someone we cherish and love dearly. We need to stop being our own worst enemy at such times, instead make the choice to accept who and what we are – that we are flawsome. 

For myself, the reality is that the gift is being made with love, to the best of my ability and in reality, I am probably the worst critic of my work. In fact, not probably, rather, certainly. I am making the huge error of making assumptions about what others will think and feel. I have based this on my self-criticism, rather than on how I would think and feel about a gift made for me under similar circumstances. I really need to spin my thoughts round to this setting, especially as I know my friends are kind and loving people.

MOVING FORWARDS

List those fears so that you can then consider them and how they are affecting your attitude. Get them out of that hamster wheel going round and round in your head.

Having made your list, decide what you are going to do about those fears. This means that they will not be ruling how you feel the need to make those excuses.

For myself, I will include a lot of self-talk around the issue of my doubting that my offering will not be liked, as it isn’t as good a job as others would have done.  I will also have a heart to heart chat with my friend about my late gift and be honest with her about my reasons, but not by way of seeking reassurances that she is sure that she will love it, simply by way of offering an apology.

Do not rush this phase. This isn’t an excuse for delay, rather it ensures that you have covered all of your concerns and fears and decided on how you will move forward. If you see a pattern that you had previously not recognised – one which may be affecting other areas of your life, again, it may be a good point at which to seek professional support.

However, don’t simply focus on your weaknesses. Back to the fact that none of us is perfect. Yes, acknowledge them, but then accept what you have to offer; your skills, your strengths, your positives. Maybe plan ahead for some self-development of those weak areas, be they to do with your skill set or aspects of your ‘self’. Part of that learning for life that enables us to continue to grow as a whole person.

Then – on with the goal setting. The good old SMART targets. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed.

You now have an action plan for overcoming your current bout of excuse making, and a blue print for use in order to prevent it becoming, or returning to being your default setting. Don’t be tempted to return to that old setting of making excuses for not setting your action plan into motion. This is where the ‘timed’ aspect of SMART target setting becomes so important – and hey, you will have chosen that time to begin your goal and have a completion date for which you are aiming. You made your choice.

Just as sports people project their thoughts to actually lifting that weigh, to seeing that little white ball cross the green and plop down into the hole, so you would benefit from seeing, imagining how you would feel having completed a task when you would have previously been making excuses. For myself, I will imagine wrapping my gift (with all of my little quirks and foibles included), taking it round to my friend and sharing it with her. I imagine how this will make me feel – happy, pleased to have completed the many elements of the task, ok, probably a bit apprehensive until I see her reaction. But overall, a sense of achievement at having overcome my excuse making and thereby the development of a more positive attitude towards other, future tasks.

THE WAY FORWARD

The main thing is to use your newly developed ability of steering clear of making excuses. Rather than blaming the proverbial dog, complete the task in hand to the best of your ability. Changing that way of acting, that habit, will enable you to move forwards rather than remain stuck in the mud of a pile of time wasting, avoidance seeking excuses. Excuses that will be holding you back in both your personal and professional life. As in the picture at the beginning of this post, you can move on through rather than be diverted into what is almost certainly going to be a dead end along those side roads. And you know what – it will make you feel good about yourself as you have taken responsibility. Make this your new default setting – you CAN do it!

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Comments

Interesting reading Dee. I like your word, flawsome, and will add it to my vocabulary.
Thanks Alwyn. I love the word flawsome - so much better than the old acceptance of someone 'warts and all'. Dee
Haha I do remember the calf! We never know what's round the corner!
We really don't know what may be around the corner, do we? I remember the calf on the road too - at least it wasn't as large as the bull en route to work! D

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