13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses and Take Responsibility
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Did you give in to that leftover piece of cake in your office’s breakroom?
Or do you frequently procrastinate on tasks or projects that you know are important?
As humans, we are fantastic at picking from a wide range of excuses to limit our capabilities. From avoiding the gym to studying for an exam, it's easy to come up with excuses about why we can't follow through on the things that are “important, but not urgent.”
The truth is:
We all make excuses from time to time. This is a simple habit that we use to rationalize “why” we didn't follow through on a specific commitment.
That said, if you've developed a bad habit where you make excuses all the time, then it might be time to curb this behavior (and of course, not make excuses about why you can't start today.)
In this article, we’ll talk about the specific reasons why people often make excuses and then you'll discover a 13-step process you can use to stop making excuses throughout all aspects of your life.
Let’s get to it.
(Sidebar: If you are someone who often makes excuses and fails to take action on your goals and habits, then I suggest checking out this simple, step-by-step guide on how to finally overcome your procrastination tendencies.)
What You Will Learn
- Why Do We Make Excuses?
- Reason #1: You're experiencing fear
- Reason #2: You don't want to fail
- Reason #3: You don’t know what to expect
- Reason #4: You don't have a specific goal
- Reason #5: You're scared of making a mistake
- Reason #6: You compare yourself to others
- Reason #7: You're protecting your identity
- Reason #8: You're not motivated
- Reason #9: You think you lack the resources
- Reason #10: You’re set in your ways
- Why It’s Important to Stop Making Excuses
- 13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses
- #1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
- #2. Stop Fearing the Unknown
- #3. Stop Blaming Others
- #4. Take Responsibility For ALL Your Actions
- #5. Take Action Every Day
- #6. Set Small, Attainable Goals
- #7. Learn from Your Mistakes
- #8. Don’t Focus on Your Weaknesses
- #9. Change your Attitude
- #10. Believe in Yourself
- #11. Visualize Your Success
- #12. Remember: It’s Okay to Not Be Perfect
- #13. Know You Can Change Your “Excuses Habit”
- Final Thoughts on How to Stop Making Excuses
Why Do We Make Excuses?
To start, let's ask a simple question that you might have:
“Why do we often make excuses whenever we encounter a difficult challenge or obstacle?”
Unfortunately, the answer depends on both your personal situation and the challenge that you're currently facing. You may come up with excuses in your head in order to maintain your own comfort, or an excuse to tell someone else because you simply can’t say “no”. Here are eight common reasons why people make excuses throughout their lives.
Reason #1: You're experiencing fear
The feeling of fear keeps us inside of our comfort zone and prevents us from venturing out into the unknown. However, fear is largely misunderstood. People are often afraid of things because they don't understand them or they are lacking all of the information they need.
The good news is that the more you educate yourself about a challenge or process, the easier it will be to overcome a fear. It doesn't matter what obstacle you're dealing with — somebody, somewhere has probably gone through it. All you have to do is find out how they overcame it and your fears/anxieties will be eliminated.
Reason #2: You don't want to fail
Failure is unavoidable. It is inevitable that at some point during your life…You. Will. Fail.
So whenever you're trying something new or taking some risks, there is always a chance that you'll fail
However, it is also important to remember that you don't lose everything when you fail. Failure just means that things are not going the way you expected them to go and you need to remain flexible to get back on track. So, if you make excuses to reduce your risk of failing, it means you are never trying anything new.
One way to help you overcome your fear of failure is to embrace the idea that making mistakes and failing is actually a good thing. For more this, read this article that provides a 7-step process on how to learn from your mistakes.
Reason #3: You don’t know what to expect
The fear of uncertainty means that you are worrying about unknown future events or circumstances that could come your way. Uncertainty makes people uncomfortable because they don't have enough experience to give them confidence.
Without experience and perspective, people often make assumptions or jump to conclusions about possible outcomes that could negatively impact them.
You can overcome the fear of uncertainty by using the “if-then” planning concept. The idea here is to think of every possible obstacle or challenge that you'll probably encounter, then create a strategy for how you'll handle them. And if you do this throughout all aspects of your life, it'll be hard to make excuses about why you can’t follow up with a project and/or task.
Reason #4: You don't have a specific goal
If you don't have specific and measurable goals, it is easy to make excuses to avoid doing something that you don't want to do.
For example, can you see the difference between: I want to lose weight this year and I am going to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 weeks?
With that specific goal in mind, you are less likely to come up with an excuse every day to skip the gym or to eat junk food. Vague goals will not get you very far.
Reason #5: You're scared of making a mistake
You may make excuses because you are scared to make a mistake. Mistakes might seem like the end of the world to you. However, mistakes are actually valuable.
Think about the mistakes you have made in your life and consider the ways that they have actually added strength to your character. Think about all of the skills your mistakes have taught you and how they have shaped your body of knowledge and personal development.
It is important to see mistakes as being a beneficial and critical part of your life and embrace them. If you make excuses to avoid mistakes, you may miss out on some of your biggest mistakes that could have ended up being your best learning experiences.
If you want to feel more comfortable doing something and reduce your chances of making an initial mistake, you can proactively learn about the task first. From taking classes to learning from an expert to even becoming self-taught through books and online resources–you can learn how to do anything that you really want to do.
Reason #6: You compare yourself to others
People often fear being compared to others who they perceive to be more talented or better than themselves. Oftentimes, we measure ourselves up to see if we perform better or worse than others.
It is important to not make excuses so you won't be compared to other people because then you aren't even giving yourself a chance to succeed. Who knows, compared with someone else, you may be the best.
Reason #7: You're protecting your identity
It is common to want to protect yourself from harm in any way. Whether it is physical, emotional, or mental, you are likely always at least a little bit aware of your surroundings in order to keep yourself safe.
For this reason, you may come up with excuses to not do things. You want to protect yourself and not put yourself in harm's way. While sometimes this is a very smart thing to do, other times it may hold you back.
Reason #8: You're not motivated
Sure, you don't want to write that paper, you don't want to make a healthy dinner at home, and you don't want to go to the gym. Without motivation, you can come up with any excuse in the book to stay complacent.
Reason #9: You think you lack the resources
You may tell yourself that you don’t have the time, money, or education to pursue something. However, the way you choose to spend your time and money is how you define your priorities. Would you be willing to make the time or spend the money to gain the education that you need? It is never too late to further your education, so don’t try to blame your lack of time on your age.
There is usually a way to get around these types of excuses if there is something on the horizon that would be really beneficial to you if you were to complete it.
If this is your excuse, go back and think about your priorities and consider whether or not the excuse is, in fact, valid.
Reason #10: You’re set in your ways
You may be so stubborn and set in your ways that you tell yourself you’re unable to change. But when you think about it, is it that you can't change or you don't want to change? Yes, making changes takes effort and commitment and it can be very difficult.
If you just become defeated about an aspect of your personality without even attempting to change it, then you are just making excuses to stay complacent.
Why It’s Important to Stop Making Excuses
So, why are all of these things bad? Aside from the fact that they are probably not true statements when you say them or when you think them out loud, they are causing you to limit yourself.
These reasons for making excuses keep you going down the same old path, preventing you from growing or branching out. Here are some specific reasons why it is important to stop making excuses.
Excuses lead to a failure in reaching your full potential
When you make an excuse, you aren't even giving yourself a shot to succeed, which can limit you in every area of your life. You may never even know what you’re capable of if you have an excuse for everything that comes your way. Excuses can hold you back from a lot of things, including getting further in your career, getting healthier, and creating new relationships.
Don’t settle for less by making an excuse simply because you don't want to have to put forth the effort to challenge yourself. This is complacency. If you make excuses to not move up in life, you will stay in a mediocre position that keeps you content at best.
Excuses will make you regret “the road not taken”
If you make an excuse to not do something, there is a big chance that you will end up regretting doing so. You don't want to look back on your life with a lot of feelings of “I wish…”
If you try something instead of making up an excuse to avoid it, there is a big chance that you will be glad you tried. If you sit back and do nothing, there is an equally big chance that you will regret not knowing how it would have turned out.
Excuses prevent growth
The laziness that is leading you to not challenge yourself can also prevent you from growing or changing. Your excuses help you live with the failed expectations that you already had for yourself.
So if you never expected yourself to grow in the first place, you certainly won't grow if you keep adding excuses to the mix.
Excuses will teach your children the same bad habit
You want your children to be successful and confident in their endeavors. You don't want them to live a life of excuses and settle for mediocrity.
You want to teach your children to pursue everything they want to do, even if they have some reservations or a fear of failing.
13 Steps to Stop Making Excuses
So now that you know why you might make excuses and how it can derail your personal success, let's dive into the 13 steps you can use to stop making excuses.
#1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
When you compare yourself to other people, especially those who have already achieved what you want to achieve, you’re focusing on your weaknesses rather than your strengths. This probably makes you feel defeated and hopeless if you see a big gap between where you are today and where they are.
For example, let’s say you’re setting out to learn a new language and you want to get some practice by speaking with someone else who has also learned that language as a second language. However, they’re fluent and are able to speak quickly without thinking about what comes next. While this may seem intimidating to you, you have to remember that they were once in the position you’re in now. They are just at a different stage in the learning process.
In other situations, the truth is that other people could be comparing themselves to you and you don’t even realize it. It’s important to remember to never make assumptions when it comes to what other people are thinking or what their true experience is.
If you are making an excuse to not try something new because you are comparing yourself to others who are experts in the field, remember that they once stood in your shoes and were able to get where they are today.
Action Step: Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on your strengths and adopt a mindset of gratitude. Being grateful for the opportunities that are available to you to help you grow will start to improve the way you feel about yourself. If you get stuck on how to be more thankful for what you have, then try this 30-day gratitude challenge.
#2. Stop Fearing the Unknown
People tend to be wary of taking risks that could disrupt their current reality, and are often opposed to making even the smallest change to the comfort of their daily behaviors, even if their current actions aren’t in their best interest.
A simple example of this is that people are often slow to try new hobbies because it disrupts their normal routine. On a bigger scale, people hesitate to make career changes because they’re afraid that the outcome won’t be worth the risk, and staying in their current situation is the easy choice.
Sure, things may go wrong. But, things may also go very right. The unknown can be scary, but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily bad.
So many good things can come into your life from the risks you take in areas that are unknown to you. Don’t just assume that anything that is unknown to you is going to turn out to be a negative thing.
Action Step: Get used to stepping into the unknown by doing it more often. Break up your daily routine by taking a different route to work or going to a new exercise class. Preventing yourself from falling into a strict routine in the first place or disconnecting from your internal auto-pilot will help you welcome the unknown rather than fear it.
#3. Stop Blaming Others
One of the most destructive things you can do in life is to play the blame game. It is the basis for a considerable amount of frustration and unhappiness in people's lives.
The blame game entails blaming someone else for something that happened to you that was undesirable, and staying convinced that it was someone else's fault instead of being proactive and making the necessary changes to resolve a situation. This often stems from irrational thinking and is not healthy for you or for the person you are blaming.
People also tend to blame outside circumstances or conditions for their downfalls. For example, have you ever heard someone complain that they’re not making enough money and then blame it on the current state of the economy? Doing this takes away a sense of personal responsibility for something that person wants to change about their lives.
Action Step: Take ownership of your life and recognize when you’re blaming others. Exercise the authority you have over your life by taking charge of anything that is within your control.
#4. Take Responsibility For ALL Your Actions
Being responsible requires acting on your ability to respond to things that happen. It involves using your power to change and to offer the most practical responses to life’s everyday problems.
There are two components of taking responsibility. One is accepting personal responsibility and the other is accepting indirect responsibility.
Taking personal responsibility refers to taking ownership of your own actions and their consequences. If you haven’t gone to the gym in a year, yet you’re trying to get healthier, it wasn’t a time constraint that was holding you back. Take ownership of the control you have over your actions and ability to make decisions and set your own priorities. If you are unable to accept responsibility for your actions or mistakes, it is very hard to gain the respect of other people.
Indirect responsibility involves moving beyond yourself to take necessary action to help other people. Let’s say you found someone’s wallet in the parking lot. While you may think that is someone else’s problem and it has nothing to do with you, accepting indirect responsibility would urge you to take action and try to contact the owner. Having this type of responsibility reveals a factor of your character that shows you don’t make excuses when faced with a task.
Action Step: We can’t change some of life’s circumstances or how other people behave towards us, but we can control our responses to these things to change an outcome. Taking responsibility also requires changing your mindset. This may sound cheesy, but reciting to yourself, “If it is to be, it is up to me” is simple to remember and will remind you that you’re responsible for doing anything that you’re able to do if there is a need.
#5. Take Action Every Day
Part of taking action is taking risks. You may have big plans that sound great in theory, but you never plan on actually following through with them. Stop making excuses and take the action that is needed to achieve the goals you want in life and create success for yourself. One of the first things you have to do to eliminate your excuses is to take that first step.
Have you been avoiding the gym because of “time”? Dedicate specific blocks in your schedule for the gym and get dressed and go. You have to act on your intentions to stop even entertaining the idea of coming up with an excuse.
Action Step: Recognize that the first step will be the hardest. You’re the only person who can make it happen, though. Act on it. So challenge yourself to do at least one thing every day for each of your goals.
#6. Set Small, Attainable Goals
Setting large goals may seem so overwhelming that you don't even know where to start. Further, you may start working towards your long-term goal and find that you’re not getting anywhere fast and give up.
Instead, break down your ultimate goal into many smaller goals that are attainable so you can make progress that you can actually see. Every time you meet one of these smaller goals, you will be more motivated to continue on toward your ultimate goal. (Don't underestimate the power of small wins!)
For example, let's say you aren't much of a runner, but you want to run a marathon. You may start out by running one mile and then think that running 26.2 miles is an unattainable goal and you should just quit. Rather than starting with the ultimate goal of running a marathon, start with aiming to complete a 5k.
This is an attainable goal for someone who does not have a lot of running experience. Once that goal is complete, move up to a 10k. Keep increasing this goal until you reach your ultimate goal of finishing a marathon.
Action Step: Create a milestone map. Your milestones are still significant steps, but they help shift your mindset to focus on the smaller things you need to do that will accumulate toward completing your long-term goal. Doing this will help you start to recognize the necessary steps toward achieving your goal.
#7. Learn from Your Mistakes
Not only can you learn what not to do when you make a mistake, but you can also analyze what went wrong and figure out how you can do better in the future. All mistakes are learning opportunities, no matter how big or small the mistake may be. Often, trial and error is the best way to work something out.
Let’s say your goal is to land a great job and you are in the interviewing process with several companies.
During one interview, you make a comment that seemed innocuous at the time, but the interviewer seemed put off, and in hindsight, you can see why. I would be willing to bet that you would not repeat that comment during your next interview. Instead, you will take it as an important life lesson that just learned. (For more on this, read these 137 powerful life lessons.)
Action Step: Determine what specific action led to the mistake. In the job interview example, were you nervous and responded too quickly to a question without stopping to gather your thoughts? If this is the case, maybe you need to do some more interviewing practice so you’re more comfortable with the process.
#8. Don’t Focus on Your Weaknesses
Be aware of your weaknesses, but don’t focus on them. Rather, focus on your strengths and the things that you have to offer that other people do not.
If you consider your lack of experience to be a weakness in your goal of learning a new language, the only way you can face this head-on is to gain the necessary experience to feel like speaking a new language is something that you can eventually accomplish. Rather than focusing on your lack of experience, focus on your drive and ambition to become a fluent speaker.
Action Step: Perform a personal SWOT analysis. This means writing down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that are relevant to achieving your goal. This will help you recognize your weaknesses but allow you to take your focus off of them as you are also looking at the factors that you have in your favor. To get started, check out this guide on how to do a SWOT analysis for your personal life.
#9. Change your Attitude
Realize that you have the power to change. You just have to be motivated to do so. You can't feel defeated or complacent with your life just being “okay.” Without making excuses, you have the power to change anything in your life.
If you don't feel like you can do it on your own, seek help from other people in order to achieve your goals and get the results you are looking for. Never think that you simply cannot change an aspect of your life.
For example, it is within your power to lose weight. While the process may be slow and seemingly unrewarding in the short-term, you’re the only person who can control the outcome of your weight-loss efforts. Don’t stop trying simply because you think that the steps you’re taking (or the steps you have to take in the future) won’t benefit you in the long run.
Action Step: Be proactive without expecting to see a result. While the steps you take are based upon the results you'd like to see, don’t go into it with high and immediate expectations. This will only be setting yourself up for disappointment. Do your best, but don’t obsess over the ultimate outcome. Trust the process.
#10. Believe in Yourself
When you are faced with a challenge, do you feel like you can handle it or do you come up with some excuses to avoid it?
Perhaps you have a tendency to doubt your own abilities to rise to the challenge and overcome the hardships that life throws your way.
Believing in yourself plays an important role in whether or not you are able to achieve the results you want in life. If you want to save enough money to buy a house, but you don’t believe that you can actually do it, you won’t have any motivation to try because you will see your efforts as being pointless. You have to be able to envision yourself reaching your final goal in order for you to believe it will actually happen.
Action Step: Take a few minutes to list the things that you are good at doing and the successes you have had in the past.Then, recognize that everything you listed is evidence that you can, in fact, succeed. Sometimes we forget how successful we have been in the past. Next time you think that you can’t do something, alter your focus to the things you have already accomplished and about how you can make your current goal into a reality.
#11. Visualize Your Success
Literally visualize what it would look like and feel like to achieve your goal and have success. Close your eyes and think about who will be waiting for you at the finish line and the amount of pride you will be feeling as you’re running your final few meters. Notice as much detail as possible, such as your clothes, the look on your face, people cheering for you, the weather, the sounds of other runners around you, and anything else you can think of. Imagine your feelings as you are completing your first marathon.
Doing this can add some motivation to your agenda, as you will want to actually be able to feel those feelings of accomplishment.
Action Step: Get comfortable, close your eyes, and imagine what you would see if your dream was realized. Practice doing this any time you feel a dip in motivation.
If you need a more “physical” version, then you can create a vision board using these 26 ideas.
#12. Remember: It’s Okay to Not Be Perfect
Accept your mistakes and know that other people are willing to accept your mistakes as well, especially if you own up to them and learn from them. This is something that happens to everyone, even the most successful people.
People often have a tendency to dwell on their mistakes, but doing so will damage your self-confidence. Dwelling on your mistakes can lead to feelings of anger, frustration, and stress, which can then lead to procrastination.
If you’re trying to save money for a house, but you bought something on an impulse that really damaged your budget for the month, take the time to accept the mistake and then move on from it. If there is nothing you can do to undo your error in judgement, just do your best in the future to do better.
Think of a boxer who gets hit during a boxing match. Does he or she stop to dwell on what they did wrong? Or do they get up and keep moving toward their goal of winning? While they may not repeat whatever they did that caused them to get hit, they’re not going to remain seated and let their emotions get the best of them.
Action Step: Next time you make a mistake, find the lesson in it and move on. Analyze your decisions, correct your behavior, and get back on the right path.
#13. Know You Can Change Your “Excuses Habit”
If you are used to coming up with excuses to get out of doing things, this is a habit that can be changed. Think about what you are actually trying to avoid when you make an excuse. Are you avoiding doing extra work? Or maybe you don't want to give up your free time or move around your priorities?
Try to figure out what you are really trying to get away from and address it head on. You can stop making excuses and start getting the results you want if you are able to have a clear vision of what you want for the future.
If you want to meet the love of your life, but refuse to go out and do anything on weekends because you want to watch television, you’re never going to get closer to meeting someone than you are now. Start saying “yes” to social invitations, even if your immediate gut-reaction answer is “no” because that is just what you’re used to saying.
Action Step: Say yes. The next time any sort of opportunity presents itself to you that is relevant to helping you meet your goal, agree to it without hesitation.
When it comes to your own future, making excuses is a habit that is limiting your ability to meet your full potential. It can keep you spinning your wheels for years without making any progress and lead you to feelings of dissatisfaction with life or a lack of purpose.
If you choose to blame other people for your own actions, this can lead to bad outcomes including developing a bad reputation with colleagues and peers.
You may take this to the opposite extreme and give other people credit for work that you actually did. If this is the case, you will likely be wondering why you are not making progress toward achieving your goals.
Final Thoughts on How to Stop Making Excuses
Follow the 13 steps that I outlined in this article, which will allow you to take the important first step to forever breaking the excuses habit. Start with one or two. Once those are mastered, add a few more. It won't take long to follow all of these habits an set yourself up for long term success in your life.
Honestly, sometimes people get so used to making excuses that doing so is their default answer to everything. They hardly consider actually saying “yes” or taking on responsibility.
They are just wired to come up with one of the excuses that they hold handy. It is important to make the best of every situation instead and never make an excuse that is not valid.
Finally, if you are someone who often makes excuses and fails to take action on your goals and habits, then I suggest checking out this simple, step-by-step guide on how to finally overcome your procrastination tendencies.