Making Excuses Isn’t Necessary

“Maybe the first rule we should begin with, if we want meditation (change this word to anything you want to do) to be in our life for a long time, is: Don’t make a rigid structure and then chastise ourselves when we don’t live up to it. Better to keep a limber mind and develop a tenderness toward existence. “—Natalie Goldberg

Good grief

it is hard not to make excuses and beat ourselves up. I am too busy, too tired, not feeling well, and having an emergency, the pipes burst…it goes on and on. What would it be like to live an excuse-free life?  “Do or do not,” says Yoda, and that’s the end of it.

I often feel compelled to give an explanation or explain why I am saying no, for instance, or why I am late or why I didn’t do what I said I would do for the simple reason that I don’t want to fracture my relationships. I’m sure I’m not unusual in this regard. I think most of us want others to think well of us. We don’t want to believe, and we don’t want others to believe that this is our typical behaviour. It “feels” better if we all agree that this behaviour is, well, not MY norm. Heavens, no!

I have been thinking about excuses and explanations lately as I encourage others to free themselves from “should.” You know those things you think you should do, should eat etc. I love the advice from Natalie Goldberg in the opening quote and Oliver Burkeman’s “dailyish” advice.

Dailyish

If you’re prone to making yourself miserable by holding yourself to unmeetable standards, like me, “dailyish” probably sounds a bit self-indulgent. But it’s the opposite – because it involves surrendering the thrilling fantasy of yet-to-be-achieved perfection in favour of the uncomfortable experience of making concrete progress, here and now. Besides, it isn’t synonymous with “just do it as often as you can”; deep down, you know that if you never average more than a day or two per week on your novel/fitness plan/meditation practice/side business/whatever, then you won’t acquire the momentum to move forward. “Dailyish” involves applying more pressure to yourself than that. But (crucial distinction coming up!) it’s a matter of pressure rather than of forcing.

I used to think that the “excuse and explanation” response was typical of adolescent behaviour as well as being an adult response to navigating those areas where we don’t want to say yes or we have let someone, including ourselves, down. But I learned differently many years ago after spending a week with my granddaughter Sophie, who was two years and seven months old at that time. I learned that excuses seem to be built into our human nature. I suspect that the excuse comes from the desire to preserve the relationship by finding an acceptable way to say “no,” as an example.

Let me tell you a Sophie story:

Sophie ordinarily was willing to share what she had. But this day was different. It was the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, and I had cut several cherry tomatoes in two and given them to her in a small dish. We were outside enjoying the sun, and I thought those tomatoes looked rather tasty.

I said, “Sophie, could Nana have a tomato?

She looked in her dish, saw only two halves left, and looked me in the eye and said, “Nana, they’re not quite ripe yet.”

I mumbled something profound, like “oh, okay then,” and she cheerfully ate the rest of the tomatoes.

I was speechless that this toddler had not wanted to appear unwilling to share, so she gave me a rational explanation to allow her to keep the tomatoes for herself and avoid saying no. She didn’t think this through, as it all happened in a few seconds. But I was flabbergasted and amused.

If this happened again, I told myself I would be prepared and tell her I like unripe tomatoes. “I’ll take my chances,” I would say. But at that moment, I was too surprised to have an alternate response.

I imagine that at one time, she must have asked her parents, in the produce section of the grocery store, for sour berries, and they would have told her that they weren’t ripe yet, and she recalled the explanation and the result was that she didn’t get the berries. She has now discovered that this explanation works for her, too. Logical and harmless in this case. She wasn’t being devious. It is a sweet story of “underripe” cherry tomatoes and a two-and-a-half-year-old who loves them and wants to eat them all—every last bite.

A child is truly the perfect teacher.

It started me on my path of being more conscious about my excuses and explanations, even to myself.

Many years later, I have made progress in this department. For example, I  discovered that I like short bursts of exercise, and the fact that I don’t want to go to the gym for 90 minutes three days a week is not a moral failing. So, I changed my exercise. I said no to what no longer worked for me and yes to a 30-minute teacher-led Gi Gong practice once a week.

We don’t need to be against explanations. They can be appropriate and appreciated and still understand that we don’t need to do everything we are asked to do. And we don’t need to come up with an excuse. No is a perfectly acceptable answer.

This applies to ourselves when we get overbooked, and somehow we have the notion that we must be doing things all day long. However, we can change our minds and make a new plan even after many years. Try something new. Invite curiosity into our lives – try it and see what happens. Unencumbering ourselves from the shoulds and the can-nots

He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven.” Hindu saying (a quote from Life Is a Verb)

Notes:

1:) I leave for Calgary and the surrounding areas on Saturday and will be gone for two weeks—in-person programs in Calgary, Lethbridge, High River and Red Deer. And, of course, a few days with my twin great-granddaughters.

2:) I like the banner photo from Unsplash. Original image: robert-collins-tvc5imO5pXk-unsplash.jpg

3:) The next two posts will be on the road. I look forward to staying in touch and to seeing in person the wonderful people I know in Alberta. Thank you and best wishes, Trudy

PS I just remembered a story I wanted to leave you with:

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson wrote a book 14 years ago and called it, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

One of my favourite stories from the book:

“A friend, returning from a day in traffic school, told us that as participants went around the room, reporting the violations that had brought them there, a miraculous coincidence occurred: Not one of them had broken the law! They all had justifications for why they were speeding, had ignored a stop sign, ran a red light, or made an illegal U-turn. He became so dismayed by the litany of flimsy excuses that, when his turn came, he was embarrassed to give in to the same impulse. He said, “I didn’t stop at a stop sign. I was entirely wrong, and I got caught.

There was a moment’s silence, and then the room erupted in cheers for his candor.”

 

 

 

 

 

12 replies
  1. Janice+Falls
    Janice+Falls says:

    I subscribe to the dailyish approach myself – it allows me to not go for a walk on a rainy day when I just want to curl up with a book 🙂 Loved your Sophie and the tomatoes story, a child’s wisdom. Have a wondrous time away, may you be enriched and when you return I will be all ears for your stories. Happy trails, love Janice

    Reply
    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      In the meantime, where there’s life there’s hope. Thanks dear Janet for reading my blog and sending notes. I will be on your beautiful island this summer.Kindly, Trudy

      Reply
  2. Jean
    Jean says:

    Great new Trudyism. I find myself apologizing as i dont do two or three things on my daily list.my lovely yard takes time,alot of time,spring clean up is a big job and frankly I get pooped out. Ukeulele and painting as an example.one side says ” how can you learn if not daily and other side of my brain is telling me rest is important:: Now I will just smile at myself and enjoy removing dead leaves and uncovering the miracle of spring.

    Reply
    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Jean: thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am now in Calgary so it’s fun to reply from the same time zone. The actual weather is quite beautiful- not at all like the gloomy weather forecast. Of course these twin great granddaughters make a day sunny no matter the weather. Gentle hugs, Trudy

      Reply
  3. Val Proffitt
    Val Proffitt says:

    Thank you thank you for clearing some space, adding more choice to the day, giving me a way to pat my inner critic on the head and go for a walk together. Which we just did, dawn breaking, birds out and about.

    Reply
    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      What a lovely note to receive dear Val. I appreciate you taking the time to say so. Keep enjoying your precious days. Warmly, Trudy

      Reply

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