Warning: This post is NOT intended for whiners or excuse-makers.
In the more than 500 posts that I've written here at Casual Kitchen, I've shared all kinds of secrets for preparing easy and healthy food at home. I've shared all kinds of counterintuitive ideas for managing our appetites and embracing a healthy diet.
I've also heard every possible kind of excuse.
Here's the thing. Humans are really good at excuse-making. We love to avoid taking action, and we love to offer rationalizations and justifications for why. Half the time we make excuses autonomically, without even realizing it.
Here are six of the most common excuses I hear from people--in conversation, in emails, on Twitter, and in comments on this blog.
Have you ever caught yourself saying any of the following?
1) "That tip won't work for me."
You actually have to think creatively to take a tip that works for someone else and figure out why that same tip won't work for you. Ironically, it takes the same amount of creativity to take that tip and tweak it so that it can work for you.
Which do you think is a more productive use of your energy?
Astute readers will also note the circular argument buried in this excuse: if you assume that a solution won't work for you, it won't. And you'll be "right" in your prediction that it won't work. This is why I always want my readers to choose a solution-based mindset--and avoid all negative self-fulfilling prophecies--whenever they address challenges in their lives.
2) "But you haven't considered X, or Y, or Z."
Translation: If your tip isn't perfect in every way, then I'm going to point out a minor flaw in it and use that as an excuse not to take action.
This is a textbook example of letting the perfect being the enemy of the good, or as I've taken to saying lately: letting the perfect be the enema of the good.
Once again, it takes the same amount of creativity to shoot down an idea as it takes to think of ways to tweak it so it works for you.
3) "That's obvious."
You have to unpack this phrase a bit before you can truly understand what's going on in the mind of the person saying it. In one sense, this statement is a perfect excuse because it's short, simple and supremely condescending. In just two words, it quickly slaps away any idea. However, underneath this seemingly simple statement is both a circular argument and a lot of psychological baggage.
I'll start with the circular argument. Think about it: if some tip or suggestion is so obvious, then why isn't the person already putting it to use--and getting positive results? In reality, saying "that's obvious" is just another generalized excuse for not taking action.
Further, phrases like that's obvious or I know that already actually signal a lack of comprehension and knowledge. It suggests that this person's mind is closed to an idea, regardless of its merit.
All of this brings us to the psychological aspect of this excuse, which lies in its narcissism. The thing is, most of our problems actually have relatively simple (note that I didn't say easy) solutions. Spend less, save more; eat less, exercise more. However, there seems to be an odd habit--at least among the most narcissistic of blog commenters--of demanding 100% super-duper secret customized tips, designed specifically for them.
To those readers I say this: consider the notion that the things you read aren't written solely with you in mind.* And just because something is obvious to you doesn't mean it's obvious to others.
* Readers, I don't literally mean "you"--I'm speaking metaphorically to a narcissistic reader, who will never see themselves in this example anyway.
4) "Sure, that's easy for you, but..."
Whether a tip or suggestion is easy for me is completely beside the point. Some tips will be easy for you, some will be easy for me. Seriously, though, does that even matter? Isn't the effectiveness of a tip more important than its ease of use?
Once again, don't let the perfect be the enema of the good.
A side note for other bloggers who often hear this excuse: A productive response in many situations is to say "how do you know that it's easy for me?" This simple, disruptive question often breaks a person out of his or her presumptions and redirects the conversation towards solutions rather than excuses.
5) "This is all well and good for you, but there are other people out there who are suffering from [insert any disadvantage here] who can't do this like you can."
The brilliant thing about this excuse is that it's actually true. There are always going to be people with various disadvantages who cannot use the ideas or solutions you offer. But as readers of my series of posts on the "Yes, But" argument know, this response is nothing more than excuse-making by proxy.
Look, there will always be:
* People without education.
* People without money.
* People who live in food deserts in the inner city (uh, unless food deserts are a myth).
* People with five jobs, five kids and a five-hour commute.
* People who live out in the middle of nowhere, where there's only one store around for miles and who therefore cannot comparison shop.
* People who don't have the time to read through labels to avoid government subsidized ingredients in processed foods (these last two were actual excuses from one angry reader--I'm totally serious).
And so on.
Forget all that. The real question is: what are you going to do, in the context of your specific situation? You were not put here on this earth to whine on behalf of hypothetical people with hypothetical disadvantages and use that as an excuse to wring your hands.
Not to mention that many people who have actually faced those disadvantages could easily see your whining as insulting. For example, I've had readers who have faced poverty, as well as other significant disadvantages, who consider it totally condescending that other readers would presume their disadvantages are (or were) insurmountable.
The bottom line: this is just another excuse. The excuse-maker is merely manufacturing a series of disadvantages, experienced by some imaginary third person, as a reason not to take action.
6) "I don't have time."
Let me share a quick story: A friend of mine once asked me for my waffle recipe, and just as I was explaining the important step of separating the egg whites, he cut me off, saying, "Forget it. I don't have time to separate egg whites."
This pretty much murdered our conversation, and I hung my head and went to the other side of the room. In retrospect however, the statement I don't have time to separate egg whites was so preposterous that my wife Laura and I now use it as a general metaphor for pathetic time management excuses.
Of course, the truth is, "I don't have time" is excuse-making code for "I've made a passive choice not to allocate time for this, but I want to slip something into this conversation that validates my ego, and shows how busy and/or hardworking I am."
If you want to be healthy, you simply have to allocate time to choosing the right foods, eating well and exercising. There's no way around it. You have no choice but to make time for these things, or you'll suffer increasingly dire consequences. You'll weigh more each year. Your energy levels and your fitness will decline each year. Your joints and muscles will get weaker and less functional. Your cardiovascular system will get less and less efficient. And at some point, your body might stop working altogether.
Imagine yourself in ten or twenty years if you continue on your current path. If you don't like what that possible future holds for you, change it. We are all running out of time. Don't waste still more precious time whining about not having time.
Readers, you've just read a blog post where the author complained about complainers. Thus it's only fitting to close this post with a non-complaining call to action. And if there's one conclusion you should draw from the collective whine of the excuse-makers out there, it's this: the barriers separating us from the lives we want usually aren't physical. They are almost always psychological.
This is at once depressing and encouraging.
Depressing, because it simply proves that most people are their own worst enemies when it comes to solving problems. We think we have air-tight reasons to explain why we can't or aren't permitted to do certain things or achieve certain goals. But those reasons are really made of air. There's no there there.
Which brings us to the encouraging part. You have the power to choose your approach to the challenges and problems in your life. You can complain and make excuses, or you can use a solution-based mindset and take action.
More importantly, you can (gently) help others recognize when they're engaging in defeatist thinking. Most people use these excuses without really realizing it. You can help, by focusing on solutions and by redirecting conversations--both online and in the real world--back to productive ideas.
Just make sure you stay out of the "yes, but" vortex. :)
Readers, what have I missed in this post?
This post is dedicated to Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You To Be Rich for defying the complainers and encouraging his readers to take action.
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