The Top Lame-Ass Excuses Between You and Better Health

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.

Closing thoughts
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.

Related Posts:
A Reader Asks for Help
Weight Is Just a Number
The Worst Lie of the Food Blogosphere
Best Practices to Raise the Level of Discussion on Your Blog

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Sara said...

Don't let the perfect be the enema of the good?

First saw this article in the feed reader and loved it. When I clicked through and saw the emphasis on "enema," now I'm not sure you didn't mean to write enema as opposed to enemy.

Anyway, awesome post.

Julia said...

I was just reminded of a saying, "Success has many fathers and failure is an orphan." I think that applies here... no one wants to take responsibility for their failures and will always blame outside factors. I also find this true working with clients trying to revive their businesses.

I also wanted to highlight something you said that I think is so important but is buried deep down in the post:

"If you want to be healthy, you simply have to allocate time to choosing the right foods, eating well and exercising. "

I imagine people could find time by watching 1/2 hour less TV, 1/2 less time on Facebook... etc.

Joanne said...

Love this! We just had a lecture today on sports medicine and the guy is obviously an exercise enthusiast and so he asked how many people in the class exercise on a regular/6 day a week basis. I think three people raised their hands (out of a 103 person class), yours truly obviously included. And it's just kind of like...either take charge of your life or don't complain about it. I had a boyfriend who once said to me, "I don't think you're overweight but if YOU do then why don't you just do something about it?" And that really resonated with me. Enough excuses. Just do it.

Unknown said...

Great post! I remind myself almost daily that I have priorities. We can't do everything in life (because there truly is not enough time), but I have priorities. One of those is to be fit. We ALL have priorities of how we spend our time... for some it may be watching TV, while others enjoy eating out. Determining your priorities helps guide how you want to live.

Marcia said...

Awesome post. I don't think you missed anything. It's like you crawled into my head, read my thoughts, and put them in writing (but much more eloquently than I could).

I have a full time job at a startup company, a husband, and a child. And I cook healthy meals and exercise 4-7 days per week. I even just got a bunch of videos for Xmas so I can work out at home when my husband is on business trips and I can't get to the gym.

Wanna know how I do it? I turn down promotions. My boss KNOWS by now that I work to live, I don't live to work. 40-43 hrs/week? Sure. 55-60? Uh, no thanks. I sleep only 7 hrs/day. I eat a lot of leftovers. I take a 1/2 hour lunch break. I keep my workouts short (35-50 mins).

On a side note, I LOVE your "best of" posts from past years. I found one of your round-ups on how to improve your blog and it was AWESOME!! I've been using the tips to create new pages and update my blog. Quite a ways to go, but it will be so much easier to find the "gold" when I'm done.

Rene Lynch said...

There are so many nuggets of wisdom in here, I don't know where to start. But I am going to steal your use of the "I don't have time to separate egg whites" line, as well as your "enema" line. Thank you for making me take a look at my many excuses.

chacha1 said...

In related news, did anyone see the news story citing a study in which only 10% of Americans self-identified as overweight? When it's very well substantiated that the true percentage is over 60%?

I've noticed that some people get very angry when forced to confront their excuses. Maybe it's time we let ourselves get a little angry instead of being so complacent.

I mean, sure, I'd be a little pissed off if someone pointed out that I have a belly roll. On the other hand I already know perfectly well that I have a belly roll.

Would getting pissed off make me more motivated? I dunno. But sometimes it does take that outside voice to break through the la-la-la.

JCS said...

I separate whites of four eggs every morning for my breakfast. Oh, I have three kids, work a 10-12 hour day, coach my kids' teams, etc. I love excuses. They are just choices (but for the rare instance... and those people wouldn't have time to read this blog!). I have no golf game (never played), and my hobby is exercising/spending time with my kids, and watching 16 games of my loser football team a year. It's all what you value, and I value seeing my kids get married.

Gigi Centaro said...

Great blog and you're dead on. Here's another excuse I heard just today. "I'm going to try it for a while to see if it works." That's pretty lame. Either you make it work or you don't. Trying is useless. Just try to get out of your chair and see how far you get.

nova scotias nutrition coach said...

Love it -will borrow many of these thoughts to help my clientele see how their thoughts prevent them from making positive changes!


Diane said...

Pretty good list, but no - what works for someone else will NOT always work for you - and saying so is not always rationalization. One I hear all the time, and in this month of resolutions is flailing around the internet lately, "park your car in the farthest parking spot and just walk!" Yes, but that won't work for my very arthritic mom who can barely walk around the block. It is perfectly legit to say, "no that will not work for me," and find something else that will.

Daniel said...

These are great responses so far. Keep 'em coming.

A quick response to Diane: What would be a way apply the idea behind that tip? Yes, parking in the furthest spot cannot work for her, but in what other way can she get the benefit of exercise? That is the fundamental essence of creative, solution-based thinking.


Sally said...

One thing I learned from my years of working with the chronically ill is to find out more when someone gives you an excuse. Unless you know someone well enough to know that they really are making an excuse, there may be more to the story than you know. Their reason might sound like an excuse to you, but you might be missing an important piece of information. Don't make assumptions when someone offers you what sounds like an excuse.

I read this ( article and completely agree with the author that cooking is less expensive (not to mention healthier) than buying convenience foods.

But yesterday I realized that there may be more to the story. The man who bought the can of soup -- maybe the money he spent on the can of soup was all the money he had.

The guy who said it was too time consuming to separate eggs -- maybe he does mistakenly think separating eggs is time consuming. Or, maybe like me right now, the closest thing he has to a mixer is a whisk -- and it is more time consuming to beat egg whites with a whisk (and in my case, painful). Right now any thing calling for egg whites beaten stiff is out of the question.

I do think there are probably food deserts, but i don't think they're as common as some people think. On the other hand, if one is disabled or doesn't have transportation, you can live in the middle of an oasis and feel like it's the middle of the desert.

Daniel said...

Sally, you make some solid points. But I'll say it again: there are always going to be people with various disadvantages who cannot use the ideas or solutions you offer. Further, I don't want any reader to read this post as a reason to not have sympathy or compassion.

But this post isn't about the problems of others. It's about us. The question is are we using those disadvantages of others to prevent ourselves from taking action on our own problems? That is what I mean by excuse-making by proxy.


Angela said...

Love this! I have had so many people give me lame excuses when they ask how I stay healthy and fit on why they can't do it. They're knee jerk reactions that range from genetics, to "too busy," to simply, "I can't."

I can't is a popular reply to the importance of measuring and counting calories to succeed in weight loss. If you live in a world where I can't is an option, you will never succeed. The biggest hurdle is getting to a place where "I can and I will" is the first response. Thanks for a great post!

Lo said...

Great post -- and I do agree. But, I think what's most important to take from it is really that people start to be honest with themselves.

I find myself (and others) making excuses most when I've already made up my mind NOT to do the thing that someone has suggested -- but I'd prefer not to face judgment from others for that decision. In this case, I'm not being completely honest.

It's important to note that simply deciding not to take the advice given isn't wrong -- but let's not make excuses. Let's just call it as it is.

Lo said...

Just ran across a quote on twitter that I think might be pertinent to this conversation:

The only reason why people do not have what they want is because they are thinking more about what they don't want than what they do want.

Allie @ Healthy Balance, Healthy Life said...

I am so impressed by this post, I'm sharing it on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere I can possibly share it! It is so well-written and helpful in terms of challenging our self-sabotaging thoughts. It encapsulates what I believe about wellness: that it isn't just physical, it's also emotional and mental (and a million other things) and working on one aspect of wellness impacts the others!

Meditate This said...

Awesome post! As my Father used to say to me "No excuses- if you "forgot about something" or "didn't have time", the it wasn't important enough for you to do.
(Can you tell my Dad was in WW 2?)

Keep up the thought provoking posts!