A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else
– John Burroughs
One of the things that can really set us free is letting go of blame and excuses. To understand how blaming and making excuses (justifying) hold us back and keep us away from a happy, successful, fulfilling and healthy life, we need to go into the science and psychology behind them.
Blame and excuses are born from a subconscious desire to manage failure and disappointment from ourselves. That is a very natural and, in some way, a very healthy mechanism. When we feel the failure is too big to bear, we try to get the load off our shoulder in order to survive emotionally. The main problem with passing blame and justifying is that they block our way forward.
Since life is a journey of personal growth and development, whenever we blame or justify, we keep ourselves standing in one place (to rest and to take the load off). This is not always bad, because sometimes, our journey is hard and things get heavy, so we do need to stop and rest, rethink until we can start moving forward again. But when we do it a lot, we are in constant “loading off” mode and we are constantly stuck.
Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos
– Doug Coupland
Think of our mind as a ship sailing in the sea of life. Our captain is the conscious mind and the crew is the subconscious mind. Whenever we blame or justify, our subconscious drops an anchor and stops to check the map again and to set a new course for travel (too heavy, maybe the destination is not good enough). So you are not moving anywhere. The captain, the conscious mind, is screaming like a headless chicken, shouting to move on, “We are stuck because of you, helpless crew!” But the more he (or she) shouts the more worried the crew is about moving forward. The first thing they say to themselves is, “This captain is not very responsible. We can’t allow him to take us to dangerous places, so we’re not moving anywhere… Just to be sure, we’ll drop another anchor”.
If you feel stuck, it is always, always because your crew is re-thinking the sailing destination and because your captain is not doing a very good job reassuring the crew that he knows where to sail and how to go about it.
The difference between justifying and blaming is that justifying is holding circumstances responsible for a failure and blaming is throwing the responsibility onto another person.
Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it
– Albert Camus
When you blame others, you give up your power to change
– Robert Anthony
The Because Trap
Again, the main problem is that change cannot happen in a state of blaming and justifying and what happens is exactly the opposite of what we want. We can only change the situation after we let go of blaming and justifying.
If you want to discover just how deep you are in this trap and at what speed you are moving forward, try doing this activity:
- Write 100 things in your life that you are unhappy, frustrated or disappointed with
- Write the reasons why you are in this situation and feeling that way. Please remember that taking blame is also blaming. Do not confuse taking blame with taking responsibility. Taking blame is saying, “It’s because of something wrong I did”, while taking responsibility is saying, “It was the choice I made back then and it was what I could do back then, but now I can make different choices”
- Check your answers. How many of your reasons were others or circumstances?
- If you wrote 100, then the answer to question 3 will tell you the speed you are moving forward in life. If you had 70 answers where you blamed and justified a failure or disappointment, then your speed towards achieving goals and succeeding is 30 (the total number of your failures/frustrations – the number of your blame and justifications)
- Now, write down next to each situation 3-4 things that you can do to change it. Focus on what you can do, even if you think it was caused by someone (or something) else and even if you find it hard to identify your part in it (part, not fault or blame). Think of what you can do differently that would change the outcome
- Take your list of actions and start executing it. Every time you are active, an anchor lifts and it becomes easier to sail to your dream destination. If you make a list and never execute it, your subconscious will never give your conscious control over the ship
When you let go of blaming and justifying, responsibility kicks in. Some of my clients think that responsibility is a bit heavy, but in fact, once you get the hang of it, it is very powerful. The sense of control over your life is very motivating and the subconscious is very supportive. Control is not a dirty word as long as the focus is about controlling your own thoughts and actions and not about controlling others.
With one of my clients, I held a funeral for the excuses. She had to write all the reasons why her life “sucked”, as she said, I brought a big empty can and we burned her excuses together. That was a very powerful ceremony, which contributed to her independence and gave her a lot of strength. The excuses did not allow her to grow and evolve. After she burned them, she set herself free and started a new life.
Let go of excuses and justification and set yourself free as well.
By the way, excuses are only bad when we use them to justify bad things, but research has discovered that when people write good things that happened to them every day and add the reasons for them, their level of happiness increases significantly. The act of justifying a good thing works as an accelerator. It is as if we convince the mind that those were the reasons for something good that happened to us in life, so whenever we are in similar circumstances, the “crew” makes our ship sail even faster.
Try this for 3 weeks. Write every evening for 2 minutes (you can find 2 minutes) about something good that happened to you that day and why you think it happened the way it did. I promise you a happier life within three weeks. Be sure to write it down. No cheating. Do not say, “I’ll just do it in my head”. That is a lazy excuse for not doing it the proper way. The research claims this only works when the good stuff is written down and even better when you keep a record of it. By the way, typing on the computer is similar to writing, so you can type. The idea is to have a record.
To leave in search of yourself, of your real needs, is easier when you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone, when there are not too many people bestowing you their attention
– Isabelle Adjani
Join me next week for the 8th chapter of the Art of Letting Go about how to let go of the past.
Until then, be yourself. Everyone else is taken,
This post is part of the series The Art of Letting Go:
- The Art of Letting Go: Attachments
- The Art of Letting Go: Fear
- The Art of Letting Go: Trapped by Labels
- The Art of Letting Go: Be Right or Be Kind
- The Art of Letting Go: Living up to Others’ Expectations
- The Art of Letting Go: Control
- The Art of Letting Go: Blame and Excuses
- The Art of Letting Go: Painful Past
- The Art of Letting Go: Negative Self-Talk
- The Art of Letting Go: Resistance to Change