I think it’s safe to say that if you’re reading this you’ve seen a fitspiration photo — you know, the ones that make you feel bad for being lazy and not possessing a twinkling six pack. “No excuses this, no excuses that”. Every fitspiration photo seems to boil down to that message.
While the delivery of this mantra is anything but “inspiring” to the uninspired, I do agree that excuses are a huge obstacle to physique change, but not in the way you are probably thinking. As with everything in the fitness realm, context is key here. The wanton use of “no excuses” being thrown around as subtle fat shaming and ego boosting is certainly unacceptable. However, a more nuanced definition of “excuse” can be helpful, especially when comparing it to an alternative term, “reason”. In the context of this comparison, excuses are extremely counterproductive.
While the distinction may seem small, reasons and excuses have some subtle, but key differences. Here I will explain these differences and how they impact the success of your fitness program.
Please excuse me for being blunt
Reasons seek to figure out the root cause of an action. Excuses seek to escape any emotional backlash from an action.
When we excuse ourselves from the table, or from sneezing, we are essentially apologizing for less than perfect behavior. While an excuse seeks forgiveness, it does so all the while continuing to do the “imperfect” thing. It’s a way to justify and rationalize behaviors in an attempt to negate guilt or other negative emotions related to feelings of failure.
The problem with excuses is that they reinforce inaction. Or, at the very least, they are indicative of a tendency of dishonesty about WHY you are doing something. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, a reflex towards excuses stifles the introspection that is necessary for physique change.
Knowing WHY you make dietary decisions is even more important than knowing WHAT dietary decisions to make. Brutal self honesty is required to discover why you make the decisions you do. Excuses bury the true motivation and trigger for a decision by trying to rid yourself of any responsibility for your actions.
You don’t need to make excuses, you need to find the reasons
Reasons are investigative by nature and attempt to find the root of the problem so as to prevent the problem from arising in the future. Here’s a real life example to further tease out the problematic nature of excuse making:
Excuse: “Oh well it was just one cupcake and everyone else had 3, plus I worked out today so I’ve earned it”
Reason: “Well, I don’t even really like cupcakes that much, plus there were healthy options available. I just went to the party already hungry and everyone else was eating them so I felt some peer pressure. Those things made it really difficult to make a good decision.”
The individual making the excuse clearly feels some guilt about eating an off-plan cupcake and is attempting to free him/herself from any emotional repercussions from this decision. Accepting responsibility for your actions is tough. Often times it brings up some deeply rooted issues that are unpleasant to think about. As hard as it is, it is absolutely necessary for lifestyle change.
I am not blaming this individual for making the excuse. That said, making an excuse is not going to be productive if that person has interest in improving their habits and seeing results.
The individual explaining the reasons and external factors behind the decision is investigating the scenario to discover how he/she tends to feel/react in certain situations as well as how to better prepare so as to make a better choice next time around.
Also, slip-ups are going to happen. It’s OK to make a mistake; everyone does from time to time. Just because your diet wasn’t “perfect” is no reason to feel like a failure. You’re dietary decisions are not a reflection of your character — you are not weak-willed because you ate a cupcake. The trick is to use these slip-ups as an opportunity to figure out what strategies automate healthy habits best and how to continue moving forward.
You need to work smarter and not harder. This entails changing your mindset from one that is trying to absolve yourself of dietary responsibility to one that accepts that it was a slip-up. Once you accept the fact that you slipped up, you can learn more about how you react to certain external factors and situations. This is crucial for making lasting physique and life changes.