Coffee Break

200 – With Great Responsibility Comes Great Power

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“The responsibility is all yours. No one can stop you from being honest or straightforward.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Do you own your actions? Do you graciously accept the consequences of your choices? When you make a mistake do you try to cover it up? Today I want to talk about the idea that to have more control over your life, you need to accept responsibility for everything you do.

“There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”

— P. J. O’Rourke


How often do we blame our behavior on something outside of ourselves? For example, maybe we tell a person we’re arguing with that if they had not done or said something then we would not have gotten angry? And the thing is, our language, at least English, is full of phrases that help reinforce this way of thinking. For example, how many times have you said that someone “made you angry” or “something upset you”? Do they really have the power to turn your emotions on or off?

We even see this in our leaders and public figures. I mean how many times have we seen a politician make up all kings of excuses or use phrases like “mistakes were made” as a way to distance themselves from a bad situation? Even worse is when they try to blame a whole group of people, such as immigrants, a racial group, or other political party for why things are wrong. Part of leadership is to step up and take responsibility.

Another way that we avoid responsibility is when we say we “had no choice” to do what we did. We always have a choice. We may not like the choices that we have before us, but we always have a choice. Every time we point to some reason outside ourselves of why we made a choice, we are reacting and not responding. Every time we blame something outside of ourselves, we give up control and lessen our power in our own lives. When we own up to every time we make a choice, and we accept the responsibility, we gain some power.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

— Sigmund  Freud

Why do we Shift Blame?

Why do we blame others for our mistakes? Why do we shift the blame for things outside of ourselves? One reason is we don’t like to look at our own shortcomings. Our ego doesn’t like the fact that we might not be as great as we think we are, and I’ll tell you something – you aren’t as perfect as you think you are. And that’s okay. You don’t need to be perfect.

Another reason is that it is just easier to blame someone else because you don’t have to repair things. You don’t have to fix what you messed up. You can just blame it on someone else, and by doing so, you don’t have to put in any work. You don’t have to make amends or change what you’re doing.

Shifting blame can also give you an excuse to continue with your unacceptable behavior. If the reason for your behavior is outside of yourself, then there is nothing you can do to fix it, so you can carry on with your shitty behavior.

What Happens When We Avoid Responsibility?

When we don’t take responsibility for the things that happen in our lives, then we don’t have control of our lives. We are always being acted upon, making ourselves helpless, and choosing to be victims. When we take responsibility for our lives, then we are in control of our lives. The more responsibility we take for ourselves, the more power we have. External things have much less control over us.

One of the worst side effects of avoiding responsibility is damage it causes to personal relationships. When people feel like you are not taking responsibility for your feelings and actions and that you blame them or always have excuses, it erodes trust. When we accept responsibility for ourselves, then others can rely on us to pull our weight, and they're usually more willing to step up and help when we can’t.

Another downside to shifting blame is that it damages our careers. If we’re always making excuses and never stepping up and taking responsibility for our part when things don’t go to plan, then our colleagues at work can’t rely on us. They can’t trust that we’ll step up and accept responsibility for our mistakes, and help fix those mistakes.

“A person conquers the world by conquering themselves.”

— Zeno of Citium

Great Power

For those familiar with Spider-Man, one of the most iconic sayings in the Spiderverse comes from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. As a parental figure and role model for Peter, Uncle Ben tells Peter,

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

— Uncle Ben, Spider-Man

When Peter gets his Spidey powers, he uses this teaching as a guide for trying to use his power for good, and to step up when things are tough. And it is true – when you have great power, you have great responsibility. We see that Marcus Aurelius embraced this philosophy as emperor. He saw himself as a servant to his people, and not as a king to be served.

I want to take that idea though, and flip it on its head

“With great responsibility comes great power.”

The more we take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions, the more control we have ourselves. The more control we have over ourselves, the more we can focus on being useful to others. The more we take on, the more power we have. If we are constantly leaving messes for others to clean up, then people won’t trust us, and the less they will want to work with us.

If you want to have great power in this life, take on more responsibility, especially for your own thoughts, choices, and actions. Build a resilient foundation, so you can take on bigger challenges. When shit gets hard, you’ll be able to stick things out rather than falling apart when a challenge comes your way. If you are constantly shifting blame for things outside yourself, then you are never actually fixing the problems and issues in your life.

Own It

So how do we become more responsible for our lives?

First, we accept that we blame things outside of ourselves. (See what I did there?) If we can acknowledge that we shift the blame, then we notice when we do it.

We listen to how we speak. If we say something like, “I did this because John made me angry”, we’re putting the blame for our feelings and actions on someone else.

We stop complaining. When we complain, we’re blaming our unhappiness on things outside of ourselves. Plus, no one likes to hear you complain.

We stop making excuses. Every time we make an excuse, we are avoiding responsibility. For example, if we’re late for dinner, don’t complain about traffic. Own that you didn’t leave enough time. The traffic may have been bad, but we own our part in not adding some time into our travel plan. We own the things we can control.

We keep our promises. Now why is this one important? When we come up with excuses because we failed to keep our promises and commitments, we’re trying to get out of being held responsible. The more we can set and keep our commitments, the more others trust us, and the more we self respect we have for ourselves.

Know what you want in life. If you know what you want in your life, you know the life you want to live, and you act accordingly. Your actions are in line with who you want to be. You accept responsibility for what happens because you are owning choices and actions and the consequences.


Taking responsibility for your choices and actions is hard, but the more you work on doing so, the more power that you have over your life. It means that others can trust you. By owning your mistakes, taking responsibility for your choices and actions, you take control of your life.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Coffee Break

199 – What Are You Thinking?

What are you thinking?

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How aware are you of what you are thinking? What you are feeling? Most of us like to think that we are pretty aware of what’s going on in our minds or what emotion is currently driving us. I mean, we’re the one inside of our mind, so we should know what we’re thinking or feeling, right? Well, not always. Often, the thoughts and emotions inside my head are busy, confusing, conflicting, and overwhelming. So today we’re going to talk about the most important mental skill you can develop, awareness.

“Objective judgment, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance – now at this very moment – of all external events. That’s all you need.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important principles of Stoicism is that we are in control of our thoughts, choices, and actions. But if we’re not even aware of the thoughts that are going on in our head, how are we in control of what we are thinking? I mean, how many times have you had a song stuck in your head that you tried to get rid of, only to find yourself absentmindedly humming it a few hours later?

Thinking, and Thinking, and Thinking…

It is estimated that we have around 65,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot of noise going on in our minds, and most of those thought go barely or even completely unnoticed. It’s no wonder by the end of the day we’re tired and weary and ready to give our brains a rest, even if we have done nothing particularly physically or mentally demanding. Just the ongoing chatter in our minds can be exhausting.

Why is it so important to know what we are thinking? Because what we think creates the emotions that we have, and those emotions influence the choices we make and the actions that we take. If we are not focusing our awareness on the current moment, then our mind is somewhere or maybe some when else. We may be thinking about the past or anticipating what might happen in the future.

When we choose to be mindful and to be aware, we are also much more present in our lives. We are “here, now”, and not with our minds wandering through other times and spaces, unless we choose to let that happen. There is nothing wrong with letting your mind wander, to allow yourself to be bored, to use your imagination. But often, when the work in front of us is challenging, we allow ourselves to get distracted by other things because we don’t want to focus on the hard work. Our brains are lazy. And we can allow our brains to be lazy, but it should be a choice, and not a default way of acting because we are avoiding something.

“Self-control is all about moment to moment self awareness. You catch yourself doing – or about to do – something undesirable, see that it isn’t good for you in the long term, and as a result of this awareness abstain from doing it.”

— The Ancient Sage

Why Would We Want to be Unaware?

There are a lot of reasons that we may not want to be aware. For example, I like to think I’m a pretty good person, but there are parts of me I don’t like. Sometimes I behave in ways that I’m not proud of. I say things that are mean and hurtful. I don’t like these shadow parts all that much because they aren’t the person who I imagine myself to be, so being aware of and owning these shadow parts of me can be very uncomfortable.

Sometimes being aware of the world around us can be painful. I think a lot of people genuinely don’t like the lives they are living, but they feel like it’s just their lot in life. I know I felt that way growing up and that I had little choice but to follow what the church had laid out for me as the way to live my life. I think many people, they became more aware in their lives, and they knew that they can choose to do something about it, many people would shrink back in fear because change is hard. Change is scary. It is safer to remain in ignorance than to accept the challenge of improving their lives.

People will ignore what is going around them because the truth, because reality can be too painful. To be truly mindful and aware is to accept reality for what it is. Amore Fati is ultimately about awareness. It is about doing your best to be aware of what is really happening, to acknowledge it, and to accept it and not wish it to be otherwise.

“I think, therefore I am, what I think I am.”

— 2Nu

Mindfulness is a Choice

The hardest part about mindfulness is to remember to be mindful. Because mindfulness is a choice, is it something that we have to actively work on. We don’t just wake up one day being mindful. It’s something that we have to constantly practice each minute of each day. We have to develop strategies. To be aware of our current experience is to be more fully alive, rather than sleep walking with our heads stuck in the past or the future. It is to choose to be here in this very moment. When we can be present in this moment, then we are truly alive. We are experiencing everything around us more intensely.

Having a higher level of awareness does not mean that life become magically easier, but the more mindful we are, the more effective we are. We are more aware of the choices that we make. We can even reduce the number of choices that we need to make in a day. This saves a lot of energy and time, and we are more effective with the choices we make.

Task Switching

Many of us try to do too many things at once. We like to think that we can multi-task and have it all. But there have been plenty of studies that have shown that multitasking is not really something that we can do as humans. This constant task switching extracts a cost every time we move from one task to the next. It takes our brains some time to get back into the groove of the previous task that we were working on. When you cultivate mindfulness, you can be more aware of when you are task switching, so you can be more deliberate when you choose to switch task. Reducing your task switching reduces the amount of ramp up time time.

When you are more mindful of what you are doing, you are better able to accomplish your task because you are not mentally somewhere else. When you are more present, you are more engaged with what you are doing. Because you are focused on what you are doing, the quality of your work is better because all your resources are focused on the task at hand.

Flow State

In sports and other performance based activities, there is the concept of being a flow state. Where the process of what you are working on feels smooth and you are “in the zone”. I think that most of us have experienced this state when we have become engrossed in whatever we were doing. We felt energized, had a clear focus, and proficiency at whatever task we were doing. But what if we took this idea and worked on applying it in our daily lives? What if we tried to apply this kind of mindfulness as a way of being?

Why would we want to be more in a flow state throughout our days? I mean, wouldn’t you want to feel energized, focused, and proficient in your daily life? There are a lot of benefits from working in a flow state. We can be more aware of ourselves and our thinking. We are able to make decisions faster, and with more clarity. We’re more relaxed, focused, and can tap into the better parts of our thinking.


The moment to moment awareness I’m talking about is difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of energy, effort, and practice. But if we want to become truly in control of our thoughts, choices, and actions, then we need to practice this kind of awareness. And that’s just what it is, a practice. You will never be 100% aware all the time. We just not wired for that way. Some days you’ll be better and some days you’ll struggle. But everyday you practice on being more mindful, the more you’ll feel in touch with the world, and with yourself.

This kind of practice also helps you to be more intentional about your life. Because you are paying more attention to what you are thinking, you can be more deliberate about the choices you make, not just being reactive to everything that comes your way.

There are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness, but really it’s just about choosing to focus your attention on something, and this is something that you can do with almost everything. It can be just taking a moment to really focus on the sounds around you and the different textures and timbres you can hear. You can look closely at a painting or a picture and try to notice as many details about it as you can. When you are eating your lunch, what are the different textures and tastes and scents that you can detect?

One practice that I have been using over the past few weeks is what I call AAA:




I try throughout the day, whenever I remember, or whenever I check the time on a clock, to ask myself, what I’m feeling. Then I acknowledge it by simply saying, “I am feeling ” whatever it is I’m feeling: anxious, bored, sad, whatever. Then I accept it. I don’t try to change it, I just accept it by saying, “and that’s okay”.

When you are more aware of your feelings, your more aware of the impact they have on your choices and the actions that you take. I know for me that a lot of times after I’ve gotten into an argument, when I reflect on what happened, I recognize I was unaware of how I was feeling beforehand. I may have been irritable, but since I wasn’t being mindful, I let how I was feeling color my perspective, which changed the meaning that I gave something. My judgement impacted the choices I made of how to handle that situation.


If we want to take control of the things that we can control, namely our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions, we need to increase our self-awareness. And as we become more mindful, we become more present in our lives. You could say that life just seems more real. Colors seem more vivid. You notice more of your surroundings. You’re more present for the people around you. Being more aware means being more alive.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.


198 – The Fear of Knowing What You Want

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Do you really know what you want? When you think about what you want, does it excite you? Does it scare you? Are you pursuing what you want? In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about why it’s scary to know what you want, and why that’s a good thing.

“Everything, a horse, a vine, is created for some duty. For what task, then, were you yourself created? A person’s true delight is to do the things they were made for.”

—Marcus Aurelius

This week, I got an email from a listener who said she was struggling with being in a career that she felt no passion for but felt like she couldn’t leave for practical reasons, and asked if I could devote some time to this idea. I felt strongly about this because, as I’ve been working on putting things together for the Stoic Coffee community, I’m facing my own fears and doubts. I know it will take a lot of work. It will challenge me in ways that I can’t even imagine. It also creates excitement because of the opportunities that it can open up for me to connect with you, my listeners, and the ideas and things that we can work on together.

The Challenge

We all face the challenge of knowing what we want. There are so many reasons we struggle to know what we want. Why is this so challenging? Because we have been told our whole lives by our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, churches, and society what we’re supposed to want. Taking the time and the effort to know what we want is not something they teach us to do. We just assume that we’ll know what we want.

There are all kinds of forces that influence what we believe and what we feel is acceptable to want. Every culture has lots of biases about what is acceptable. Some cultures hold doctors in high esteem and look down on artists. Others may consider being a farmer is more important than being a banker. There are all kinds of explicit and implicit messages about what we should want and what is unacceptable. But these are things that should not matter. These are things outside of your control. If you are choosing what you want based upon what society or religion or family tell you, then you are choosing based upon the opinions of others.

Religious influences can also have a big impact on what is acceptable. In my case, there was such a big push to get married and have kids, that the thought of becoming a musician or actor was downright scary because I was afraid that I could not provide for a family while working in such unpredictable industries.

With those closest to us, there is a lot of pressure to conform to what they want for us. To go against what they expect is scary, and downright terrifying. Families have an outsized influence on the careers we choose, the people we marry, and the values we hold, which can make it challenging when we know they might disapprove of the things we want.

These are all powerful forces, and to seize the rudder of our ship and chart our own course can feel overwhelming. There are strong currents pulling us all different ways and if we don’t have a clear destination in mind, then we just go where these currents take us. But there is a way that we can figure out where we want to go amidst all the noise and chaos.

We slow down, tune out the noise, and listen.

Listen to what?

Listen to the sound of your breath and the rhythm of your heartbeat. You pay attention to the thoughts in your mind. When you do this, you hear what your mind and heart truly want. You become aware of your actions in everyday life. You notice the things that get you excited and the things that sap your energy.

The truth is most of us know what we want, but to say it out loud is scary… and exciting. Do you know why it is scary AND exciting? Because fear and excitement feel the same. If what you want scares you, that’s great because it means that it’s exciting! It’s thrilling! It means it’s something that you can’t imagine yourself doing, because to imagine yourself doing it feels like betraying everything you were told or believe about yourself.

Will you succeed?

Will you be great?

Who knows?

Does it matter?


What matters is that it’s your dream, and every day you work towards your dream is a day that you feel more alive. Every day you spend working on someone else’s dream is a day that you are not living. Therefore, the stoics implore us with Memento Mori, to consider our mortality so that we can distill what really matters. We can look at each day and the actions we take and ask, “If today were my last day, would I still do this?”

To take that rudder, and steer your course towards your destination, your dream, is to take responsibility for your life. There are all kinds of external forces that don’t want you to follow your dream. You can’t control those, and that’s okay. It means that those are things you can let go of. Just think of how much energy you save because you can let go of trying to control those things! For example, you can let go of worrying about what others think because you have no control over that. What you can control is your mind, your choices, and your actions.


When you try to know what you want, your brain will put up all kinds of resistance. You’ll find yourself second guessing yourself. You’ll try to talk yourself out of it because it seems like it’s impossible. This is normal. Your brain is trying to protect you. The fear of pursing your dream and failing is very powerful, and it has stopped plenty of us from stepping up and owning our dream.

The way you work through this resistance is to imagine what it would feel like if you lived in a perfect world where nothing could stand in your way, and that you could easily move past every challenge that presented itself. What would that feel like? What would that look like? Can you see yourself doing it? Imagine it in a as clear a way as possible. I mean like 4k video clear so that every time you think about about it, there is no doubt what your dream looks like. If you leave it vague, it makes it very challenging to get what you want. Things like, “I want to work for myself”, or “I want to work in medicine”, leave things too up in the air. The more clear and detailed you can be, the more likely you are to make plans to go after what you want.


Knowing what you want is scary because it can lead to big changes in your life. When we truly know what we want, we often bury these desires because if we went after them, it could mean a lot of change in our lives. We will do other things to distract us because we may not be ready to make those changes. For example, if we decide that the career we have doesn’t suit us anymore and we want to go after something else, that can mean a complete change of lifestyle. It may mean that we make a lot less money, and have to downsize the house we live in. It can change our whole circle of friends.

Maybe you want to get married or maybe you want to get divorced. Maybe you want to cut ties with friends or family that are damaging to you. These are all things that you may want, but are afraid to do because it can mean tremendous changes in your life and living situation. But remember, life is always in constant flux and that as much as we might want it, things will never stay exactly as they are. We should be will to not only accept change, but embrace it and guide it in ways that benefit us. Think about it this way. If you want to be a veterinarian, it’s going to take years of schooling and a lot of hard work. But the thing is, that time is going to pass you anyway, and at the end of that time spent in school, you’ll come out doing what you love.

Another reason we may be afraid to go after what we want is because we feel like we are too old to change. I disagree. We can choose to make changes at any age. Albert Schweitzer was an accomplished musician and clergyman in the early 1900s and could have easily spent the rest of his life in comfortable positions in the Lutheran church. At the age of 30 he decided he wanted to be a medical missionary. He went to medical school with little knowledge or aptitude for medicine, and after 7 years of school, he finished with a medical degree and went to serve the people of Gabon, Africa, at his own expense. He would spend the rest of his days working to build a hospital in Gabon, and speaking out against colonialism.

It’s Okay to Know

If you’re struggling with this, the first step of knowing what we want to just to accept that it’s okay to know what we want. We don’t have to do anything about it right now. Just acknowledge it’s what you want. If you are young, it is very possible that you might not know what you want, at least in the long run. That’s okay. Because life is constantly changing, you may want something at one phase in your life and want something completely different later on. Just because you make a choice and go after what you want, does not mean that you can’t change your mind. You can always change your mind. What served you in one part of your life may no longer work for you. Just because you pursue one path in your life does not mean that you have to continue down that for the rest of your life.


“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

— Tim Ferriss

Making the choice to pursue what you want is scary, and challenging, and it should be. It means you have to grow and step out of your comfort zone. It also means it’s worth it. Any dream or desire that is worth it will challenge you. You will doubt yourself along the way. You will fail. You will have down days, and days where you want to give up and ask yourself why you ever wanted it in the first place. You will find strength that you never knew you had. You will find allies and helpers and people that show up at just the right time to lend a hand. You may never actually achieve your goal, but living each day pursuing your dream, to go after the things you want, is a day that you have truly lived.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

philosophy stoicism

197 – What’s Your Excuse?

What’s Your Excuse?

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“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice–now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! […] Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do–now.”

— Epictetus

We all have events and challenges that happen in our lives. That what life is all about. When the stoics use the term Amor Fati, what they mean is to love your fate, to love and accept what life sends your way. How you feel about the events that happen to you in your life will not change if they are going to happen or not. They will happen. What thoughts you have around these events, how you feel about them, and how you respond to them are the only things that you have control over.

If this is the case, why do we make excuses? Why do we come up with rationalizations about these how we do or don’t, especially when the rationalizations just make us feel worse about the actions we want to take anyway?

In the 1983 film The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum and Tom Berenger have this great exchange:

Michael : I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam Weber : Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael : Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

— Jeff Goldblum & Tom Berenger, The Big Chill

Why We Make Excuses

Part of the reason why we rationalize is evolutionary. On its surface, when we make excuses, part of it is that our brain might honestly be trying to figure something out. It might be trying to find reasons to do or not do what we want. If it is after the fact, we might be trying to understand why we did what we did. So what is the difference between a cause and an excuse?

A cause is a fact that can be proven.

An excuse is an explanation designed to avoid or alleviate guilt or negative outcome, perception, or judgement.

So what would be an example of a cause? The cause of why I cannot slam a basketball is because I cannot jump high enough to reach a basketball rim. My physique is such that I do not have the height or muscle to get even close to the rim. It has nothing to do with my desire to or how much I “want” it. It has to do with physics.

A rationalization on the other hand might be blaming a bad mood on getting bad sleep or that traffic was bad on the way to work. We use rationalizations to justify our own behavior and avoid taking full responsibility for our choices and actions.

The reason why this came up is because I mentioned to my partner about how I was feeling like I was not able to get myself organized because was in survival mode because of my incessant insomnia. I explained that I wanted to get more organized, but I was always so tired. I also talked about how working on mindfulness was too challenging because I was so tired all the time, and that I felt I needed to get my health back online so that I could focus on those things. She said those were just excuses, and that I was always going to be tired or have something that could be used to rationalize to myself or others why I did, or in this case did not, do something.

She was right.

This does not mean that I should forgo working on my health. Being healthy certainly helps with focus and the ability to think more clearly, but that I recognize I can find a way to get organized even when these things are happening. It might be more challenging, and I may not be able to do it how I want to, but that I can get it done. Simply put, you’re rarely going to have ideal conditions to accomplish your goals or develop your skill. Life happens, and if you wait around for things to be just perfect, you’ll never accomplish anything.

Personal Rationalizations

How often do we make excuses of why we do/don’t do the things we “should” do, such as cleaning the dishes, organizing our desk, or eating healthier food? We consider our actions wrong in this case because we have somehow decided that our actions are wrong. We have decided that eating that piece of carrot cake is wrong. Not doing the dishes right away is wrong. Having a disorganized desk is wrong. We make up excuses because we think we should do something and we don’t want to do it.

I think that if we aren’t honest with ourselves about why we do things, then it’s harder to be honest with others about things. If we practice giving ourselves excuses all the time, why would we suddenly be able to be more honest with others?

External Rationalizations

Why do we make excuses and and rationalize our behavior to other people?

When we choose something and it doesn’t work, we look for reasons outside of ourselves because of our ego. We don’t like to be wrong.

This begs the question: why are we so afraid to be wrong? What is it about being wrong that makes us avoid it so strongly? That we will double down in an argument, to prove our point to our detriment, ignoring facts and even logic, just to not be wrong?

From an evolutionary standpoint, it does make sense. In ancient times, if you made a wrong decision and you died, then the rest of your tribe could die because you were not able to bring back food. Our brains are wired for that kind of survival, where if you were wrong it could have ended your life and the lives of your family. By upsetting the wrong person, or choosing the wrong plants to eat, or not having the right weapons when you were hunting. Any number of scenarios that we rarely, if ever, need to face in our lives, but our brains are still wired for a different set of dangers. Luckily for us, our brains are also quite malleable, and we can learn how to recalibrate our responses to recognize what is truly dangerous and what is imagined.

We’re also afraid of the opinions or reactions of others. We’re afraid of being shamed or humiliated. This can have some pretty big consequences. For example, if we are wrong about something in our career and have to own up to it, it might mean that we lose credibility in the eyes of our colleagues. We may not get the promotion we were working towards. We might get fired.

Politicians and leaders are often afraid to admit they were wrong about something because people might no longer support or follow them. They try to spin things in such a way that the fault is on some other circumstance or some other person, or group of people, all in an effort to try and preserve their reputation.

We also make up excuses to avoid conflict.  Growing up, I was afraid that if I was wrong, I would get beaten by my dad. If I had a good enough excuse that could mollify him, then there was a good chance that I would be safe. Basically, I learned to be deceptive to be safe. I did it with the church as well, because if I did something that the church didn’t like, I could be shunned by my community. I could anger my father if I was kicked out of the church. I might not be able to get jobs in Utah if was not longer a member.

We aren’t necessarily afraid of being wrong, but we are afraid of the consequences of being wrong.

What Can We Do?

The more we can be honest with ourselves about what we really want to do, the better off we’ll be. The more we can be okay with the choices we make and decide what is a priority and what is not, the more we can let go of feeling like we have to justify our actions. You don’t have to justify your actions, you just have to own them. If you are in a grumpy mood, own it. Don’t make excuses why. Just own that you are, and figure out a solution to change it if you want, or just sit with that mood. If you don’t want to clean your desk, don’t come up with all the reasons why you can’t. Just decide you want to, and do it, or decide you don’t want to and don’t. Get rid of all the guilt and shame around it.

When dealing with others, be mindful of when you make excuses. Are you coming up with reasons so they don’t get upset? Then just stick to the causes of something. When you make excuses, you are trying to place the blame on someone or something else. If you just stick to the facts of what happened, you are more likely to understand the actual cause of something. Remember, a cause of something is a fact. An excuse is way to try and avoid the consequences.

Learning how to be honest with ourselves is very challenging. We rationalize our behavior to ourselves on a daily, if not hourly, basis. If we take the time to be intensional about our choices, we can get rid of a lot of guilt and shame for doing the things we already want to do, and we can be better at owning our choices and actions around others.

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