Difference Between Reasons & Excuses

Last week I posted an article on how success can make others feel mediocre.  I started by sharing a list of excuses I made for not achieving my weight loss goals after seeing a colleague’s weight loss success.  This got me thinking about excuses.  I recall a conversation with a friend I felt also made a lot of excuses and once challenged this behavior by asking him why he spent so much energy coming up with excuses when it would probably be more enjoyable for him to take action.  In response he told me that he was not giving excuses but rather reasons and that I should know the difference.

I reflected on this, and my own experiences, and asked myself, “Do I sometimes confuse excuses and reasons?”  I decided to explore the difference between them.

According to Dictionary.com, an excuse is an explanation offered for being excused or a pretext for subterfuge; and this is done so that another person would judge you with forgiveness or indulgence.  By this definition, an excuse seems to be offered when one knows he has acted wrongly or does not want to admit his true reason for taking an action or neglecting to take an action.

A reason, however, is a basis or cause for action that can be a belief, fact, previous action or event.  The act of reasoning is to think or argue in a logical manner or with good sense.  Reasons, therefore, are based in conviction and factuality.

So for me, it comes down to motive.  When I explain why I am not accomplishing my goals, does my explanation attempt to mislead, shirk responsibility, garner sympathy, shift blame, or seek indulgence?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it is an excuse.  An attempt to justify wrong behavior.  Otherwise it is a reason.

I believe this is important to know because:

  1. When I understand my motives I can better identify when I am making excuses and then I can stop doing that.  Excuses help no one.  Reasons on the other hand can be used for learning.  They offer better understanding and are a spring board for finding solutions to problems.
  2. In most cases, I will not know the motives of other people.  What may seem like an excuse to me, could be a true reason for them.  As long as they are being earnest with no intention to mislead, their reason is legitimate.  To me this is an important reminder not to judge others harshly because I don’t really know where they are coming from.

On a personal note, I admit that I have a poor tendency to often think that I’m right and that I know what’s best – I know, tsk tsk!  With this new insight I hope to be more considerate of other people’s choices and stay mindful that there is no single right way to approach life.

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