“Excuses are like booties. Everybody’s got one, and they all stink.”
This is what the teacher of a songwriting course I took in college used to tell us. If the phrase is trite, then I need to get out more, because it was new to me then and I’ve never heard it since. It struck me as funny at the time, though I wondered what the original word was that “booties” replaced. But it didn’t mean anything to me on any level deeper than the surface.
I decided not to go for my scheduled 15-mile run this morning. In the 12 or so hours since I made the decision not to do it, the following excuses have all spent some time in my brain:
- My blister still hurts me every time I run and could use the time to heal.
- I just ran 11 miles on Sunday; 15 miles two days later is too much.
- I’m a few days behind on my training schedule and skipping this will help me get back on track.
- The bottle of wine (a Valpolicella) that I opened last night to celebrate seeing my baby’s heartbeat was a little too delicious.
- I could use the time to prepare for a meeting with my thesis adviser today.
But none of these is The Truth. They’re all a little bit true, but none is The Truth. The Truth is that I wanted the time to do a few things this morning, to not have to rush around from home to trail to home to school and back again like I did last week.
Not nearly as noble-sounding as many of the excuses, and that’s why it’s so much fun to make them.
But this morning, as soon as I admitted to myself the real reason, the one that I built this fortress of excuses to protect myself from, I felt so much better about the decision to skip the run. Liberated, even. Facing “you chose to do something else instead of run because it would make you happier” was much easier than you might expect. Rational, logical, Truthful.
Very recently, I noticed something interesting about the stories I was telling myself during workouts, especially the long runs. On the days when my body wouldn’t carry me as fast as I had hoped, a million reasons flooded my mind to explain the slowness. The heat, my blister, my lack of water stops. But on the days when the miles just seemed to fly by, it was all me. No credit given to the nice weather or anything else but me.
This self-serving bias is actually very common, perhaps universal. It’s thought that we have it in order to protect our self-esteem. But here’s the thing. When something we do isn’t good enough, not up to our personal standards, we experience pain. This pain serves a purpose, to drive us to work hard to make things the way we know they should be. Pain can and should be one of the most powerful motivating forces in our lives.
But so many people choose not to use pain this way. They deal with pain by doing whatever it takes to make it go away as quickly as possible. In many cases this involves putting something into their bodies, like food or alcohol. For me, the excuses serve this purpose.
It’s very easy, especially in writing about my runs on this blog, to explain away my bad days with excuses. But you might have noticed that it stopped recently, when I wrote “No excuses” in reference to my 20-miler last week. No more softeners. Taking responsibility; facing The Truth. And it feels great.
The Truth, as they say, will set you free. I still like “excuses are like booties.”
What’s your excuse du jour?