Life changing mental trick: “Blame yourself first”
If you're looking for a legitimate excuse, you're going to find one, because almost everything going wrong in your life is outside of your control. Kind of.
If you’re looking for a legitimate excuse on which to blame everything going wrong in your life, I’ve got some great news: there’s definitely a legitimate excuse for your situation.
In fact, I’ve never met a person yet who didn’t have at least a few major external reasons they weren’t wherever they wanted to be with their finances, health, fitness, and/or relationships.
I’m serious. Almost everyone I know has perpetual, legitimate excuses on hand useful for rationalizing every missed goal, every dropped ball, every small flaw in their life. Excuses on tap.
Almost everyone has major areas outside of their control which consume their time, energy, and mental bandwidth on such a level that using those areas as excuses would be honest, understandable, and even respectable. Let’s review a few common ones.
Here are some excuses which apply to you
Here are some extremely common excuses that you might have access to right now:
- Gender. This is easy and definitely realistic. If you’re a woman, you have a massive minefield you have to navigate that men don’t ever have to even think about: being ignored for promotions, getting paid less, people not taking you seriously, people expecting you to not be focused on long-term projects – sexism is real.
- Children. Children are colossal up-front costs. They demand incredible amounts of time, incredible amounts of energy, incredible amounts of mental bandwidth, and – perhaps most importantly – incredible amounts of rigidity for your schedule. You can’t just ignore them for a few days. Your children need you.
- Spouse. Spouses are very understandably, demanding. They love you – they’re your other half. They need you financially, emotionally, and definitely in terms of time. I have literally never met a married person whose biggest struggle when working on a project wasn’t their spouse.
- Horrible bosses. Realistically, your boss is probably an idiot. He probably doesn’t understand your worth, is wrong about the market, is wrong about her/his own business, etc. Bosses are rarely empowering. Usually, they squander assets like you. It’s true.
- Lack of money. Don’t have money? Then you can’t pay for things that are needed to get to where you want to go. Nothing insulting about this – it’s just true. If you can’t afford to fix your car, then you just can’t afford it. Period. Right?
- Mental health. This is a massive new one. Especially if you’re a millennial. You probably have mental health issues. You probably have ADHD. No way around it. There are demonstrable ways these mental health issues are hurting you when it comes to doing what you need to do. You probably don’t even know how bad it is – it’s probably worse than you realize.
- Bad schooling. If you went to a horrible school, that will stick with you for the rest of your life. Starting your life on the wrong foot can mess everything up. Bad math teachers in high school? That hurts you as an adult because it’s not as easy to learn when you’re older. It’s just a fact.
- Poor family. Most won’t understand what it’s like growing up poor. There are so many disadvantages that live with you, it’s impossible to list them all. Educational, networking options, health options, the ability to see the world – poverty puts you at a permanent disadvantage. Even as an adult, the disadvantages will pop up repeatedly.
- Lack of parents. Didn’t have a strong father figure in your life? That’ll leave a mark. Bring up that baggage down the road and everyone you know will be understanding as you explain how that stopped you from achieving certain goals. They’ll be right, too. It’s huge.
- Bad parenting. Were you slapped around? Emotionally abused? Emotional abuse can be the worst. It can cause hell in your future relationships, business endeavors, and in almost every other area of life. It’s legitimate, too. Your childhood is extremely important to your chances of “making it” in the world.
- College debt. Massive student loans? They can ruin your life. They can make you less date-able, can force you to live somewhere you don’t want to live, and require you to become more dependent on low-end jobs than you’d like. Debt is slavery, after all.
- Lack of privilege. This is a great one. Just Google “list of privileges” to get a list of endless excuses. Unless you’re a straight, white, rich, well educated, perfectly mentally healthy, Christian male, you’ll find all kinds of good excuses after a few minutes of browsing. Check out Tumblr, it’s a goldmine.
These are just the major excuses. Smaller ones are even more plentiful and just as legitimate.
Late for something? There was someone in front of you going too slowly. Miss a morning deadline? Your computer was giving you problems for a full 20 minutes. Ignoring the emotional needs of your significant other? They were rude earlier, and it’s drastically easier to just give them the silent treatment like you were raised. Going into debt every month? Eating out a few times a week is not unreasonable.
Application: You have major things going wrong outside of your control
If you have a somewhat normal life, then you’re probably going to have a couple of mental health issues, a couple of kids, an emotionally needy spouse, and a lack of money. These are major excuses that, if you use them, nobody will blame you for the problems they will cause. If anything, your friends will bring them up to help you rationalize things whenever life goes south.
Heck, if you called me right now and told me your situation, I’d probably even go along with the excuses. They’re legit. You have tons of them. Everyone will agree.
This is why the whole social justice movement is growing so quickly with young people. Because they’re right about the oppression, kind of. This is true even on the smaller level we’re talking about. In almost every negative situation, something else – outside of your direct control – is causing the problem on a major, fundamental level.
In fact, the general narrative behind excuses is all wrong. Most people believe that the default is things going correctly and that when something bad happens, that’s the unknown variable that caused things to go south – that’s why it’s the excuse. Excuses are seen as exceptional events outside of one’s control.
The truth is the opposite. In the same way some people see “privilege” everywhere, the other side of that coin is to see legitimate excuses everywhere. Bad things happen to you constantly for legitimate reasons outside of your control.
That said, the purpose of this article isn’t what it might look like right now. In fact, the real lesson is the opposite of how most people take these lessons.
Excuses are when you choose to narratively surrender to an obstacle
Obstacles are inevitable, but excuses aren’t.
When something goes poorly and you have the choice to blame the external cause or find some flaw or area of potential improvement with yourself, err on the side of choosing yourself – while also learning about the external source as well.
This puts you in a perpetual position of learning from failure rather than a cycle of repeating failure.
There is no strategic value in excuses – even legitimate excuses. There is a strategic value in understanding your disadvantages. Understanding your disadvantages is good, but an excuse is when you reject understanding the disadvantage in favor of surrendering your personal narrative to the disadvantage.
That distinction is the difference between an obstacle being a problem you overcome or the defining characteristic of your ruined, wasted life.
Think of your daily life like a general who surveys a potential battlefield: only a fool would ignore the terrain, but only a bad general would see terrain as either good or bad without considering his options for navigating said terrain. You’re the general of your life. So act like it.
An excuse is when someone surrenders their entire identity of being a strong, independent, strategic human being in exchange for telling their boss someone was driving slightly slower than normal in front of them. Excuses are pathetic, strategically useless, and are, ironically, a major personal flaw that causes major life harm.
This bears emphasis: excuses – surrendering to legitimate obstacles – is a reflection of your flaw. That means that the wrong mentality takes the understandable blame and shifts it from that external cause and points it right back at you: the foolish general.
It’s important to understand the obstacles you face, yes. But that’s not the same as surrendering to them and believing that those obstacles are the unmovable, unchangeable catalysts of the inevitable undesired outcome.
Scroll up and look at that list of excuses. Now, look at it as a list of possible disadvantages that one can overcome. Now one’s entire outlook on life shifts drastically. You become more powerful when you realize you have the power in the first place.
Important: “Blame yourself first” is not the same as “victim blaming”
The point of this article isn’t to somehow suggest that you should ignore when you are, in fact, being oppressed. The concepts described don’t mean you shouldn’t care about things like unequal pay, abusive parents, or any other situations where you truly are being victimized. That’s not the point at all.
It’s also not the point of this article to shame you for not “overcoming” every situation. I wouldn’t have been as successful if I’d grown up as a black female in the 1930s Alabama. Some things are beyond our control. That’s just a fact.
It’s not a mental “trick” to suggest people should blame themselves over situations for which they aren’t responsible. Sometimes structural, macro changes are necessary.
“Victim blaming” and “blame yourself first” aren’t remotely connected.
In “victim blaming”, you blame the innocent person for the actions of the guilty – and entrench the problem.
In “blame yourself first”, you seek to understand the catalysts of the unwanted final result, and then act to minimize the unwanted final result as much as possible – and prevent it from happening again.
That’s why it’s “blame yourself first” and not “blame yourself only.”
If you’re only partly to blame, focus on what can be done on your end to change the outcome. But don’t ignore the problems caused by external sources – and don’t accept blame for what is not within your control.
Of course, if you aren’t to blame at all, then don’t blame yourself at all. Sometimes, there’s nothing we can do and we can’t fix a broken situation. These ideas are about empowering you, not enslaving you to unjust blame.
Application: How to “blame yourself first” correctly
Let’s look at a real-world example.
If you’re the CEO of a company and someone running a department makes a series of horrible decisions that severely damages their department, then you should immediately figure out what you could have done to prevent the problem, what you did to cause the problem – if anything – and what you can do to minimize the current damage.
You begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- What systems did I set up in place that created the unwanted outcome?
- What bad behavior did I enable that created the unwanted outcome?
- Why didn’t I put a stop to the problem before the final unwanted outcome?
- What could I have done differently to have stopped the unwanted outcome – automatically?
- What can I do that will fix the unwanted outcome right now while minimizing long-term problems?
- What can I learn from this situation that I can use in future situations so I can avoid future unwanted outcomes?
That might mean realizing that you made a mistake in hiring for the position. It might mean you didn’t put the right processes in place. It might mean you should have communicated better with the department head. It might mean many things.
What it shouldn’t mean is that you should just blame the department head and ignore all culpability – direct or indirect. Blame yourself first weaponizes the fact that you can only, in the end, control your own decisions – and that’s where the brunt of your analysis should be for fixing problems.
Even when someone else is to blame, “blame yourself first” results in a more comprehensive, total awareness of what occurred and how to minimize the damage.
In business, this really is an effective “hack” of almost every situation.
Lifehack: Blame yourself first, even if there are legitimate reasons to not
An excuse is when someone driving slow made you late for work. An obstacle is when someone drove slow in front of you – but your day was so organized that you still made the deadline because you (almost) always have the ability to arrive a little early through good planning.
In plain English: just because there’s an external cause for something negative in your life, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have options for getting around that cause – even if the solution might seem “extreme” to others.
Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you have to stay poor. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t compete against wealthier people. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t use that experience as a leverage point when dealing with others.
Just because you didn’t have a father doesn’t mean you have to have the “daddy issues” of someone who didn’t have a father – sometimes, those who were fatherless become the best fathers because they trained themselves to use that pain and emotional vacuum as an energy source.
Sometimes, your biggest disadvantages and obstacles can become your biggest advantages and strengths. But you have to blame yourself first in order to rule over your life well. This is the beginning of good personal strategy.
With good personal strategy, even our weaknesses become untraditional advantages.