What's the difference between a reason something happened and an excuse for why it happened (or didn't happen, as in the far too common case of meeting deadlines)?
How can we learn from what happened without treating that retrospective as excuse-making? After all, we need to understand what causes behavioral patterns for us to change them, right?
The way I like to distinguish between the two is to ask myself:
Could I have done anything differently to prevent the outcome from happening?
If I couldn't do anything or I didn't know what I now know to change the outcome, then it's a valid reason.
If I could have done something differently by paying more attention and planning better, then whatever reason I offer is only an excuse to justify the outcome.
"Sorry I'm late, there was a lot of traffic on the way."
Traffic doesn't miraculously fall from the sky. It's not like I didn't know there will be traffic.
But did I plan for it? Did I take the necessary steps to avoid arriving late due to traffic?
If not, then the cause of my lateness isn't the traffic. It's my poor planning, because I could have done something to ensure I arrived on time, and I didn't.
It's important to stress that the goal isn't to feel guilty or blame ourselves for our shortcomings. I strongly believe in the importance of being on our own side and to support ourselves in being better and behaving better.
But excuses often rob us of our potential because they mask the true reasons for why we're not behaving the way we want or struggling to achieve what we want. Excuses are the bullshit stories we tell ourselves. And if we're not being honest with ourselves, we limit our growth and success.