Making excuses? It's just who you are....
  • Tessa Hull

Making excuses? It's just who you are....

Be honest, when was the last time you heard someone excuse a behaviour with the excuse “that’s just who they are”. We’ve all been there right? The obtuse husband who speaks rudely to his wife – “just who he is when he has had a couple of drinks”. The abrupt teacher, the child that takes toys from other children, the overly loud woman on the tube? “Just who they are”.

Nature vs nurture is an age old argument, with plenty of studies to fight for either side. It’s accepted that genes play a part in your personality traits to a certain degree, and an interesting twin study done by researchers at the University of Minnesota suggested that personality traits such as ambition, respect for authority and vulnerability to stress are some of the traits most strongly determined by heredity.

However, on the flip side of this, it is also widely accepted that nurture plays an integral part on personality development also. Wait! Before you roll your eyes and check out of “another nature vs nurture” debate, I want you to consider something new in this eternal battle.

In the building of a human, genetics and upbringing will coincide. Of course. However, as plenty of studies show, behaviours can be learned and unlearned. And this is what makes me want to put my foot down and say “I don’t care, that’s bull” when “it’s just who they are” is used as an excuse.

Firstly, notice how people only use this phrase as an explanation for perceived negative behaviours (aside from the occasional humblebrag from a parent - all parents think their kids are the sh*t). We never see someone stand up and accept an award and when asked “how” they reply “it’s just how I am”. They may say “I worked hard” or “I was in the right place at the right time” or “I stayed focussed” but rarely “I’m just successful”.

That’s the first clue that using "this is who I am" is excuse behaviour. It’s blaming behaviour. It’s pointing the finger, can’t be my fault, I was brought up this way behaviour.

Still need convincing? If you are perpetually late (like me) you have no doubt laughed at some point about your tardiness and exclaimed “It’s just who I am as a person!”

It isn’t though. It is who you choose to be as a person. Somewhere in your inner psyche there’s a reason you choose to be late. And if you’re thinking now “umm no if I could stop being late I just would” then let me ask you a different question. If I offered you one million dollars to be on time for the next week would you manage? Let's go darker; if I said the fate of your child depended on you being on time for an event, would you still be late? You’re telling me for the life of your loved one, you wouldn’t get out of bed an hour earlier, choose not to stop for coffee, set three alarms so you don’t sleep through, ask someone to call you, set reminders on your phone, whatever you need, to ensure you would be on time?

Exactly. It’s a choice. You are late because whatever you are attending just doesn’t hold priority for you, or alternatively (and potentially more likely) you simply don’t hold yourself to the same priority. Somewhere deep down you either believe you are too important, or not important enough. Either way, it’s a choice.

Good news! If you want to change the behaviour, the first step is the simplest to understand but potentially the hardest to action. You have to accept that you are 100% responsible for your actions. This doesn’t mean you are 100% perfect, and you will make mistakes, but when you do, you must choose to learn the lessons the mistake teaches, and you must accept that your actions led to the mistake.

Next time you are tempted to excuse a behaviour by suggesting it is “just who you are” take a second to think. Is it who you want to be? If not, don’t say the words. Your brain cannot process whether information you provide it is real or imaginary. When you say out loud, “this is who I am” your brain will process the information and store it away in the “things that make me who I am” folder. Next time you come to a situation that needs processing, your brain will pop open that little filing cabinet, access the “this is who I am” learning, and make a decision with that information. That’s a simplified version of the complex neurological events occurring during every second of your day, but you get me right?

The next step is to take action. Use the “gun to the head” thinking demonstrated above. If a gun was to your head, could you put down that donut? If a gun was to your head, could you not look at social media for one hour to finish a project? You could. You can. So start taking action. Whatever your “this is who I am” demon is, you can choose to slowly rebuild your behaviours and thinking to change that. Will it be easy? No. Will it be worth it? That’s up to you.