Sometimes there isn’t an alternative explanation

The need to face facts and accept reality

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The world in the palm of our hand (Credit: Porapak Apichodilok)

Driving home from work recently, I noticed a billboard at an intersection. I wasn’t drawn in by a compelling image or witty slogan; in fact, I can’t recall much about it at all. It must have been eye-catching enough since I committed the web address upon it to memory, determined to look it up when I got home.

A quick search revealed that the organisation funding the billboard was in fact The Flat Earth Society, a collective who are seemingly intent on promoting the centuries-old folklore that the earth is indeed flat and not, as most of the rest of us seem content to accept, a globe.

My agenda in writing this isn’t to dissect the merits or otherwise of their arguments.

Spotting the billboard and subsequently scanning through a few of the 100 ‘irrefutable’ pieces of evidence on their website didn’t persuade me in the slightest. 

What it does well through its mere existence, is illustrate a trend that I encounter and observe all-too-often these days. So often I see and hear it and occasionally I’m guilty of it too. 

It’s the act of seeking an alternative explanation for something when we don’t like the logical or rational explanation.

Sometimes there are other factors at play which shape our results or our experience; the external influences that we didn’t foresee or which we underestimated. Maybe we overestimated our skill or underestimated the competition or complexity.

Even once these are acknowledged, we can still struggle to believe that they explain our lowly results. Instead it’s more comfortable to come up with an alternative explanation that feels more comfortable, palatable or acceptable.

It’s exemplified by believing that our metabolism is different to our friends and that’s the reason why we can’t lose weight when they can. It’s nothing to do with the fact that we routinely skip workouts and eat excessively.

It’s blaming the economy or apathy from our customers rather than accepting that we’re not working hard enough to serve them, or that we’re providing products or a service that nobody wants to pay for.

It’s claiming that our boss favours our co-worker or is victimizing us, and that’s why we keep getting passed-over for promotion. It can’t possibly be because we’re routinely the last to arrive at work and the first to leave.

It’s the frustration and feigned confusion that we can never get ahead financially, carefully ignoring our reckless and self-indulgent shopping sprees.

It’s not that you’re unlucky. There isn’t a dark cloud hanging over you, and only you. The dog didn’t eat your homework.

We cite excuses when rationalising or explaining away disappointments and when results don’t meet with our expectation. The obvious explanation is unpalatable and usually implicates us in its failure so we construct an alternative. The false-narrative absolves us from blame, makes us feel better and the situation becomes slightly easier to bear.

I suspect that the motives often come from a place of fear, vulnerability and naivety rather than out of a desire to deceive or persuade anyone else, or ourselves. Our bruised ego may not let us accept the blame. Our mind may resist the truth as it conflicts with our higher values.

Keep your chin up… (Credit: Min An)

When we’re controlled by emotions rather than rationality, it’s naturally more comfortable to fabricate an explanation for why something isn’t as we’d like it to be. Whether it’s in the pursuit of a personal goal, as we strive to advance our business or career or just when we’re reflecting on our lot in life, we all face times when the cold, hard truth is too much to bear.

In times of retrospection as we take stock of ourselves and compare where we are with where we’d hoped to be, it helps soften the blows when we don’t measure up. It helps us to appease our conscience for skipping the practices, for the late starts and the early finishes, the times when we let ourselves off, and the occasions when we mocked or judged those who seemed unable to relax or switch-off as we dropped our work and logged-off at 5pm on the dot.

The alternative reasoning allows us to explain away something for which the responsibility rests firmly on our own shoulders, or to discount some other rule of thumb or of nature that we felt we deserved not to have apply to us.

When we seek alternative explanations for failure we’re ignoring prompts to change our approach. We’re rejecting an opportunity to learn. We’re blinding ourselves to the valid and useful feedback that could be the difference between future failure and success.

A refusal to accept reality simply because it doesn’t conform to our expectation or agenda equates to stubbornness and belligerence where we’d be better placed to employ flexibility and open-mindedness as well as tenacity.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”
-Thomas Edison

Being attuned to reality and embracing the lessons that come from adversity and failure are marks of those whose persistence and flexibility assures their victory. Many great successes have come off the back of multiple failed attempts. Thomas Edison and Harlon Sanders are just two of histories best loved entrepreneurial heroes who failed many times on the way to success. Where would we be if they’d fabricated alternative reasons why the electric lightbulb or tasty fried chicken were impossible to bring to the world, instead of persisting through the failures and rejections?

The culture of excuses and alternative explanations is unfortunately becoming prevalent as part of modern life. We are encouraged to believe we can have it all, with little effort, via zero money-down get-rich-quick schemes. Social media serves up endless examples of those whose riches and accomplishments have come with seeming ease and unaffected by the laws of nature and hard work. 

If results don’t come for us, the only possible explanation is seemingly that it’s likely to be down to outside forces and unfair treatment.

The rhetoric couldn’t possibly be wrong? It couldn’t possibly be because this world of smoke and mirrors is lacking true substance, or that we’re training ourselves to reject adversity or to quit at the first sign of defeat?

When we’re pressing forwards in any endeavour there will be the results we didn’t expect, the disappointments, the outright failures and sometimes, the unexpected successes too. It’s an inherent part of life.

Don’t seek to explain away the results you don’t like, or the aspects of life that you find challenging. Don’t reject those experiences whose explanation conflicts with your values or expectations. Instead, dive into them, embrace them, explore them and learn from them. In doing so, you’ll be maximising your chances of future success, or just of living in harmony with the things you cannot change. 

Don’t concoct alternative explanations for what, quite simply is.

And on that subject, the Earth is a globe.

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