Parents are well-acquainted with excuses and reasons. After all, they get exposed to plenty of them while raising their children. Some children become adept at making excuses from the time they learn to talk. Left unchecked, the pattern becomes habit forming and lingers into adulthood. It also prevents children from becoming responsible adults.

The difference between adults and children is that adults possess cognitive (reasoning) skills that children do not.

Poor cognitive skills produce an immature thought process. Those who lack such maturity often prove adept at offering excuses for why they did, or did not, do something, or reasons for why they chose to undertake an inscrutable action, or make an impetuous decision.

For such people, excuses (which free them from responsibility and behaviors), and reasons (which are used to justify actions and inactions) are effortlessly formed.

Instead of internally looking for ways in which they can manage responsibility and meet expectations, they instinctively look for external ways to avoid it; thus giving birth to any number of prefabricated excuses which they seem to have readily available.

When people are accustomed to making excuses, they often aren't aware of it. It comes as natural to them as blinking. What's also natural to them is going on the defensive about the excuses they make. This is often where values and character (or lack thereof) gets revealed.

While the underdeveloped, irrational mind is busy offering what they think are legitimate, acceptable reasons, the mature, rational mind, hears excuses.

But how do you distinguish between excuses and reasons? Look no further than your dictionary.

Merriam Webster offers this definition for 'excuse':

1a: to make apology for b: to try to remove blame from 2: to forgive entirely or disregard as of trivial import: regard as excusable: 3a: to grant exemption or release to.

And this definition for 'reason':

1a: a statement offered in explanation or justification b: a rational ground or motive c: a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense; especially: something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact d: the thing that makes some fact intelligible.

It's simply not possible to offer legitimate reasons for doing, or not doing something, when one lacks the cognitive skills to conduct such reasoning. In other words, those who are prone to making excuses, are not capable of recognizing their irrational thought process.

Parents will agree that this is the area - and greatest source - of contention with teenagers.

Daniel Amen, M.D., and author of the article, "The Incredible Brain," states that during late adolescence and into the mid 20s, the front third of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) or executive brain, continues to develop. Even though we think of 18 year olds as adults, their brains are far from finished. Myelin continues to be deposited in the PFC until age 25 or 26, making the executive part of the brain work at a higher and more efficient level.

So don't expect your children to be able to effectively rationalize their behaviors and decisions until they reach 25. If it happens before then, know that your child is "mature beyond their years." In the meantime, excuses, excuses may abound.

Like parents, supervisors and managers can also distinguish between an excuse and a reason. They hear both on a daily basis. Employees are late on occasion, and they have reasons. Employees, who are habitually late, have excuses. Employees who meet expectations, overcome obstacles which could provide reasons to come up short. Employees who underachieve succumb to obstacles which are then used as excuses.

The same holds true for personal relationships. Without cognitive skills, problems can't be resolved. In fact, problems can't even be identified and agreed upon. The irrational mind offers reasons about why actions/inactions, decisions, or behaviors are undertaken, and the rational mind hears excuses, excuses.

Unfortunately, these excuses reveal character flaws; flaws which are incredibly difficult to fix. Someone in the relationship (usually the one with the more developed cognitive skills) realizes that changing the way someone thinks, is even more challenging than changing their behavior. Ironically, one doesn't take place without the other. Eventually, they will give up because they know they are fighting a losing battle.

Knowing what an excuse is, why they are given, and the profile of the people who frequently use them, will create greater awareness in all areas of your life. Should you find yourself in a situation where you are explaining your actions, decisions, and behaviors to others, you will now know if they are hearing (legitimate) reasons, or just excuses, excuses.

Author's Bio: 

Gian Fiero is a speaker and author who lectures throughout the country.