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Senior Correspondent

We all know what we need to do. We know the rules. And we know all about cause and effect.

So it’s not a surprise that, if we go out to dinner two or three extra times this month, we’ll find an “extra” couple of hundred dollars on our credit card statement, and blow the budget.

Or, if we don’t start setting some money aside for retirement, it’s going to look pretty grim.

Or if we drag our heels about making our online payments, eventually something will be paid late. And then, when we want to refinance the mortgage, we won’t get the best rates because our credit scores will have dropped.

But what makes these things okay when we do them? They’re called “rationalizations.”

Henry Beard, Andy Borowitz, and John Boswell said it best in their humorous book Rationalizations to Live By:

•    An “excuse” is a lie we tell others.

•    A “rationalization” is a lie we tell ourselves.

After all, we’re all busy. We’re all under duress. We’re all juggling too much in our heads and lives.

Sometimes things are so tough, we decide we deserve to buy that pair of shoes we saw at the mall. Other times, after finally scoring a sale after a long dry spell, we deserve to celebrate by buying that pair of shoes we saw at the mall.  Or maybe we saved so much money buying that designer dress through Bluefly.com or RueLaLa.com that we should really buy that pair of shoes…well, you get the idea. Besides, all that shopping is good for the economy.

The truth is: we want that pair of shoes. We are already emotionally invested in them. All we are looking for is a justification to buy them. And we know that if we look hard enough, we’ll find the perfect explanation.

And that’s where rationalizations come in.

Dieting is no different. It might be “If I don’t finish the box of crackers, they’ll just go stale.” Or “I only eat this way when I travel; at home I eat like a bird.” Or “I really need the energy in this candy bar.”

What about using our businesses as a justification? “This iPhone is really an investment; besides, I can write it off.” Or “If I travel in Business Class, I’ll have a better chance of making good contacts.” Or “I’ll just take the kids along on my trip to Orlando, just in case I can find the time to take them on a ride or two in the evenings after the conference.”

And then there’s procrastination. “I’m just going to watch a little TV; I’ll do a better job on my work in the morning when I’m fresher.” Or, “some of my best marketing ideas have come to me on the golf course.” Or “I don’t want to call them this early; they might still be checking their e-mail.”

Beard, Borowitz, and Brown also said, “Because no matter how badly we behave, there’s a little voice inside our heads that says something to make us feel better.”

But here’s the rub. It’s that other little voice inside our heads, the one called “integrity.” It’s the personal gauge we each have that keeps tabs on whether we’re living up to our own standards. Or BS-ing ourselves.) It’s how easily we sleep with ourselves at night. It’s how we behave when no one’s watching.

I just took a good look at myself and what I saw triggered my writing this article. I thought I was doing fine, but I realized some “rationalization creep” had snuck in while I wasn’t watching. (By the way, where do you think I get the examples I use? I’ve used just about every one of those rationalizations myself!) So what’s crept in?

I’ve been skipping some of my daily one-hour walks “because the heat probably isn’t good for me.” (Heck, I was raised in the tropics and have lived in the heat all my life. Why would that be an issue now? No, I was just slacking off.)

I’ve gone back to always buying myself one treat — usually something salty — on each grocery shopping trip “so I won’t get bored with healthy eating.” (“It’s just 1,350 calories for the whole bag…and I’ll walk it off in the morning.”  Right. It’s how I gained weight in the first place, and then I wonder why I can’t take off the last 6 pounds.)

And, yes, I just watch a little TV instead of finishing something, because “I’ll surely do a better job on my work in the morning when I’m fresher. Besides, I need to know what’s going on in the world.” (As if listening to Talking Heads #45 and #46 is going to make a difference. But finishing the work will!)

See how the rationalizations creep in? Well, it’s time to get ‘em out!

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