Excuses make us human. They incorporate our imagination, higher level rationalization skills, desire for acceptance, and propensity for avoiding negative feelings or feedback. All of us have provided an excuse to cover our failure to meet expectations, when circumstances inhibited our best efforts, or the best of plans ends up derailed. In the simplest terms, an excuse is an attempt to lessen the blame attached to our words, actions, or behavior through seeking to defend or justify the resulting outcome. We all fear disapproval from ourselves and others. Excuses arise from our fear of failure, success, embarrassment, or responsibility.
How do excuses work? Excuses involve a rationalization process that works backwards from an outcome to justify the actions or events leading to the embarrassing or threatening outcome. In most cases, the excuse rationalization process begins as soon as we realize we might have to explain our actions to others. As the concern with accounting to others grow, the fear associated with the situation motivates us to identify an explanation that will assist our self-esteem and shift blame.
Most of use acknowledge that we use excuses when interacting with others, but overlook that we make excuses to ourselves just as often, if not more. Just as it is relatively easy to convince someone you did the best you could in an awkward situation, it is that much easier to convince yourself when the other side is not going argue. As a result, excuses directed internally possess more detrimental consequences since they can easily become the primary means to avoiding real change within ourselves. Think how easy it is to convince yourself you are too busy to take care of yourself or too overworked to do a good job. You are telling your closest follower exactly what he or she wants to hear. We have all met talented individuals who have inundated themselves with “could have, should have, and would have” explanations to the point that they are immobilized and unable to reach any of their potential. Consequently, the biggest danger lies in the fact that once we become comfortable with excuses, they send us down the pathway of:
• Less personal responsibility
• Stunted personal growth
• Overwhelming regrets
• Pessimism and lack of self-confidence
• Poor judgment
• Lack of action
• Limited expectations
• Reduced achievement
When dealing with others, excuses, not only undermine our credibility, but also become a crutch that eliminates the need for us to draw on innovation and extraordinary achievement. Put simply, once I have rationalized a challenge, there is no need to determine how I can overcome the situation and still succeed. I recently read a story of a small college that ended up with a perfect sports season. The coach, when interviewed by the national media was asked how he succeeded in beating bigger, faster, and better funded programs. His answer was that he did not accept excuses from his players. He gave an example of when a defensive player was having a hard time keeping with a bigger, faster, and more talented offensive player. The defensive player came over during a break out of breath and feeling beaten. He relayed to the coach how he is just not good enough to complete against the other kid. How did the coach answer? He said, “figure out how to beat him on your terms and think about what you can do.” The coach did not let him rationalize the outcome, but told him to use rationalization to change the outcome.
How do we tell ourselves the same thing? We start by asking ourselves:
• What excuses do I tend to make?
• Why am I making these excuses?
• How do these excuses prevent me from getting what I want?
• How can I beat the excuses?