Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Message #12 - Stop Making Excuses!

This is the 12th in a series of messages:

Because is an overused, useless word.

I was late because.

I didn’t do it because.

I lost my temper because.

I forgot because.

The accident happened because.

Sound familiar? Stop Making Excuses!

Your because may be true. But so what? That it’s true doesn’t change anything. Whatever happened happened. The reasons are irrelevant. You either have the results or the reasons why not. It’s black and white.

You are addicted to excuses. I’d like to feel that I can help you break your addiction, but I’m afraid it’s bigger than both of us. So why bother talking about it? Let’s just chalk it up to wishful thinking despite mountains of evidence that what I have to say will make about as much difference as a fart in a tornado.

It’s like excuses are hard-wired into our DNA. Human beings just love excuses.

Some excuses are too wonderful not to love. Here are a few actual statements from insurance claims in which drivers were asked to summarize the details of their accidents in the fewest words possible:

I was on my way to the doctor with my rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way causing me to have an accident.

An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.

The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run, so I ran over him.

I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the roof of my car.

The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.

The problem with making excuses is that 1) they don’t change anything and 2) you actually think they do.

Let’s begin with Excuses 101. The one you and everyone else know so well – I’m late because . .

If your reason would change the outcome from you being late to you being on time I could see some value in it. But it doesn’t. If you’re late you’re late. And wouldn’t that be refreshing – to hear someone say, “I’m late because I’m late.” You want to put more words around it? You can add, “I said I’d be here at 2. It’s now 2:30. I’m late.” Period.

So what’s behind the excuse? Why bother? Because you’ve got it in your mind that a good excuse will get you off the hook. You want me to conspire with you and conclude that it was unavoidable. You want me to bond with your cockamamie excuse. And you don’t want me to think you’re a bad or irresponsible person.

Excuses are so pervasive and we are so conditioned to expecting them we aren’t even conscious of how ridiculous and meaningless they are. You should try a little experiment to prove how true this is. Just listen to people. During the course of a day you’ll hear excuses and more excuses. It won’t take you long to see how laughable they are.

There’s a difference between using an explanation as a way to avoid responsibility and telling someone what happened when that information would serve a useful purpose. On the surface you may think this is a distinction without a difference, but you know very well which is which.

A danger in sending you all these messages is that you’ll turn insights into rules. Yes, I’m being assertive. You’ve got that right. I want to get your attention. But I don’t want you to blindly follow what I say without thinking for yourself.

Let’s say you have an automobile accident. Obviously, going down the path blazed by our friends earlier in this message isn’t going to get your very far. But being able to present a clear summary of what happened is appropriate and important. That’s not an excuse designed to diminish your responsibility in the matter. It is what’s called for as a legitimate response in that situation

If your boss questions you about a piece of work you’ve done, telling her that explanations aren’t very powerful is not a smart answer. Again, it is appropriate and important for you to tell her what she wants to know.

The next time you’re about to say because, stop yourself long enough to make sure your because is a useful contribution to the conversation.

And Stop Making Excuses!!


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