In the 1993 political comedy movie Dave, Dave Kovic, an impersonator standing in as the President of the United States, addresses a joint session of Congress about a political scandal that has swept through Washington. Taking responsibility for the scandal even though he himself is actually innocent of the affair, he boldly declares “I’m the president, and as they say, the buck stops here,” a reference to the real phrase spoken by the late President Harry Truman. It’s a courageous moment for Dave as he refuses to make excuses and instead places the blame onto himself as the leader. In other words, he adapts a “no excuses” mentality.
Human beings are great at making excuses, and we do so for every conceivable situation. Depending on your religious affiliation, you may even have a case study from the very first humans in how we seldom want to take responsibility for our actions and instead want to place the blame on others, a trend which is rampant in our modern world. Did you oversleep? It was the alarm’s fault. Were you late to work? It was traffic’s fault. Did you break your diet? Your co-worker brought in doughnuts for the office. Did you fail to meet your sales quota? Your prospective clients are stubborn. Are your relationships failing? They won’t spend time with you. And on and on goes the march of excuses.
As leaders (and yes, we are all leaders), we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to not make excuses for ourselves. But why do we make excuses in the first place? There are a multitude of reasons, but here are five common ones, along with insights on how to combat them:
1) Lack of defined priorities: Frank Bettger, author of the business classic How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, wrote that “When you a show a person what they want, they will move heaven and earth to get it.” The inverse of this is also true, however. If something is not a priority, not something that they want or care about with abandon, then it becomes easy to disregard. If there is something in your life which you keep making excuses about, maybe it is time to reflect on whether or not it is important to you. If it is, focusing on that importance will override your desire to make excuses.
2) Mental weakness: As leadership coach and founder of Success Magazine Darren Hardy states, “our minds are emotionally immature. We are mentally weak by nature”. To counter this nature, we must remove from our environments anything which can tempt us away from what we are supposed to do. Are you snacking too much while you are working on a diet? Throw all available snacks into the trash. Are you checking your phone instead of working on an assignment? Lock your phone in a drawer so that it takes more time and effort to get to it. Whatever distractions you have that become to focal point of your excuses, target and address those.
3) Past failures: Leadership expert John Maxwell stated in Sometimes you Win, Sometimes you Learn that humans “have a tendency to dwell on losses, which mentally defeats us, fatigues us, and demotivates us.” We allow our past failures to dictate or emotions and our willingness to try again. When we do this, however, we fail to acknowledge poet Ralph Waldo Emerson’s claim that “the walking of man is falling forward.” In other words, life is challenging and difficult for everyone. All of us have struggles in our past, but, as Maxwell goes on to argue, “loses are inevitable, but excuses are optional.” Your past failures and hurts are no excuse for not moving forward and trying again.
4) Lack of long-term vision: Watching television takes far less effort than going to the gym, and yet failure to exercise regularly can have radical implications on your long-term physical health. When you aren’t thinking long-term however, your mind will easily argue that it is okay for you to take the easy path. Having a long-term vision is therefore critical in keeping your mind focused on the end results of what you are trying to achieve.
5) Fear of future failures: Mark Twain once said that “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” Being afraid to act is therefore not an excuse for regret. Each day you should look at your challenges as opportunities, not as excuses.
George Washington once stated that “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Your assignment today is to therefore answer the following three questions. If desired, feel free to share your answers either in the comments below, or on social media with the tag #PEAKNoExcuses .
- What is an excuse you have been making?
- Why have you been making it?
- How are you going to take responsibility to eliminate the excuse?
(Disclaimer: the preceding article and the movie reference I made within is not a commentary on current political events; the timing of this article alongside said events was purely coincidental).
Jeremiah Clark, M.A., is a healthcare IT consultant with six Epic Systems certifications. He is also the co-owner of Appalachian Digital, a website development agency. You can contact Jeremiah at JeremiahSethClark@Outlook.com or connect with him on LinkedIn at Jeremiah Clark.