At our most basic level, we humans are creatures of habit and comfort. Our brains prefer to be on autopilot, which is why there are countless books, coaches, and tools available to help you rewire your mindset. One of the most valuable- and free!- exercises I recommend to my clients is learning to listen for excuses. How many times a day do you or those around you make an excuse? I don’t make guarantees often but I’m certain it will be more than you think. In the words of one of my favorite movies, once you start looking for them, you’ll notice that excuses are actually all around us. “Sorry I’m late for lunch, I got stuck in traffic.” “I could have done a better job on that project if you had given me clearer direction.” “I’d like to run my own business one day but startup funding is so hard to come by.” “I just need a simple answer from this client but they won’t call me back.” By now you may be thinking of someone you know who avoids taking responsibility for their actions. Do they create opportunities for productive conversation or shut them down? Do they open doors for relationships or close them? Do they set themselves apart by their ability to achieve results or do they blend in with average performers? To become a leader, you’ll have to notice this tendency and take control over it. Here’s how easy that is to do: 1) For one week, keep notes on the times you hear yourself and others make excuses. This doesn’t have to result in a novel, just capture the highlights of each situation like who, what, when, and why so you can recall them at the end of the week. Make an asterisk or other notation when you were the one making the excuse. Here’s a printable template you can easily and discretely carry with you.
2) At the end of the week, look for commonalities in the situations. When were you most likely to make excuses? Is there someone in your life who brings out this tendency in you? How could those circumstances be prevented in the future?
3) Consider what would have happened in these situations if there had not been an excuse made. Would someone have had more respect, trust, and confidence in you as a result? What did you gain by making excuses? Maybe nobody pushed back in response, but is that really an ideal outcome?
4) Make a commitment to stop yourself from making excuses for one day. Continue to make notes on scenarios where you had to take responsibility instead. Once this becomes an easier habit, stretch your goal to last for a week, a month, or longer. How does your life change because of it? In this world linked by technology, everyone has an opinion and endless ways to express it. The future belongs to people who can go beyond ideas and make things happen. The first step to success is committing to get results, not giving excuses. What do you have to lose?