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Defeating excuses: Getting off our but’s

Sometimes the excuses are so ingrained they’re part of our daily habit

By Joe Serio

“As you work to overcome your self-created limitations, talk to your subconscious, telling it that instead of reacting, you’re now going to respond with conscious choices.”

- Wayne Dyer

We all have excuses at our disposal for not facing some of our most challenging tasks, for not facing things we deem too scary, for not facing ourselves and fulfilling the promise of our potential.

But it will be difficult. But it will be risky. But there will be family drama. But I can’t afford it. But it has never happened before. But I don’t have the energy. But no one will help me. But I might fail. But I might succeed. But I’m too busy. But I’m too scared.

Sometimes the excuses are so ingrained they’re part of our daily habit. We barely recognize that they’re holding us back. We have come to think of them as normal.

We look at excuses as a form of self-protection. If we grew up in an environment filled with negative messages, we latch on to excuses that help us to survive. “My parents said I’m not good enough. My teacher said I’ll never amount to anything.” Our excuses help to cement those perspectives in our minds and create a self-fulfilling prophecy, self-created limitations. We simultaneously validate the negative perspective of authority figures around us (“They’re right, I’m no good.”) while ensuring that we won’t break out of it.

After all, who would want to put themselves in a position of having to face “failure” on a regular basis by addressing their shortcomings? It could be devastating to embrace the fact that we may not be as good or talented or productive or successful as we’d like to think. So we protect ourselves.

The only trouble with this approach is that it’s a trap. Excuses don’t help us survive, they prevent us from thriving. They keep us from seeing our real selves and keep us from improving.

Now, if everyone behaved this way, then, by definition, this would be the norm and we wouldn’t even notice it. But not everybody does behave this way.

Why is it that John gets A-Z done, but Peter only gets A, B, and C done? They both have the same number of hours in a day. They both have a huge cache of excuses at their disposal. Why is it that John doesn’t use excuses and Peter does?

Why is it that some people see nothing but problems while others see opportunity? Why is it that some people become paralyzed by their excuses and others don’t even keep the concept of excuses in their minds?

The answers to these questions are complex and could fill books. Suffice for our purposes to mention just three contributing factors: Awareness, Passion, and Compassion.

Awareness is a gateway to unlocking our potential. Once we become aware of what we do, how we do it, why we do it, what we are dissatisfied with, we have taken the first step in changing it.

Awareness of our confusion helps us acknowledge we are confused and we can then seek out solutions. Awareness of our behavior, its consequences, and impact on others can help us begin to formulate a plan for change. Being aware of our excuses and the moment at which we begin to use them is the first step in stripping them of their power.

A second factor that can undermine our excuses is passion. When we have identified our interests, goals, and desires, we create a potent counterbalance to excuses. We invest our energies in a worthy undertaking that quickly becomes more important and exciting than the paralyzing nature of excuses. We begin to search for ways to fulfill our potential. And when we reach this point, the people we need to support us, to give us confidence in this undertaking, have an uncanny way of showing up.

A third factor is compassion. It seems to me that compassion is about getting outside ourselves in order to be more understanding of others, to show empathy, sympathy, and to soften the sharp point of our judgment of others. The wonderful thing about compassion is that it has a way of coming back around to reward us. As we act more charitably toward others, we find the strength to act more charitably toward ourselves. We can’t get the best from ourselves if the mode we exist in consists of looking for the worst in others all the time.

As we set out on the path of 2012, with our goals firmly in hand, we can do ourselves a great service by shedding some of the excuses that have kept us tethered to our fears.

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.