Master any skill by sucking at this one

Vindication is not your friend, and you should recognise that.

Renowned social psychologist Bernard Weiner published a study in 1987 detailing the investigation to his three defined factors of a ‘good excuse’:

External; when it comes from outside the offender. (“My car broke down”)

Uncontrollable; when the offender lacks control (“I was unwell”)

Unintentional; highlighting the perpetrator was not malicious (“I slipped”)

Communicated reasons tended to be external to the person, uncontrollable, and unintentional, whereas withheld reasons tended to be internal, controllable, and either intentional or unintentional.”

The external, uncontrollable excuses were anticipated by the study participants to lessen the anger of the wronged party.

Here’s where you come in:

Identify when the wronged party is in fact, also the offending party.

We’re only human, so for many of us, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to excuse our shortcomings, because moving quickly on from an unfavourable situation detaches us from the pain. The problem is, we are wired biologically to avoid slowing down to consider who we’re trying to fool. If you want to make a real dent in that thing you’ve been putting off for so long, don’t take the path of least resistance because it often leads back round to square one, using a route that you yourself have created using shiny golden signs made of excuses.

Don’t be a professional rationalist.

We have the unfortunate ability to take our ambitions and possibilities, then over-think and over-process, which leads to talking ourselves out of them. There is a fragile part of the typical ego that clambers to excuse one’s self from anything difficult, complicated, or potentially embarrassing even if the embarrassment is internal. Because of our ridiculous, innate ability we have to unlearn or escape the habit with practice. Take your most recent failed endeavour and fill in the blank: “I probably can’t ______ because a, b, and c.”

If you are unable to come up with a, b, and c you are much more likely to succeed in blank, this is the key.

Justification vs Excuses

Distinguishing between these two terms may help. A justification (or a reason) becomes an excuse when it’s used to avoid responsibility. This is true in law and it is necessary to hold the actor accountable for an act. Dave Anderson tells us there should be no difference when applied to your internal conflict.

An excuse defense concentrates on the actor rather than the act. It accepts the act may have harmed society in some way, but seeks to show that the person is not really to blame.”

It’s important to ask yourself ‘This happened, what am I going to do about it?’

Instead of exiting responsibility, we must push past what our lazy human brains want us to do. Don’t settle for an equilibrium, but find a way to work around problems rather than deflecting them because ultimately, they swing back around and hit you in the face.

Keeping our goals strict and weekly, rather than monthly or yearly encourages relentless progress.

What frequently happens if a schedule is ignored, whether group or self-appointed, is that misused time passes at an exponential rate. It’s unfortunately all too easy to try rationalising our failures, and missing the first deadline will usually make us miss further deadlines.

Sure you missed your self-appointed goal, so what? life goes on! Is not something you should be saying in regards to anything important or anything you are passionate about. If you’ve followed so far, it should be easy to recognise that while there are no immediate repercussions to failure, you’ll never taste the progress you crave.

It’s important to set goals you can measure, because you are more able to see just how far off the mark you are. Noticing you’re sliding down a slippery slope is not always easy. The difference between “I’ll finish writing my book this year” and “I’m going to write two chapters over the next six weeks” is huge and it’s easy to see only after you fall into the right mindset.

Identify that your excuses, while rational, are only rewarding your lack of progress. If we shake the ability to disqualify ourselves from stepping into the grand possibilities available to us, from making an impact on a scale of the world, your team, or your own life, we can no longer disarm our progress.

Vague goals won’t get you very far.

If you can’t rationalise your shortcomings, you’ll always be moving forward.

Full-time designer and consultant, rest-of-the-time writer aiming to teach from experience. Get in touch:

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