Thursday, February 7, 2013


by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Having been a college teacher for thirty years, I heard all kinds of excuses. That doesn’t mean that some weren’t actually legitimate. After all, I was a college student myself. But I thought that, in many cases, students were the product of, or in the process of establishing, a weak/poor precedent. A history of using excuses as a foundation for poor performance is like putting insulation into an attic where there is already a roof leak, moisture is present, and there is poor venting and weak ventilation. Using excuses—and not taking personal responsibility for one’s performance—is attracting failure like a magnet, just as putting insulation in an attic with the features just described will just as certainly attract mold.

Perhaps, the most overused excuse I heard as a college teacher was to blame others for everything. As long as it is external events that cause us problems, then our self-esteem and control can be protected. Teachers were a common culprit, but roommates who liked to party or were unfriendly and uncooperative received a great deal of attention. The pressure that family or friends put on students can be a contaminating element as well.

The best evidence of blaming others occurs when you hear people speak critically of friends or family members, bosses, team members, or customers. Inevitably, if you were able to examine closely and analyze the problem, you would likely find there was some aspect of self that these people find unacceptable. Real leaders—or responsible individuals—are recognized as willing to look in the mirror, and learn from what they see

I used one lecture in my basic, required, speech-communication course to explain the difference between internal and external locus of control—whether we accept responsibility for our behavior, whether good or bad, or whether we feel our behavior is controlled essentially by outside forces. This lecture always preceded my unit on public speaking, because that was the unit that seemed to spark the largest number of excuses. I even gave students a short, sample test that they could use to evaluate themselves on this internal-external continuum. I can’t report specific results since the information was personal, but with a report of scores (before students knew what the scores represented), the largest number of hands revealed a primarily external locus of control.

More than anything, I think, the reports of a predominantly external locus-of-control represented the still early in their lives impressions of freshmen and sophomores who believed their lives had been controlled by others (e.g., parents, teachers, family, friends, and, perhaps, religious personnel).

One thing I tried to emphasize in my lecture on locus-of-control, was the fact that this "attributional bias" is understandable, however, others interpret it as poor leadership (and, perhaps, immaturity). I don’t know when it happens (if it does), or what stimuli create it, but at some point students discover—maybe for themselves—that they are the ones in charge of their lives. It is an important discovery no matter when it occurs.

Another area where excuses predominate is worry about the future. People protect themselves with phrases such as, "I may be harmed," "That may not work out well," "I may not win," or "That looks too difficult." The number of times people avoid taking risks because they worry and fret about everything cannot be calculated, of course. But, what it comes down to is a lack of confidence—protection of themselves from possible future failures. I like the simple aphorism, "No risk, no gain." And if people want to be leaders, they must be willing to take risks.

G. M. Trevelyan said, "The best job goes to the person who can get it done without passing the buck or coming back with excuses." "Too much is being asked of me," "I can’t do everything," or "Who do you think I am?" are excuses you hear from those who think they are being overwhelmed. They reflect self-doubt and insecurity, of course, but often these excuses precede important growth stages. Surprisingly, brains develop new pathways and connections, and people who are able to rise above, take responsibility and control, are able to embrace and manage those feelings. Rather than complain and make excuses, they simply dig in, work harder, and strive to achieve.

"I am so disorganized," "Life is one chaotic episode after another," or "I cannot makes heads or tails out of it," are excuses used when people appear disorganized or unable to manage things in an orderly fashion. Stop; get organized. Mistakes, cost time and money. In business, they cost productivity and morale. If you want to be perceived as a leader, get your life in order.

You may be able to thrive on disorder, but it is best to keep it a secret. What many people don’t realize is that when you are disorganized, those around you (e.g., family, friends, or associates) will follow your example. If you want to promote organization, reveal organization.

There is another set of excuses that revolve around one central element: failure to look on the bright side of things. No, you don’t need to appear buoyant, Pollyannaish, and cheerful all the time. There is no reason to take this to extremes. But there are those who use pessimistic excuses such as, "I’m such a clutz," "I’m hopeless," or "I’m never going to amount to anything," as a way to escape responsibility.

I’ve always believed that if you have a choice, why not be hopeful rather than hopeless? Why not be encouraging rather than discouraging? Why not be cheerful rather than sad? Why not appear confident and positive rather than unassured and negative?

Not surprisingly, a positive attitude draws other positive people to you; it boosts your attitude and promotes self-growth; it stimulates strength of character; it permits you to move forward and face new challenges; and it enables you to take control of your life.

To accentuate the positives, rather than amplify the negatives—in every aspect of your life—will help embed a positive mindset that alters everything you do, everything you say, and everything you experience. It is a necessary and important tool in self-development. Also, it helps to eliminate many of the other excuses, because it will help you see positives in others.

I love what George Washington Carver said about making excuses. He said, "Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses." The day you stop making excuses, is the day you take complete responsibility for your life, and that is the day, too, you begin your journey of growing, developing, and changing in positive directions.

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At, the short essay there, The Power of Positive Attitude, by Remez Sasson is terrific for its practicality, large number of specific suggestions, and even ideas for developing a positive attitude.. Sasson begins his essay saying: "Positive attitude helps to cope more easily with the daily affairs of life. It brings optimism into your life, and makes it easier to avoid worry and negative thinking. If you adopt it as a way of life, it will bring constructive changes into your life, and makes them happier, brighter and more successful. With a positive attitude you see the bright side of life, become optimistic and expect the best to happen. It is certainly a state of mind that is well worth developing and strengthening."

At the guardian website , the essay Always look on the bright side of life, by Sam Wong provides some of the scientific evidence on how effective having a positive attitude can be. Wong ends his essay saying: "As things stand, it's still unclear whether adopting a more positive outlook on life can reduce your likelihood of falling ill or dying. But it certainly won't hurt – and it might put a smile on your face. Who could argue with that?"

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Copyright February, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

1 comment:

  1. I would have finished reading this but the dog ate my computer...


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