Language matters. The words we choose to use frame our understanding and set the tone and foundation for how we see ourselves and how we view our world. Often the words we use are a product of our environment, and we repeat what others around us say without giving it much thought. But I think it demands more thought especially around the things we say when things don’t turn out as expected.
In his email newsletter, Rob Hatch, President of Owner Media Group, presented the following and asked a really great question at the end:
There are times when we simply can’t get done what we set out to do, right? Maybe it’s a sick child. Maybe we become injured. Maybe a new project lands in our lap that requires our immediate attention. Maybe we are out with friends and the choices for eating on our plan just aren’t available. What then? Are those excuses, or are they legitimate reasons for not getting things done?
We get very offended when people tell us “don’t make excuses” which is why we prefer to describe them as legitimate reasons. Take the story about Maria Kang. She owns two residential care homes for the elderly, runs a fitness non-profit that she founded and is a freelance writer. The former fitness competitor also has three kids and with everything going on, manages to stay in shape. She felt strongly that if she could stay in shape, with everything that was going on in her life, that anybody could. And so to get her message across Maria posted a photo on her Facebook page that showed her posed in minimal clothing with her three boys around her, and the words “What’s your excuse?” stamped on top.
Molly Cain, a Forbes contributor, in her story “7 Excuses We Use to Cover Up Failure” wrote a bit about Maria Kang in the first part of her article. She said “Maria’s image lit a fire under a lot of people…she hit a nerve. We hate to be reminded that our excuses are explaining away laziness, failure, giving up and self-doubt. They’re there when we need them and we reach to them far too often. Our excuses drive us to failure because they let us take the easy way out.”
We all have things we could blame for derailing us in life:
“I am late because of the traffic.”
“You don’t understand. I really do want this but it doesn’t seem to be my time right now. I don’t have the money or the connections. I have to wait my turn.”
“I want to make YouTube videos but I don’t have a good camera.”
The excuse formula is simple: I couldn’t do x because of y. But therein lies the challenge. Because we’re blaming someone else or something we don’t take any responsibility placing the cause outside ourselves. Something has happened to us but when we let ourselves off the hook we also give away two important components of achievement: responsibility and control.
Without ownership – taking responsibility – we have no control, no influence over what happens. This is why the language of ownership is so vitally important to us if we truly desire change and would like to see our results improve.
Here are two examples of how to own the reason you’re giving for not getting something done or honoring a commitment:
I’m late because I didn’t factor in some buffer time that allowed for conditions beyond my control.
My daughter was sick today so I chose to stay home with her instead of doing my workout as I’d planned.
Now, this is more about the conversation you’re having with yourself than what you’re telling other people. We have a tendency to want to over explain or try to convince others that we have good reasons.
If you’re late for work and don’t have a real reason, other than you just woke up late, don’t make up a false reason. Just say “Sorry I am late I was running behind this morning” and leave it at that. Be firm and take ownership. Recommit to doing better in the future.
Your values are the driver of your choices and how you prioritize your commitments and your language helps you assume responsibility and control in the form of “I choose”.
Rob helps clear the grey areas – those exceptions that we argue for because we DO have a good reason and are justified in our choices. He says “Living a no excuses life doesn’t mean that you never miss a workout. It doesn’t mean that you never fail to complete a project on time or that you don’t eat a piece of cake that’s not on your plan. It simply means that you don’t accept excuses for why. It means that when faced with the unexpected and seemingly external force, tempting you to consider an excuse, you start reframing your language and your thinking to demonstrate ownership, control, and responsibility.”
In other words – you acknowledge the choices you do have and the choices you’re going to make. Instead of leaving yourself and your commitments open to those things that you definitely cannot control, you take ownership of them in such a way that regardless of your circumstances, you will achieve what you set out to, getting the results that you want.
I help both men and women, plan and design their future based on what they do best. Find out how here