In his excellent book, The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz coined the word “excusitis.” He defined excusitis as, “The disease of the failures.”
My observation is that all of us have some degree of this disease. Those who lead extremely unsuccessful lives have its advanced form. And most normal people have at least a mild case of it. By contrast, people who are more successful generally have found a way to not be limited by the natural tendency to make excuses.
Making excuses seems to be a naturally given ability. From an early age, most of us become experts at providing an excuse when asked to do something we don’t want to do. As we get older, making excuses becomes our way of justifying lack of effort or lack of commitment.
In many people’s lives, excuses become such a prison that they are afraid to try new things. Their lives are the antithesis of this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
Roosevelt’s quote captures the crux of the issue of allowing one’s life to be dominated by excusitis. Those who become experts in making excuses will one day realize that they have allowed opportunity – and life – to pass them by while watching from the sideline. They will passively achieve the ultimate failure which is the lack of trying.
I have never met anyone who achieved success in any field who at some point did not become discouraged to the place where they had good excuses to quit. But at these critical points, they made a decision to press on. They ultimately realized that they had to rely on their own efforts. They lived the phrase, “If it is going to be, it is up to me.”
Taking responsibility is at the core of overcoming excusitis. Responsible people realize that most things in life that have value come with a price. From afar we may think that someone who is successful was just lucky. But when we look closer, we realize that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Lucky people acted quickly when opportunity presented itself because they were prepared.
Responsible people do the things required to prepare themselves to take action when opportunities occur. I am convinced that everyone has numerous opportunities to be successful in various ways during their life. But many times people miss these opportunities because they are not prepared, or are not willing, to make the commitment necessary to achieve the success that is before them.
The most important thing you can do to avoid excusitis when an opportunity is available is to take action. It has been said that beginning is half the journey. This math may be wrong, but it’s obvious that taking action and getting started is critical. No ship ever reached its destination unless it left its home harbor. Similarly, if we can avoid excuses at the beginning and get off to a good start, we create momentum and personal buy-in that makes it harder for us to make excuses and give up later.
If you lose your enthusiasm for an endeavor along the way, do a re-check to see if this is really something you are passionate about. It is hard to achieve true success in something that you really don’t believe in or are not committed to do. Making a well thought-out decision to stop going in one direction and go in another is not an excuse, and it is not quitting. Success sometimes requires the method of successive approximation. By expending the effort to pursue, for a time, something you thought you wanted to do, you can learn that your real goal is something different.
If you get bogged down but still believe you are on the right track, re-visit your reasons for committing to your goal. Clarify the goal and take the time to review and revise your plan. Take advantage of what you have learned so far to fine-tune the tasks that lie ahead. Think about other resources and people that might join you and help you on your journey.
Even more important than how you deal with excuses in any particular project or area of your life is how you deal with excuses on a day-to-day basis.
I suspect all of us encounter things we should do during our day-to-day lives where we make an excuse to put it off or not do at all. If you are successful, you have managed to silence this excuse voice most of the time. You overcome potential excuses and get stuff done. If not, all too often you find that, when you encounter difficulty, you are haunted by a desire to make an excuse to not move forward.
To a very large extent, overcoming excuses on a day-to-day basis is a function of developing the habit to not allow excuses to prevent you from taking action. Successful people have developed the natural tendency to take action in almost every situation. Unsuccessful people delay and look for an excuse not to act. As a result, they often become stuck in a nebulous world of inaction.
The next time you are tempted to give an excuse to someone else – or to yourself – stop and think. If it is really something you don’t want to do, say so. Be honest and tell yourself or the other person that this is not something you want to pursue.
On the other hand, if what is facing you is important to you, push the excuses aside and get on with it. You will find that immediate action ignites commitment, and commitment propels you on the journey to success.