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Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Excuses, Excuses!

I find it fascinating that we humans spend an inordinate amount of time inventing creative excuses to avoid something, like work. I am amazed at how creative our excuses can be and at how much of a habit excuse-making can become for many people.

What is an excuse? An excuse is something we put forward as a way to justify, explain, or excuse something we feel guilty or responsible for. In my book, an excuse is not only a rationale to justify or explain away something we may have done wrong, but it is also something we put forth to justify why we should not do something that we know we should do.

Okay, it is a natural human condition that we tend to avoid work. There may be a few of us out there who thrive on working hard at all times, but for most of us, work is something we have to do, but we try to find ways to avoid it or make it easier. I understand this. Really, I truly do, because I myself do the same thing. There are aspects to my life where I try to avoid the work associated with it, such as housecleaning, filing my tax returns on time, making phone calls to strangers (boy this one is hard for me! see my previous post about facing your fears). I recognize that we will have moments such as these in our lives. As long as I have determined that the excuses I allow relate to activities that do not claim a high priority for me, I can live with that.

What really astonishes me is the number of parents who have made excuse-making a general habit. As a teacher, it disturbs me too to recognize that the young student is also copying (and therefore perpetuating in the future) these same excuse-making behaviors. In the case of parents making excuses to avoid the work associated with their child's learning an important skill or developing a high level of ability that will pay large dividends in the child's future life, I believe that parents should not develop an easy relationship with excuse-making.

I am a student of Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." One of the 7 habits is to be proactive.This habit refers to the human being's ability to choose his or her reaction to something. Originating from a quotation of Victor Frankl, a WWII prisoner of war, Stephen Covey writes: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness." This means that we have the ability to choose our response. We have the ability to decide what our reaction shall be. We can build the habit of widening the space between stimulus and response so that we have the time to choose wisely what our response shall be. We can choose to be happy. We can choose to avoid other behaviors or responses that do not lead us to happy and productive results.

There are many things in today's world that compete for our time and attention, and there are some things we have little or no control over. One subset of things that compete for our attention contains those activities that we can exercise some control over. It is this subset area that we need to focus on. If we waste our efforts trying to work in the arena in which we have no control, we will beat our heads against the wall, feel frustrated and defeated, and generally waste a lot of our time and energy. Instead, if we focus our efforts on the subset area over which we can exercise control, we will generate feelings of satisfaction, success, and self-confidence.

When we waste our time and energy creating excuses, we are not working to develop any productive character traits. Instead we are building reasons why we do not have to try, succeed, or work at something. I do not know about you, but I do not want to go through life giving reasons why I cannot succeed at something. Instead, I want to hold my head up high because I have actually accomplished something. If I make excuses, I am not accomplishing anything other than to add more empty words to the atmosphere around me.

Here are some typical excuses I might hear from parents during the week [along with my personal observations]:
  • We forgot our books [again!].
  • [Alternatively] How come we are taking so long to get through the theory book? [Because you have forgotten it every week for a month].
  • We had a busy week. We just couldn't find any time to practice. [not even 5 minutes, but we found time to waste every day watching television].
  • My child (my student) gave me a hard time when it came to practicing. So, we didn't practice. [The child runs the house, and the parent is not acting like a parent].
  • My work schedule changed and we could not have successful practices. [I cannot figure out how to fit practice into my new schedule].
  • My child's schedule is too busy to find adequate time to practice [and I don't feel like taking control of my child's schedule].
  • I didn't understand the assignment [and apparently do not understand how to use the phone, write an email, or send a text message to ask for clarification].
  • The child's instrument was out of tune [and I could not find time to telephone the teacher so she could help me tune it over the phone.]
  • I am tired of listening to my child's practice. Do they have to keep playing the same song? [in other words, do I really have to listen to my child repeat things until they perfect them? Do I have to listen to my child's daily practice? What does it matter that my children are trying to please me?].
  • I can't get my child to practice or repeat things for me like they do for the teacher [and I have not taken the time to reflect on why this is so].
  • I can't be on time to lessons (again). I just seem to run into things that hold me up (time and again). [In this case, I fear that even if I were to set their lesson 15 minutes later, they would still show up 15 minutes late. Maybe I should tell them that their lesson starts 15 minutes earlier and then expect the lesson to actually begin 15 minutes later? Bummer though on the one day that they actually show up on time and discover that I'm late].
  • I forgot __________. [Forgot what, you ask? Just fill in the blank.].
  • My other children had something that interfered with my child's schedule [in other words, this child's activities rank lower in priority than my other children. I know there are unforeseen circumstances, but in this case I refer to family situations where this has become a routine or habit].
  • We had out-of-town company [and we couldn't figure out how to turn this visit into a performance opportunity or a chance to encourage the out-of-town company to join the Suzuki community].
A while ago I wrote a post about whether we are a W, C or E. click here to read the post. The W stands for Whining, the C for Complaining, and the E for Excuse Makers. There are some helpful tips in that post about how to transform a W, C, or E personality into something that is more productive and less excuse-ful.

Come on, folks! We can do better than this! Let us make a commitment that we will stop making excuses. Let us just say "I'm sorry," and then address the personality trait and behavior. When we refuse to acknowledge a mistake or a failure on our part to do something we ought to do — when we make excuses — we also refuse the unwanted gift of perfecting our mistakes. We can then focus on what we need to do to actually accomplish something.

Parents (and teachers), be careful that you empower your children (and students). Examine carefully the excuses you make. Here is a powerful example of the negative impact excuses have on our ability to develop talent and our belief that we have the control to make this ability happen:

"I was not born with enough talent to be great."

"Talent is not inborn."

Dr. Suzuki actually made both of these statements in his book, Ability Development From Age Zero, which you can purchase from my Teach Suzuki Resource Store (featured above on the right side of the blog). Fortunately, Dr. Suzuki recognized the debilitating falseness of the first statement, which limited his efforts to develop talent and foster a belief in the results of his efforts. The second statement sets up the basis for success, because it reminds us that the power to develop ability lies within us.

As long as we do not make excuses.

He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. — Benjamin Franklin


  1. Paula,
    This post about Excuses really hits home in so many ways! Right on. I laughed as I read your "parent excuses" and pictured each one being said by certain parents in my studio! It's amazing how the children echo their parent's exact words. So, instead of making excuses, I'm going to figure out how to help them succeed, and be an even better example myself! Love that last Ben Franklin quote. I think I need to put that up on my studio wall.

    1. Funny thing is that one or two of these excuses were made or said by some of my very best and most consistent parents! Oh well, excuses happen to the best of us. Yes, let's make a pact to put Ben Franklin on the studio door! I'm game!