Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Making Excuses is a Bad Habit

The following article was originally published on June 11, 2012. Here is an updated version.

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 how much of a habit excuse-making can be 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. An excuse is not only a reason to justify or explain away something we may have done wrong, but it is also a reason we put forth to justify why we should not do something that we know we should do.

Excuses may be part of the natural human condition: 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 and 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, or cleaning out the refrigerator. 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 in terms of lessons, practicing, or learning and ability development. I am disturbed as a teacher to recognize that the young students copy (and therefore perpetuate in the future) these same excuse-making behaviors. When parents make excuses for their children to avoid work to learn an important skill or develop a high level of ability, I wish that parents would not be in such a close or easy relationship with excuse-making.

I study Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 1 of the 7 habits is to be proactive. This first habit refers to our ability to choose how we react to something. Originating from a quotation by 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."

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. We need to focus on this subset. If we waste our efforts and work in areas 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 over areas that we can exercise control, we will generate feelings of satisfaction, success, and self-confidence.

When we waste our time and energy to create excuses, we do not strengthen any productive character traits. Instead, we build reasons why we do not have to try, succeed, or work at something. 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!]
  • How come we are taking so long to get through the theory book? [You have forgotten it every week for a month because your child misplaced it under his bed].
  • We had a busy week. We just couldn't find any time to practice. [not even 5 minutes, but you found time every day to watch television or play video games].
  • My child gave me a hard time when it came to practicing, so we didn't practice. [The child runs your house].
  • My work schedule changed and we could not have successful practices. [You cannot figure out how to fit practice into your new schedule].
  • My child's schedule is too busy to find adequate time to practice. [or you don't feel like taking control of your 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 you could not find time to telephone the teacher so she could help you tune it over the phone.]
  • I am tired of listening to my child's practice. Does she have to keep playing the same song? [in other words, do I really have to listen to my child repeat things until she learns them? Yes, you do. I would expect parents to enjoy watching their children learn and grow.]
  • Do I have to listen to my child's daily practice? [Yes. Why would you not want to spend time with your child?].
  • I can't get my child to practice or repeat things for me like he does for the teacher. [You have not taken the time to reflect on why this is so].
  • I can't be on time to lessons [again]. I 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? It would be a problem though if one day they actually did show up on time to discover that I would then be "late"].
  • I forgot __________. [Forgot what, you ask? Just fill in the blank.].
  • My other children had something that interfered with my child's schedule. [If this is a frequent excuse, then the student's activities seem to rank lower in priority than the other children. There may be occasional unforeseen circumstances, but I refer here 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 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.

Let us commit to stop making excuses. Let us each choose to say "I'm sorry," and then address the problem 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 possible gift and opportunity to perfect our mistakes. If instead we refuse to give excuses and choose instead to acknowledge and correct our behaviors and bad habits, we can then focus on actually accomplishing 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 that excuses can have on our ability to develop talent and on 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. 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

The Teach Suzuki Podcast recently published an episode that looks at the issue of excuses in a different way: Episode 168: So What? 

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2019 by Paula E. Bird

No comments:

Post a Comment