There’s an old gospel song by the Kingsmen called Excuses. My kids used to sing it anytime they heard people making excuses (none of my children suffered from shyness).
The refrain goes: “Excuses, excuses, you’ll hear them every day. And the Devil He’ll supply them, if the church you stay away. When people come to know the lord, the Devil always loses. So to keep them folks away from church, he offers them excuses.”
The great inventor and botanist, George Washington Carver, was once quoted as saying “Ninety-Nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses. Now I’m not sure about the 99% part, but habitual excuse making will significantly increase our chances of failure.
As mature adults, we all understand how difficult it can be finding success when we keep making excuses.
I realize we master the art of excuses well before we become adults. However, in the beginning of this article, I was still unclear about why humans are so skilled when it comes to making excuses. Why is it we feel so compelled?
After reading many studies and articles on the subject, I’ve come up with these conclusions:
1. It’s easier to feel acquitted of our failure, if we can come up with a good enough excuse.
2. It’s psychologically easier to live with our past, if we have justifiable reasons for our failure.
3. It’s easier to get people to overlook failure, if we come up with an acceptable excuse.
4. It’s so much easier to shift the blame to something else, rather than accept it as our own.
There is a book published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates that explains some of this phenomenon. It’s called – Explaining One’s self to others: Reason-Giving in a social Context.
Let me quote a few conclusions of the book: “A review of the empirical studies on excuse-making in organizations suggests a variety of tentative conclusions. First, there is consistent evidence that excuse making is used as a legitimate strategy. Second, there is consistent evidence that excuses mitigate a variety of negative attitudes and conflictual behaviors. Third, there is an emerging pattern of evidence that the perceived adequacy of the excuse, and the sincerity of the excuse-maker, along with situational factors (e.g., Outcome importance), influence the effectiveness of excuse-making in organizations.”
Basically they found that in many social settings – people’s perceptions of and ability to accept an excuse determines how they respond to any perceived failure both on an individual or organization.
Now most of the findings in this article were obvious – like a boss using geopolitical problems to explain why the company failed to give you that promised pay increase, or how attorneys use emotional stories to lead juries into accepting an excuse for their client’s behavior.
However it did show that people are more willing to forgive and accept inappropriate behavior if they believe the excuse is appropriate.
Save Our Egos Campaign
Another good article is found by Dr. Claudia Aguirre entitled “Why do we make excuses?”
“Psychologists place excuse-making in the ‘self-handicapping’ category – that is, it’s a behavior we express that hurts our own performance and motivation. It serves as a distraction of sorts that prevents us from achieving the task, but it stems from a deeper, unconscious desire to protect ourselves (our Ego, if you asked Freud) against anxiety and shame. And the more anxious or ashamed we are likely to feel, the more likely we are to build barriers that impede our chances of attaining a goal. Excuses aim to shift the focus from issues pertaining to our sense of self to issues that are relatively less central.”
Here we see that excuses are a part of what I will now dub the “save our egos campaign”.
It seems to me that the more we make excuses for ourselves, the more we will NOT build a positive self-image. Self image is not built by success at every turn. Our self Image is empowered by accepting, and then dealing with our own short comings and failures.
Making excuses may make us feel better, but they will not make us become better!
How to fail at anything: Step 3, Keep making excuses! In conclusion.
If we want to fail at every turn, then we should go on making excuses for ourselves and those around us.
However if we want to succeed, we must be willing to stop the blame game and personally accept accountability for our own actions. Sometimes we need to squash those excuse ridden thoughts and emotions.
As we said back in the 90’s: “Suck it up and be a man (or woman)” as the case may be.