No Excuses

No excuses — quite possibly the favorite of expression of most physical trainers, and this one is no different. It is a common slogan in athletic environments, often seen on the back of t-shirts and sweatshirts or on the walls of weight rooms and locker rooms. These are two simple yet powerful words. The slogan urges athletes to maintain their focus and to put in the physical and mental work needed to perform at their best. Simply put, there is no excuse for doing something that could prove to be detrimental to performance or avoiding the work that needs to be put in. Yet think about how often we make excuses that impact our careers, our livelihood, or our health.

Maybe it is an excuse not to get a task completed today or to skip the workout. Maybe it is an excuse you make in order to justify that second helping of dessert. Or maybe it is you blaming the weather, or your negative attitude, or worse, someone else for your lackluster performance in the boardroom or on the field of play. There is any number of things you could blame for why you were not prepared to perform your best. No excuse. As with many of the mental skills and concepts you can read and learn about, the notion of making no excuses, of holding yourself accountable for your behavior is easy to understand but much more difficult to implement.

While the words are powerful, it is the action behind the words that speaks volumes. Do you back up these words with action? For example, anyone who has ever competed as an athlete can readily identify when excuses have been used as a crutch, but by then it is too late, as the workout or performance has already been compromised. Think back on the past few weeks of your work or your exercise program and identify the situations where you may have allowed excuses to impact your behavior. Were there moments where you thought, in retrospect, “I could have given more,” or “I should have gotten up earlier to exercise even though the bed was more comfortable.” My guess is most of you can identify at least one situation where you came up with an excuse to not work as hard as you could have, to not exercise on a given day, or to explain a less than stellar behavior. Awareness of instances where you make excuses is important as it is through this awareness that you can attempt to change future behavior.

Besides opening your eyes to the excuses you make, an additional challenge is to figure out how to be pro-active as opposed to reactive. So, instead of identifying excuses after the fact and “kicking yourself ” for it, work to seize them before they impact behavior by identifying your tendencies and patterns. It is a tough challenge, but here is an example that may help you understand how to do this and why it is so important.

As is increasingly more popular this time of year, Mr. X as we will call him has committed to running a marathon in the fall.  He does not miss a day of training. He has been training hard for the past several moths and tends to do decent in trial races but never quite achieves his performance goals. When critically analyzing his preparation and training, it becomes evident that the truly “hard workout days” present a barrier for him. On these hard training days, Mr. X has a tendency to back off a bit. He always has a reason for backing off —one day it is the wind in his face; another it is the slight twinge he felt in his quad earlier that day; another it is thinking about the work that needs to be done back at the office. Despite that the reasons differ every time and appear separate, are these in fact excuses, perhaps? Mr. X tends to come up with seemingly valid reasons not to get after it on his hard training days. But in analyzing his preparation, it is interesting how these things only pop up on the hard days. His training is just where it should be on the lighter days. In looking back and analyzing his performance, Mr. X recognizes that he is making excuses, and just as importantly, he realizes how important those hard days are to reaching his goals. It finally clicks in his mind that there is a cause-effect relationship and those excuses are keeping him from performing at his best.

Apply this to yourself. Do you have excuse tendencies? It is important to identify these tendencies as it becomes easier to than avoid them. By knowing unique situations or factors that seem to relate to coming up with excuses, you can be pro-active in avoiding them. For some of you, it may also be valuable to dig deeper and take a look below the surface to see what might be going on. Is there a reason why you are coming up with excuses that need to be addressed head on? There simply is no excuse!