“I attribute my success to this:—I never gave or took an excuse.”
― Florence Nightingale
“Why didn’t you get the oil changed?” The question immediately causes a sense of panic, feeling ashamed that you didn’t do what you should have done. You respond, “The line was too long at the oil-change business,” or “I wasn’t sure which place we were taking the car,” or maybe, “I just thought I’d take it tomorrow.” Whether it’s a pool that needs to be cleaned, phone calls needing to be returned, or committee work you need to finish, there are always things we need to do and excuses for not doing them. Nightingale, “The Lady with the Lamp,” is famous for her success in improving sanitary medical care. Her success did not arrive while she was watching another episode of Modern Life or beating the next level on Candy Crush. She found success because she pursued it, and she gave no excuses along the way.
“Do you really have time for that?” is the question members of my family often ask when I announce that I have agreed to some volunteer opportunity. Managing a family, school activities, and our home was once a source of pride for this mother of two who learned how to build websites and understand HTML code in the middle of the night while everyone else in the house slept. I have always been busy with lots of activities, but I’m probably not as busy as I think I am these days.
While I do stay busy, I know that with changes that have taken place in my life the past several years, I have become a poor manager of my time. It is with a wounded pride that I admit this shortcoming. It is the shortened version of a Proverb that says, “Pride comes before the fall.” After a lot of falling, I want to forget about my pride and focus on doing my best — no excuses.
It might interest you that there is research on this very topic and to give everyone who is feeling a lot of guilt right now a chance to breathe, it seems that sometimes making an excuse is good. It turns out that it’s only the first time you make the excuse that puts you in the positive column. The things you meant to do and didn’t get around to doing can leave you feeling anxious and ashamed of yourself, which can cause health problems since our bodies respond negatively to that kind of stress. Breathing a sigh of relief — what about the fifth time you’ve come up with a ‘reason’? Your excuse becomes a lie, and we lie to ourselves as much as we lie to others when we continually make excuses.
What drives our excuses?
Time — poor time management means the day gets away from us
Fear — we worry that our efforts might be criticized
Energy — we might be tired, or we might be lazy
Perfectionism — we put off doing things if we think we can’t do them perfectly
Head in the Sand — we hope it might fix itself or just go away if we ignore it long enough
Research shows that our brains like making new habits, though the old habits will be lurking in the shadows waiting to attack our best efforts. For the most part, it comes down to being mindful about our choices. Let yourself off the hook the first time you forget or run out of time and plan for the future. Can you ask someone else to handle a task, even hiring someone?
Studies show that mindfulness meditation can quickly help us develop self-control, and that makes good sense since we are usually the only ones in control of our choices. Let’s be like Florence — give no excuses, get our heads out of the sand, and find some success! One success usually leads to another.