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Excuse the Excuse 

Sterling Hawkins, Founder of Sterling Hawkins Group, entrepreneur, investor and author of Hunting Discomfort, shares how getting rid of the excuse before you have to use it will drive growth through uncertainty. 

Sterling Hawkins, Founder of Sterling Hawkins Group, entrepreneur, investor and author of Hunting Discomfort, shares how getting rid of the excuse before you have to use it will drive growth through uncertainty.

Inflation. Labor challenges. Rising prices and continued supply chain disruption. The complexity and challenge of modern work (not to mention life!) can be overwhelming. There is rapid, relentless and accelerating change on nearly all fronts. But the unknown ahead doesn’t have to be filled with declining performance, increasing circumstances, or status quo results. It can yield new, different, innovative approaches if: you excuse the excuse.  

The biggest chokehold on results — results of any kind — are excuses. The circumstances that we can point a finger at that may be totally valid, but stand in the way of your performance. Your goals weren’t met because of pandemic fallout, competitive pressures, budget restrictions, etc. etc. All may be true, but purely externalizing the problem leaves us powerless to do anything about it. It removes any agency you have to reach the result, whatever the circumstances are. Excuses will give you reasons, but not results.

To get results, you can get rid of reasons early. And reasons for underperformance are built into our psyche. Psychologists have found a cognitive strategy they call self-handicapping, an approach by which we can avoid real, complete effort in the hopes of keeping potential failure from hurting or penetrating our fragile self-esteem. You might see this show up in one of two flavors. 

Setting Up the Dominoes to Fall

Behavioral handicapping is making a task harder than it needs to be in fear of failure. This self-sabotage allows plenty of external variables to blame instead of having to take a hard look in the mirror. This might show up as setting unfeasibly ambitious goals or being “too busy” to properly prepare. It’s akin to a boxer entering the ring with one hand tied behind his back, ensuring a ready-made excuse if the match goes south.

The Art of Crafting Excuses

Claimed self-handicapping is vocally coming up with justifications for possible failure before you even start the task. By preemptively highlighting barriers, leaders arm themselves with a justification arsenal, ready to explain away any subsequent shortcomings. It’s a classic preemptive strike. “The market dynamics weren’t favorable,” or “the supply chain disruptions were unforeseen.” While these might be valid concerns, the early emphasis betrays an underlying defensiveness, a shield against potential failures. Again, it allows individuals to externalize any personal shortcomings that might not feel very good. 

You might notice that in both of these scenarios, the excuse isn’t cobbled together in a post-mortem. It’s actively, but often unconsciously, engineered beforehand. That’s where the good news is: if we’re intentional, we can catch it before it starts. 

We can excuse the excuse. By stepping back and reflecting before starting on a particular initiative, it gives you the opportunity to uncover some of these crafty ways our unconscious might have us self-handicapping, protecting our ego at the expense of results. You can ask… 

  • If I fail, why will I fail?
  • Am I potentially setting up excuses in case things don’t go as planned?
  • If the stakes couldn’t be higher, how would I go about this?

When you identify what excuses you might have upfront, it gives you pathway forward to deal with them head-on instead of at the mercy of the failure they’re setting you up for. You can actually pre-plan the excuses you will not allow yourself to use — giving yourself a much greater chance of success. 

How we handle challenges will have a ripple effect on those around us. And by shedding the self-handicapping mindset, we not only pave the way for personal growth but also foster an organizational culture that values genuine effort, learns from missteps, and continually strives for next level results. The market and world will always pose challenges. The true test of growth isn’t having the perfect excuse, but navigating the challenges ahead with authenticity, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to growth. Excuse the excuse and watch as you’re able to drive growth no matter what circumstances you’re dealing with.

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