How to Stop Making Excuses
Book: The Magic of Thinking Big
By David J. Schwartz, PH.D.
About the Author: David Schwartz was a professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta and the president of Creative Educational Services, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in leadership development, as well as a renowned life strategist and the author of several acclaimed motivational books.
The Four Most Common Forms of Excusitis
Excuses. We’ve all used them. But they’re totally true sometimes. We couldn’t do this because of that and sure it’s an excuse but that’s just how it was. Right? Everyone’s got excuses. Even the people who have accomplished amazing things in their lifetime. So why are they able to “make it” and not the rest of us?
For whatever reasons you tell yourself. The only thing between a person and the person they dream of becoming is the excuse used to defend why they’re not quite there yet. Get rid of the excuses and what else stands in your way?
Dr. Schwartz introduces us to this epidemic, saying “People – as you think yourself to success, that’s what you’ll study, people…Go deep into your study of people, and you’ll discover unsuccessful people suffer a mind-deadening thought disease. We call this disease excusitis.”
He continues, “Study the lives of successful people and you’ll discover this: all the excuses made by the mediocre fellow could but aren’t made by the successful person.”
How Does One Get Excusitis?
After encountering adversity in life, one will become exposed to excusitis via the following thought process:
“I’m not doing as well as I should. What can I use as an alibi that will help me save face? Let’s see: poor health? lack of education? too old? too young? bad luck? personal misfortune? wife? the way my family brought me up?”
After selecting a “good” excuse, the victim will rely on it to tell others why they’re not where they want to be. Eventually, they will begin to believe the excuse themselves! The person who believes they can do something and the person who believes they can’t do something are both usually right.
In order to be absolved, Schwartz says, “Procedure one, then, in your individual program of thinking yourself to success, must be to vaccinate yourself against excusitis, the disease of failures.”
“But My Health Isn’t Good.”
Back pain, neck pain, EVERYWHERE pain! How could anybody get something done while in such bad condition?
Maybe it doesn’t even take severe discomfort for us to reason not to do something as “Health excusitis ranges all the way from the chronic ‘I don’t feel good’ to the more specific ‘I’ve got such and such wrong with me.‘”
Dr. Schwartz explains, “Bad health, in a thousand different forms, is used as an excuse for failing to do what a person wants to do, failing to accept greater responsibilities, failing to make more money, failing to achieve success.”
A Bad Heart
After finishing up a talk in Cleveland, Dr. Schwartz was approached by a man who asked to speak privately for a few minutes. The man said, “I’m afraid you’re ideas can’t do me much good. You see, I’ve got a bad heart, and I’ve got to hold myself in check.” He then proceeded to ask Schwartz what advice he had for someone in his situation.
Dr. Shwartz told the fellow, “Well, I know nothing about the heart, but as one layman to another, here are three things I’d do. First I’d visit the finest heart specialist I could find and accept his diagnosis as final.” Apparently the man had seen all kinds of doctors but none could accurately diagnose exactly what his issue was; the even failed to identify an issue.
He continues, “The second thing I’d recommend is that you read Dr. Schindler’s great book, How to Live 365 Days a Year. Schindler shows in this book that three out of every four hospital beds are occupied by people who have EII – Emotionally Induced Illness.” Meaning, they somewhat think themselves into being sick.
“Third, I’d resolve to live until I die,” Dr. Schwartz concludes.
“Live Until I Die”
A friend of Schwartz once suffered from a severe case of tuberculosis and he recalls him proclaiming, “I’m going to live until I die and I’m not going to get life and death confused. While I’m on this Earth I’m going to live. Why be only half alive? Every minute a person spends worrying about dying is just one minute that fellow might as well have been dead.”
Giving speeches throughout the country means constant traveling and interacting with people. Dr. Schwartz remembers meeting a man on a plane once who mentioned just having undergone an operation that involved putting a plastic valve into his heart.
When he asked how the man planned on going about life despite such pain, his response was, “Oh, I’ve got big plans. I’m going to study law when I get back to Minnesota. Someday I hope to be in government work. The doctors tell me I must take it easy for a few months, but after that I’ll be like new.”
So close to death, yet optimistic and eager to make things happen!
Schwartz himself has been diagnosed with diabetes. He was warned, “Diabetes is a physical condition; but the biggest damage results from having a negative attitude toward it. Worry about it, and you may have real trouble.”
He knows a man who has a mild case of diabetes that “spends most of his mental energy worrying about what might happen…He has pitied himself into being an invalid.”
Let me repeat that one for the people in the back: He pitied himself into being an invalid.
On the other hand, he knows a division manager for a large publishing company with an even more extreme case who says, “Sure it is an inconvenience, but so is shaving. But I’m not going to think myself to bed. When I take those shots, I just praise the guys who discovered insulin.”
A peer of his, who was a widely known college educator that came to America from Europe without an arm says, “It’s just an arm.” adding, “Sure, two are better than one. But they just cut off my arm. My spirit is one hundred percent intact. I’m really grateful for that.”
Another amputee friend of his is an excellent golfer. When Dr. Schwartz asked how he got so good, the man said, “Well it’s my experience that the right attitude and one arm will beat the wrong attitude and two arms every time.”
“But You’ve Got to Have Brains to Succeed.”
Possibly one of the most debilitating of excuses is a lack of confidence in one’s education or ideas. A majority of the time, people will keep this insecurity to themselves. They suffer in silence as “not many people will admit openly that they think they lack adequate intelligence. Rather, they feel it deep down inside.”
For those with this in mind, rest assured knowing, “what really matters is not how much intelligence you have but how you use what you do have…The thinking that guides your intelligence is much more important than how much intelligence you may have.”
Dr. Schwartz adds that “Just enough sense to stick with something – a chore, task, project – until it’s completed pays off much better than idle intelligence, even if idle intelligence be of genius caliber…for stickability is 95 percent of ability.”
While visiting home, Schwartz ran into a high school friend of his, Chuck, that he hadn’t seen for at least a decade. Chuck’s goal back then was to own a business in western Nebraska.
When Schwartz began asking him about what business he was in, Chuck confessed, “I didn’t go into business for myself. I wouldn’t have said this to anyone five years ago or even one year ago, but now I’m ready to talk about it. As I look back at my college education now, I see that I became an expert in why a business idea won’t work out.”
Chuck continues, “I learned every conceivable pitfall, every reason why a small business will fail: ‘You’ve got to have ample capital;’ ‘Be sure the business cycle is right;’ ‘Is there a big demand for what you will offer?’ ‘Is local industry stabilized?’ – a thousand and one things to check out.”
He concludes in frustration, “But me, I’m just plodding along, auditing freight shipments. Had I been drilled a little more in why a small business can succeed, I’d be better off in every way today.”
Schwartz proposes that “The thinking that guided Chuck’s intelligence was a lot more important than the amount of Chuck’s intelligence.”
“Knowledge is Power”
“We often hear that knowledge is power. But this statement is only a half-truth. Knowledge is only potential power.”
The great scientist Albert Einstein was once asked, “How many feet are in a mile?” His reply was, “I don’t know. Why should I fill my brain with facts I can find in two minutes in any standard reference book?”
When Henry Ford was called ignoramus by the Chicago Tribune, he told them to “prove it.” After setting up an interview, the Tribune asked him a swarm of questions such as “Who is Benedict Arnold?” “When was the Revolutionary War fought?” and others, most of which Ford could not answer.
He eventually stated, “I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I could find a man in five minutes who does.”
Rather than using the mind as a garage for facts, most successful people regard the ability to know how to get information as much more valuable.
“It’s No Use. I’m Too Old (or Too Young).”
It’s more than likely that “you’ve heard hundreds of people of all ages explain their mediocre performance in life saying something like this: ‘I’m too old (or too young) to break in now. I can’t do what I want to do or am capable of doing because of my age handicap.'”
What are Productive Years?
While conducting a sales training program, Dr. Schultz met a man who wanted to undergo a career change at forty years old, however, he had doubts due to his age. The man’s name was Cecil.
First, Schwartz hit him with “You’re only as old as you feel,” then Cecil said, “But I do feel old!”
After considerable thought, the next time Schwartz ran into Cecil he asked, “Cecil, when does a man’s productive life begin?” Cecil replied, “Oh, when he’s about twenty, I guess.”
Schwartz then asked, “now, when does a man’s productive life end?” Cecil contemplated, “Well, if he stays in good shape and likes his work, I guess a man is still pretty useful when he’s seventy or so.”
With this in mind, Schwartz explained to him, “A lot of folks are highly productive after they reach seventy, but let’s agree with what you’ve just said, a man’s productive years stretch from twenty to seventy. That’s fifty years in between, or half a century. Cecil, you’re forty. How many years of productive life have you spent?”
“Twenty,” said Cecil. Schwartz then asked, “And how many have you left?” “Thirty,” he replied.
In conclusion, Cecil hadn’t even reached the half-way point of his productive life…even at forty years old!
The Young Manager, Jerry
Jerry explains his problem, saying “My company has offered me the job of sales manager. This would make me supervisor over eight salesmen.” Good news for anybody else, right? Then he added, “all eight men I’m to supervise are from seven to twenty-one years older than I”
Dr. Schwartz told Jerry to remember these three points:
- Don’t be age conscious. Back on the farm a boy became a man when he proved he could do the work of a man. His number of birthdays had nothing to do with it.
- Don’t take advantage of your new ‘gold bars.’ Show respect for the salesman. Ask them for suggestions…Do this and the men will work with you, not against you.
- Get used to having older persons working for you…It will help you a lot in the coming years, when even bigger opportunities develop.
“But My Case Is Different; I Attract Bad Luck.”
On one occasion, Dr. Schwartz was attending a seminar where a traffic engineer was discussing highway safety. He said we call them “accidents” but there is really no such thing as a true accident. Schwartz concurs, “What we call an accident is the result of human or mechanical failure, or a combination of both.”
Basically, there is a cause for everything.
Luck in Sales
Schwartz was speaking with a sales executive of a machine tool-manufacturing company when he brought up the disease he coined as excusitis.
The executive had never heard that term before and said, “it is one of the most difficult problems every sales executive has to wrestle with. Just yesterday a perfect example of what you’re talking about happened in my company.”
He continued, “One of the salesmen walked in about four o’clock with a $112,000 order for machine tools. Another salesman, whose volume is so low he’s a problem, was in the office at the time. Hearing John tell the good news, he rather enviously congratulated him and then said, ‘Well, John, you’re lucky again!’“
With insider knowledge, the executive explains, “Now, what the weak salesman won’t accept is that luck had nothing to do with John’s big order. John had been working on that customer for months…had stayed up nights figuring out exactly what was best for them…John wasn’t lucky, unless you can call carefully planned work and patiently executed plans luck.”
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