The other morning, as I was getting my indoor cycling class ready to warmup, I mentioned that I had been sick for the past week and this was my first day back. I told them ‘not to worry if I cough up a lung, just keep pedalling’.
From the back row, I heard a voice reply (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘You always have an excuse. Last week it was your knee, this week it’s your chest. What’s next?’. The class laughed, as did I and we got on with our workout (and a tough workout it was; the 10 min standing hill climb with ever-increasing resistance left my legs quivering all through the recovery song…).
The class ended without further incident (and my lungs remained in my chest, where they belong) but the comment stayed with me for the remainder of the day.
Now I’m sure this participant doesn’t view me as a slacker. I train at least as hard as the rest of the class. And more frequently, I’m guessing, than most. Nobody who comes to my classes would say I was ‘un-fit’. In general, I look and act the part of an avid exerciser.
Why then was I having a hard time reacting as lightly to the comment as it was surely intended? What is it about the word ‘excuse‘ that got to me?
According to Merriam-Webster, an excuse is (1) something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused or released and (2) an expression of regret for failure to do something. Synonyms include the words alibi, apology, defense, plea, justification and reason.
Hmm. Seems like the word excuse (and most of it’s synonyms) has negative connotations. Makes sense then that being accused of making excuses (even in jest) does not leave one feeling good about about themselves.
Given how poorly we tend to view excuse makers, why do we continue to make excuses for ourselves? Do we do it to feel better about our shortcomings (real or perceived)? Or to make others judge our actions or performance less harshly?
I think it has more to do with the first than the second. Humans are great rationalizers. We like to make ourselves feel good (why are sugar, alcohol and cigarettes so difficult to give up?). It’s much harder to really put yourself out there, to give an activity everything you’ve got and fall short than it is to lower your expectations and pat yourself on the back for a mediocre effort.
In my business, I hear excuses daily; “I had a busy week, I couldn’t get to the gym” or “But it was birthday week at my house, I couldn’t say no to the cake” or “I need my evening glass of wine to unwind” or “I couldn’t find a sitter for the kids”. Nothing frustrates me more than starting a training session with excuses. It tells me that the client isn’t fully committed to their training. That something (fear of failure? or success?) is holding them back from fully engaging in the process of change.
My remarks to my spin class were meant to be funny, but also to provide an explanation for why I might not seem to be working as hard as I usually do. When it comes right down to it, though, it was an excuse. It gave me a way out of working as hard as I might have (even if that level of effort was less than my usual given a week-long chest cold) and gave my participants the opportunity to see me making excuses. And in the end, the only one who lost out was me.
I’m done with making excuses. How about you? Ready to give it everything you’ve got? My challenge to you; next training session or fitness class stop the excuses before they even start. Focus on the task at hand and give it your very best effort. Be present and accountable to yourself! I promise you, you’ll feel great (well, maybe not the day after )!