Make Changes, Not Excuses

I used to work with this chick that drove me mental. Let’s call her Vicki. She was the perennial victim – you know the type, had something new to complain about every day, and nothing was EVER her fault. It was always the client, our manager, her doctor, an allergy, the recession, her partner. God forbid she ever take any responsibility for herself.

This is irritating enough on a personal level – but unfortunately isn’t limited to insufferable colleagues. This kind of behaviour seeps into team cultures and excuses become the dominant narrative for problem-solving sessions too.

“IT are too slow”
“Our customer's don’t understand the complexity and importance of our service”
“It’s an instant gratification society and our community are unreasonable”
“If it wasn’t for the politicians, we could do things on time”

Or what about…

“It’s been a big week, once things settle down I’ll get back on track with my diet”
“I haven’t made progress on my book for a while, but it’s not easy with the kids going through this phase – I’ll get back to it soon”

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

I hate excuses.

You know that saying – that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit? Well excuses are the lowest form of chat – especially when it comes to solving problems and taking action.

It’s comforting to surrender our agency to external forces, because it excuses us from taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

Excuses don’t do anything but indulge our own sense of victimhood - which actually has the opposite effect on making any kind of improvement. The way we choose to frame our issues makes all the difference to how we drive change – and there is a magic ingredient involved.

Agency.

Complainers like Victim Vicki are comfortable. It’s comforting to surrender our agency to external forces, because it excuses us from taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

But we’ve got to be better than that.

The greater our sense of agency and the greater our sense of responsibility for our issues, the more likely we are to make change.

Chris Frith, eminent psychologist says that: “Responsibility is the real currency of conscious experience” which I could not love more if I tried.

Thousands of years earlier than old mate Chris, Epictetus told us that:

 “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

As with most things, the Stoics were bang on. Extensive research into sense of agency reveals the power of taking responsibility. Turns out, this is an entirely subjective experience – we get to create agency for ourselves (ironic). While a heightened sense of agency can be used for negative purposes (think risky gambling due to an illusion of control) or be used to trick us (think placebo buttons in lifts and at pedestrian crossings) – a sense of agency has tremendous potential to do us good.

With agency, we believe in our own free will, cultivate resilience and feel able to take action. And with this handy frame, we start to see opportunities to take action, and have the confidence to make changes that drive improvement.

Take a look at this handy diagram to see how the different problem-solving narratives and behaviours change our impact:

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You can see that while excuses yield us indulgence and not much else, changes sit at the top of the totem pole, with visible action to show for our efforts. As the level of agency increases, so too does the potential for improvement.

The more agency we have in our problem solving processes, the better the result. Make changes, not excuses!

Do you have any Victim Vickis in your team? Are YOU a Victim Vicki? 

How to: Make Changes, Not Excuses

  • Momentum matters - Going around in circles is easy, but a total waste of time. Keep moving up the ladder – turning reasons into motivations, into plans, into actions.

  • Call out Victim Vickis – Language and framing are powerful things. When you hear conversations sliding into excuse territory reframe the conversation with “Are we just making excuses? What is in our control that we can focus on?”

  • Let it go – Shit happens that we can’t do anything about. Acknowledge it, and move forward anyway.

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