A couple of weeks back I delivered a leadership session to a business who were really keen to learn about different leadership models. We spoke about centralised vs decentralised organisations (through the lens of this excellent book) and servant leadership (through the lens of this excellent book) and the engagement and debate was excellent.
As with all of my sessions, I sought to make it as practical and interactive as possible. Sitting listening to someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about a topic telling stories is all well and good, but that's not what moves the dial - that happens when people translate the knowledge into action. So we finished by working through some ideas about where the team could take the best parts of different leadership models and apply some of that thinking to their own team or their individual situation and what the impacts might be. I was pressing them quite hard, as I'd agreed with the leader who brought me in that I would do and there was agreement that the ideas were really interesting and the types of workplaces that could be generated by applying them were really attractive to them. Then one spoke up. He split the department into its two main teams, explaining that team A couldn't apply anything from the methodologies we'd discussed, because of the type of work they did, and team B couldn't do so for another reason.
So I listened, then I paused. And I prepositioned the challenge, before asking him the question that titles this blog; Is that a reason, or is that an excuse?
Because there's a difference. One is legitimate barrier, the other is a barrier that only exists in your mind.
Let me give you an example from my own life, to illustrate the point. On Jan 1, 2021 I weighed 300lbs. That's nearly 21.5 stones or 136kgs for those who like to keep it metric! My BMI was 38.5 (I appreciate BMI can be questionable as a metric but I can assure you there was no 'good weight' skewing the figure!) This wasn't something that had happened to me overnight - I'd been up in that bracket for quite some time, slowly creeping onwards towards an early grave.
But there were reasons I was overweight. I'm a busy man. Coaching sport. Working. Raising a kid. Married. Now I'm building a business. And I'm a big guy, 6'2", so I carried it well. And on top of that I was an American Footballer, playing on the Offensive Line. In that position, it serves you well to carry a bit of extra timber. Plus, I'm the big jolly guy! Like a Scottish Santa! And working out was impossible because time with Harper is so important when she's young. I'll never get that time back.
None of these were reasons. All of them were excuses.
I was telling myself that there were legitimate barriers that meant my situation could not be changed. But in reality, I was making excuses for my own poor habits and laziness.
Let's play a quick game of Reason or Excuse:
I'm a busy man
Excuse: There are a LOT of busy people in the world; many of whom are much busier than me, who are not grossly overweight. It's not about the time I have, it's about how I allocate it. Plus, being busy doesn't explain why I eat so much
I'm a big guy, 6'2" - I carry it well
Excuse: look at the photos! That's something that people tell you when you're overweight and they're too polite to say you look a mess
I was an American Footballer, playing on the Offensive Line
Excuse: I WAS an American Footballer - and I retired from playing in 2012! Unless an impromptu scrimmage kicked off in Scotmid when I was buying a packet of crisps, there was absolutely no need for me to be carrying the extra weight
I'm the big jolly guy! Like a Scottish Santa!
Excuse: I definitely am a fairly jolly person, but connecting that to my size and weight was an absolute shocker on my part! There are plenty of jolly people who aren't hurtling towards an early grave!
Working out is impossible because time with Harper is so important
Excuse: There's some merit to this; Harper will only be small for a few more years and then she'll not want to hang about with her dad, but this was much more about allocating time at the right parts of the day, than not doing it at all
It's not like I didn't know why I was there or what needed to change - I coach sport and spend a lot of time around talented athletes and coaches who are always up to date with the new research and findings around nutrition and workout techniques. Ultimately, to get out of that place I needed to do two things - eat less shite and do more exercise.
Long story short, in the next 5 months, I lost 75 lbs. I set my alarm clock for 5:45, got up and walked 10km and downloaded My Fitness Pal to track my calories, making sure I finished the day with a good deficit. I went to bed at ten, read for half an hour, fell asleep, dropping my Kindle on my face and then woke at 5:45 and did it again. I'd get back into the house around 8am, just as Harper was getting up, and I'd get her breakfast then jump in the shower before joining her for some chat. And after all that, I'm still jolly!
I also generated accountability for myself with a group of friends (shout out to The Snakes 🐍) with whom I'd shared my goals and plan. I checked in every day on activity and calories, weekly on weight and monthly with photos for comparison. They also called me on my bullshit and questioned whether I was giving them reasons or excuses. It made all the difference to the outcome and that outcome has made all the difference to my life. I lost ten inches off my waist, had to replace my entire wardrobe and have likely added a decade or more onto my life expectancy. And it's something I could and should have done much earlier, if I'd cut through my own excuses.
Take some time today. Pause. Look at a challenge you face and the barriers to overcoming it. Lay them out and take each one in turn. Ask yourself; Is that a reason, or is it an excuse?