Having worked with so many people for more than twenty years in helping them make changes in their lives, it occurred to me that there are patterns involved in preventing people from making changes. One of the biggest and most problematic patterns I have found is what I call the ‘excuse protection strategy’. This strategy involves the person finding every and all reasons why they cannot change. Often, this can be quite effective as they have worked well to find so many reasons why change is impossible. So how do you help someone overcome such a self-defeating strategy?
To me, the key with dealing with something like this lies in you understanding one fundamental truth. To change anything, you need to become aware of what you CAN control. The majority of all excuses that are used by people are things that they have no control over. There is nothing they can do about such problems and therefore are destined to have the big issue for a long, long time.
‘I cannot because of X’
One form of this pattern is the ‘I cannot because of X’. X could be an event, a person or some other limitation. Regardless, this excuse often traps the person into offering up their ability to do anything because of their bad luck with X. Understanding how exactly X prevents them from overcoming the problem is important and then getting them to focus again on what they CAN do is critical.
‘I have already tried’
One of the worst forms of this pattern is the ‘I have already tried’ strategy. This is when the person suggests that they have already tried everything, especially whatever it is that you are suggesting. In reality, often they have not or at least have not properly tried it. Rarely do we get the result after trying things once. It is only when we keep working at something that we learn to succeed. Getting them to understand that achievement comes after continuously trying and adapting until they succeed is crucial. Then, again, getting them to focus on what they CAN do and how they CAN improve or make the strategy work is what will lead to progress.
Another example of the excuse protection pattern lies in their own inability. This usually takes the form of them making excuses based on their personality or skillset. They have what is described by Carol Dweck in her book ‘Mindset’ as a ‘fixed mindset’. This means that they are who they are and can never be other than that. The other mindset is known as a ‘growth mindset’. This means that they have the ability to improve if they put in the time and effort at something. Getting the person to understand that they can improve and they are not ‘stuck’ in their present capabilities is really important to helping them make a long lasting change.
When people make excuses they are doing so because they are scared of change or scared of trying to change and not succeeding. Hence they make up excuses that protect them from these two possibilities. It is important when working with someone that you help them still feel protected so that they know change will be okay and they know they will succeed at changing. While doing this, it is important to help the person lay down their excuses by getting them to see whatever stops them they can overcome, whatever they have already tried, they can still find a way and still make it work and whatever they think is possible for them, they are capable of far more in their life.
Most importantly, when changing anything, you need to focus on what you CAN do instead of all the things that you cannot. In many ways, life is like that. There are so many things out of our control that one of the secrets to having a fulfilling and happy life is understanding what is in our control and focusing on that.