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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Reasons, Challenges, and Excuses

I started thinking about this so long ago that I forgot how it got started. Apparently, it first came up listening to a podcast, but the origin isn't that important. It's the concept that I think matters.

There's a meme in our culture (particularly in the fitness and martial arts industries, but it seems to pervade everything), that when someone says they cannot do something, the response is something like "If you really wanted it bad enough, you'd make it happen. Stop making excuses." Or, on a smaller scale, the coach who says "You should never miss practice. No excuses."

On a certain level, I understand where this mentality comes from. If someone says they want something, but don't act on it, at some point, you have to acknowledge the disconnect. As a coach, I know all to well how frustrating it is when an client's response to "where were you last night" is a shrug and guilty smile. It's annoying as hell.


The whole "no excuses" meme (like so many things designed to sound hardcore and tough) can go to far. There are excuses, but there are also reasons and challenges, and they aren't the same thing.

Reasons sound something like this:
  • "My child was sick, and I stayed home to take care of him."
  • "That project I've been working on for the last two months? There was a major glitch, and it had to be fixed before the day was over, or the whole thing was going down the tubes."
  • "My daughter had a basketball game, and I wanted to attend."
In other words, they are moment-to-moment decisions based on a personal set of priorities. There was a conflict, and the person in question chose the option that was not training.

(I had an illuminating conversation with John Connors that illustrated some of this. When his son was playing little league, John did the math and figured out that he had about 80 opportunities in his entire life to watch his son play baseball. After that, he would literally never have a chance to do that again. So he made a point of never missing a game, because he knew the chances were so limited. Priorities.)

(Yes, of course, you can make a choice that your training is more important than your family. You can make whatever choices you want. It's your life.)

Challenges are reasons that last. In other words, you might have a reason for missing a training session. Challenges might keep you from training at all. So they might sound more like this:
  • "My finances are too tight for me to afford a gym membership."
  • "It's really hard to find time to get to the gym."
  • "I'd love to study sword fighting, but the closest instructor is an hour away, and I can't make any of his classes in time."
Challenges are things that need to be overcome. They shouldn't necessarily stop you from training, but they are real and valid concerns that can make it more difficult for people to achieve their goals. Ross has some good advice here on dealing with the busy-ness portion of things, but the point is, challenges are real.

Excuses, of course, are what everyone worries about. They tend to sound like this:

  • "I overslept."
  • "I was kinda sore, and I had a bad day at work."
  • "I really wanted to finish watching Daredevil."
In short, while they might express a reason for missing training, a little bit of thought shows that the reason probably wasn't a great one. If training matters to you, set your alarm. You can train through fatigue. And while Daredevil was pretty awesome, but it's probably not worth missing a training session over. After all, it'll still be there when you get back.

(Again, if someone wants to prioritize watching TV over training, that's their right, but I suspect those people aren't reading this blog.)

Why does this matter?

For the athlete/student/whatever, I think this is a decent filter. If you're going to miss a training session, check with yourself--do I have a reason to miss this session, or am I making excuses? If you have a reason, skip the session guilt-free. If you're making excuses, knock that shit off and go train.

For the coach/instructor/trainer/whatever, I think this is actually more important. Before you berate a student for not showing up, find out why. If they have a reason, acknowledge that. I had a student apologize for missing class because a family member died. That's ridiculous. People have to live their lives.

On the other hand, if the student overslept, or forgot their car keys, or some other ridiculousness, then, yes, that is an issue. How you handle that issue is, of course, up to you. If it's a one time event, this shit happens. If it's a recurring theme, it might be worth a conversation.

Related Post:
Stop Apologizing

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