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Legitimate excuse? For leaders, that just doesn’t cut it

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Many of us don't even give ourselves a chance to win. A common dialogue that I hear from people goes something like this: "I know what I need to do to succeed, and I do well when I get started, but I just stop doing it after a while. I am just not the type of person who always follows through with things."

If you tell yourself this, what are the chances that you will actually follow through with something? Virtually nil. So why do we handicap ourselves? The answer is that it is easier to do so. It is easier to have low expectations for ourselves. We won't disappoint ourselves if we didn't expect to perform well in the first place.

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Our brain does not like our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour to be out of sync. If there is a disconnect, one of the three will adjust to realign with the rest. This is why we make excuses. Let's say you like to think of yourself as a responsible person; yet, you failed to finish an important project on time. Your behaviour of failing to complete the project does not align with your thoughts of being responsible. So you make an excuse. "The workload was too much," "People kept interrupting me," " It wasn't an important task anyway," and so on and so on.

Excuses are a form of self-preservation. They are pacifiers for mental anguish – you don't have to feel bad for underperforming because it wasn't your fault. The highly successful, however, know that excuses lead us straight to the status quo. If you want to perform at a high level, you have the right mindset.

The first step is to start telling yourself that you do possess the qualities necessary for success. Develop an identity statement (i.e., a self-description designed to improve how you see yourself in relation to your goals) to remind yourself that you have what it takes to create the life you want and the goals you hope to achieve.

Is it important that you wake up early to get a head start on your tasks for the day? If so, then stop telling yourself that you are not a morning person. Is it important that you always finish what you start? Then stop telling yourself that you have a hard time following through. Is it important that you outwork your competition? Then stop telling yourself that you are lazy. If we tell ourselves that we aren't someone who does x, we feel no pressure to actually do it. This takes off the pressure to perform at a high level and promotes underachievement. These are the biggest form of excuses.

Set the stage for your success by developing your own identity statement. Follow these steps:

1. Determine what it is that you actually want to accomplish. Be specific. Do you want to make a certain salary per year? Do you want to be a better husband? Do you want to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle? Choose no more than three things, and the more specific and measurable, the better. For example, "I want to lose 20 pounds, have more energy to enjoy life with my wife and children, and make one million dollars per year."

2. What qualities, characteristics, or behaviour will be required to accomplish these things? For example, "I need to have a positive outlook," "I need to have strong will-power," and "I need to make more client calls."

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3. Put these qualities together in an identity statement. State these qualities as if you already posses them. Limit this to no more than two sentences. For example, "I always stay focused on the positive, and I follow through with what I tell myself I will do. I make 15 client calls per day and return home full of energy to my wife and kids."

Commit to reciting your identity statement to yourself once a day for the next five days and pay attention to the effect this has on your motivation and productivity. Write your identity statement on a note card and place it somewhere in plain sight to remind yourself.

Being great isn't easy. It isn't supposed to be easy. No one is born with all of the qualities required for greatness, but the highly successful have made the sacrifices to make these qualities a reality in themselves. Request more of yourself, and start by telling yourself you have what it takes. Avoid making the ultimate excuse and give yourself a chance to win.

Dr. Jason Selk (@Jason_Selk) is a mental toughness coach for individuals, businesses, and professional athletes and their coaches. He is the author of 10-Minute Toughness and Executive Toughness. Learn more at www.enhancedperformanceinc.com.

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