Over the past few weeks, chances are good that you have either heard or yourself uttered, "How could the parents let that happen?" Whether it is a gorilla or a temper-tantrum in the middle of a store, people are very quick to judge.
Scientists call this attribution error. Attribution error is social psychology's term for people's tendency to over-emphasize the contribution of someone's personal characteristics (e.g., laziness) to a certain negative outcome, rather than external factors that could have contributed. Further, people tend to recognize external factors much more readily when they themselves are in a bad situation.
When someone else's child experiences an accident or negative event, that person is a bad or negligent parent. When it happens to our own child, the situation was outside of our control.
The opposite effect is true when something good happens to someone else. If a co-worker receives the promotion, it's because he plays golf with the boss and brown-noses. If you receive the promotion, it's because you are talented and hard-working.
The tendency for people to make excuses for themselves and never cut anyone else any slack is real. The reason for this is quite simply self-preservation. Our brains are really good at protecting our feelings. The problem with this is that it promotes people to act like jerks and underperform.
If you always have an excuse for why you didn't do well, you have no incentive to do better. If you never recognize someone else's qualities that lead to his or her success, you have no incentive to try to emulate those qualities. Follow these two methods for preventing attribution error from making you act like a jerk and underperform.
1. Cut out excuses. Cutting out excuses is incredibly difficult, but incredibly necessary to achieve high levels of success. There is no easy way to go about it. I struggle with this every day, but I continue to take on the challenge. I challenge you to join me in the No Excuse Challenge. For the next 24 hours, do not allow yourself to utter even one excuse. When you fall short of either your own or someone else's expectations, you will likely feel the urge to utter an excuse. You may even have a great excuse. A great excuse is still an excuse.
Force yourself to say these words instead: "There is no excuse. I won't let it happen again." The discomfort you experience from having to own up will prompt you to ACTUALLY TRY to not let it happen again.
2. Focus on what you can control. When it comes to terrible events that happen to other people, we like to have someone to blame so that we can feel more at ease about it never happening to us. Self-preservation. The truth is, much of the world is outside of our control. Focusing on what we can't control promotes stress and anxiety. Instead of placing blame on other people to make yourself feel better about a situation, find a way to focus on what IS in your control.
When you find yourself saying or thinking, "How could they let that happen?" pause to answer the question, "What is one thing I can do to prevent that from happening to me?"
I am not here to say that some people are not bad parents or lazy employees, but we often label people as such for the wrong reasons. Accept the No Excuse Challenge and work relentlessly to remain focused on what you can control to avoid being a jerk and to promote your own success.