Excuses, Excuses: Dealing with the Laundry List

Good morning, I see you’re a bit late. And it looks like you’ve got mustard on your chin.”

“I couldn’t get my son out of bed this morning, then there was a huge line at the hot dog stand—when I got mustard on my chin—but the guy didn’t give me the right change, so I didn’t have enough for a taxi, so I had to take a bus, but the bus was late, and then I fell asleep because I’m so tired from the baby waking me up, and missed my stop and….”

The Laundry List is a powerful blitz. The deflection is similar to The Carousel, but instead of spreading the excuses out over time, the excuse-maker delivers them all at once. By unconscious design, they try to overwhelm you. While you might be able to challenge several of the excuses, the strategy is to inundate you into exhaustion and resignation.

Typically Laundry Listers keep about a half-dozen of their best excuses close at hand and fire them off quickly in succession whenever needed. Fascinatingly, if you do have the energy and focus to handle each excuse as it arises, you often find the excuse-maker will start back at the beginning, as if you had never addressed any of the excuses at all.

This is the proof you’re wasting your time: the Laundry Lister wins when either you give up, or attempt to deal with each excuse. They win either way.

The solution, then, is to step back and name the Laundry List itself. So in response to the above:

“Please allow me to interrupt. I get that you’re having a difficult time, but let’s pause a moment. Do you notice how many reasons you’re giving, very quickly, for why there’s mustard on your chin again? Can we agree that’s what’s happening right now?”

Slow the excuse-maker down, and introduce some gentle introspection into the conversation, and the Laundry List will collapse.

If you’re in a position of holding people accountable, you probably know what it’s like to encounter The Laundry List. You’re already doing something you don’t enjoy, and don’t feel you should have to do. You make the extra effort to hold someone accountable, and they present an obstacle course for you to navigate. What seemed as simple as a nudge becomes so complicated that you just want to get away.

This is exactly how the The Laundry List works. In more sophisticated forms, it’s a clever debate tactic: to introduce so many arguments in close succession that your opponent scrambles to address every one. In debate, you ideally want to find one argument that undermines all of the assertions of The Laundry List.

For example, in a debate on creationism, a person may cite dozens of passages from the Bible that support that God made the world in six days. An unwise opponent might struggle to address each one, offering different interpretations or asserting mistranslations, which would take a great deal of research and time. A wise opponent goes for the root, pointing out that one must first assume that the Bible is absolutely true, for any of the arguments to hold water.

[Aside: Before you conclude (erroneously) that I’m an atheist, let me clarify that I stand here for the appropriate use of critical thinking. Trying to prove the existence of God with logic is like trying to pick up water with a net, though it has kept philosophers and theologians entertained for thousands of years. It doesn’t mean that nets are useless or that water doesn’t exist. We operate with truths every day that defy logic, like the existence of love.]

To address the excuse-form of the Laundry List, rather than look for an undermining argument as in debate, you look for an underlying condition in the excuser. Let’s continue where we left off above:

“Please allow me to interrupt. I get that you’re having a difficult time, but let’s pause a moment. Do you notice how many reasons you’re giving, very quickly, for why there’s mustard on your chin again? Can we agree that’s what’s happening right now?”

“Um, yeah. I guess I see what you mean.”

“In my experience, sometimes when people give reason after reason for things not working, it’s actually a distraction from what the real reason is. What do you think that might be?”

“I really have no idea.”

“Okay, that’s a good start. Let go of all your assumptions about what it is, allow yourself to not know for a moment, and be curious.”

“I just feel like I’m constantly overwhelmed, and it’s making me drop balls.”

“Good. I think you’re onto something. And is it true that the overwhelm is making you drop balls?”

“I’m just spread so thin. I can’t seem to keep up.”

“I get that, and how is it that you’re spread so thin? How are you creating that?”

“I’m over-committed and I’m not saying ‘No’ enough.”

“Very good. This is the root issue. As long as you’re over-committed, you’ll be in overwhelm. And as long as you’re overwhelmed, you’ll drop balls. So between now and our next meeting, I want you to make a list of all of your commitments. Leave nothing out. I think you’ll be amazed at what you discover.”

This assignment causes the excuse-maker to look squarely at the underlying condition and how they’re responsible for it. What they will likely discover is how impossible it is for any one human to handle all they’ve taken on.

If successful, over time they will never believe their own Laundry List again, and they’ll get excited to start saying “No.” Notice how this breakthrough is made possible when you neither succumb to exhaustion from, nor believe any one item of the Laundry List.

Wanna learn how to cut down excuses like a jungle explorer with a machete? Join us in the Clear and Open Dojo, where we hold a shared goal of deep personal development, business growth, and clarity of purpose. We’d love to support you in achieving your dreams!

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