I had just finished a grueling martial arts workout, my Sensei watching my every move, when he asked me how I felt about my performance.

Trying to be completely honest I said, “I don’t feel that I performed my best, because my energy level is low today.”

He gave me a long look and simply stated, “Don’t ever make excuses.”

His response surprised me, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and realized that he had hit upon the biggest mistake most of us do every single day of our lives.

We make excuses for our deficiencies, problems and mistakes. We rationalize why we don’t have the lifestyle we want, or why we aren’t making the progress we expected in our business career.

And when we make excuses, instead of accepting full responsibility for our lives and making the needed changes, we are holding ourselves back from achieving our full potential.

When I started incorporating my Sensei’s rule into my life, curious things began to happen. When I made a mistake at work and was questioned about it, I owned up to it, without any excuses. My boss was so surprised all he could say was, “Okay – just wanted to know.” And then he walked away. But he treated me with more respect from then on.

Over the years, I’ve kept this rule ever on my mind when interacting with others, and it has served me well. Not making excuses encouraged me to always give 100% of my talents and abilities toward the task at hand.

But not giving excuses to others has proved far easier than not making excuses to myself. It’s so frighteningly easy to tell myself that “I don’t have time,” or “I’m not knowledgeable enough”, or “I’m too tired.”  Sound familiar?

Here’s what I do to combat the “Excuse Mode”

Recognize when you are making an excuse. Be aware of it – acknowledge it as something that you must rise above.

Accept the fact that you have to take responsibility for your life. If you are not where you want to be – take responsibility. If you start making excuses, say instead, “I am responsible.” This will free you to make the changes you need to make to find your success.

You’re either going to be successful, or you’re not – it’s your decision. If you are truly content with your life, then there’s no reason to change. But if you’re not – make that decision today, to no longer rely on your excuses to rationalize or justify your inaction.

I had the chance to put this into action when I joined the myriad of formerly employed people, who suddenly found themselves without a job during these difficult economic times. I decided not to feel sorry for myself or blame the company for my loss. I wasn’t going to make excuses for my situation, but I knew from that day forward I wanted my success to be my own making, not something that could be dictated by others.

I decided to look at it as an opportunity to re-invent myself, and start my own business.  Now I am totally responsible for my own success or failure. Yes – there is that chance for failure. But failures can be turned into learning experiences, too. And because this is all my responsibility, you can bet I’ll be working not only hard, but smart, making sure I do whatever it takes to find success.