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When Your Kids Say "I Can't," Tell Them About the Mule

Aug 18, 2007
One of my biggest frustrations as a parent is to hear one of my children say, "I can't" when I've asked them to do something. They inevitably come up with some excuse for not being able to carry out the task: "It's too heavy," "It's too hard," or "It takes too long" are common excuses.

So I've looked long and hard for a way to teach them to overcome these obstacles (or any obstacle, for that matter) and get the work done. Then I found an article by motivational speaker Roger Reece, called "Go Around the Mule."

In the article, Reece compares obstacles to mules. He says, "Mules have three key characteristics:

"(1) They will completely stop your progress. They seem to wait until you're moving full steam ahead, and then step out in front of you to block the path to your goal.

"(2) They're stubborn. When you attempt coax them to move, they ignore you. When you try to move them out of the way, they plant their feet and refuse to budge.

"(3) They don't go away. They seem determined to keep you from achieving your goals.

"When a mule steps out in front of you to block the achievement of your goal, you essentially have four options:

"(1) Abandon your goal. You can rationalize that the goal isn't really important, or you can simply give up and feel defeated. This is a common response to mules, especially for people who are in the early stages of working toward a goal. Hopefully, you're committed to achieving your goals and have the determination to overcome any obstacle.

"(2) Wait for the mule to go away. This will generally lead you back to option one, because if the obstacle is truly a mule, it won't go away. Goals, properly set, include milestones and are time-sensitive. The longer you remain in a stalled condition waiting for a mule to move, the more milestones you'll miss, and eventually you'll be forced to admit failure.

"(3) Move the mule out of the way. This will also generally lead you back to option one, because if it's really a mule, you won't be able to move it. One of the most common pitfalls in attempting to achieve a goal is getting de-focused. Trying to move a mule is a totally frustrating experience, and you'll dissipate your energy in the process. If you want to succeed, you've got to keep your eye on the goal and not on the mule. Remember, your objective is to achieve your goal; not to move the mule.

"(4) Go around the mule. This is easier said than done, because it's the mule's nature to completely block the path to your goal. Keeping your eye on your goal, you simply concede that the mule is truly a mule and will not be moved. Therefore, you find another path to the goal."

While this truth isn't always applicable (there are times when a mule must be moved), it usually is true for the simple excuses most kids find to get out of work. So the next time your children tell you they can't do something, ask them if they've got a mule in the way. They'll look at you kind of funny until you explain it. But from then on, anytime you hear "I can't" you can ask, "Why, got a mule in the way?" They'll know what you mean and that they need to get to work.
About the Author
Steve Kroening writes for Success magazine and also publishes Wisdom's Edge. You can get Biblical tips on health, finance, relationships, parenting, and success, delivered to your email inbox every week. Simply visit http://www.wisdomsedge.com and sign up for this free e-zine.
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