“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month."
― Theodore Roosevelt
“If you own this story you get to write the ending."
― Brené Brown
Ancient Romans understood the concept of personal responsibility.
After a Roman arch was completed, the engineer who built it had to stand underneath it when the scaffolding was removed.
While you might not get crushed by a giant arch if you make mistakes, you still have personal responsibility for your actions.
What is personal responsibility?
It is taking conscious control of your responses to the events and circumstances in your life.
You are responsible for yourself, whether you like it or not. What you do with your life and what you have done already is up to you.
“But Mike! Things happen to me that I have no control over all the time!"
Sure. And while you may not be able to control everything that happens to you, you are nevertheless responsible for how you think, act, and feel in response to those things.
Responsibility cannot be split. If you “give" someone else any of the responsibility, you take it off yourself and can use it as an excuse to slack off when the going gets rough. Do you think the engineers in ancient Rome shared responsibility for their creations?
Traditionally, we have viewed the notion of “responsibility" in a negative way; it is a matter of obligation or of having duties. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
But as I will argue, accepting personal responsibility for your life is actually quite liberating.
Benefits Of Accepting Personal Responsibility For Your Life
There may be no more impactful thing you can do for yourself than to take responsibility for your life. There are all sorts of benefits that you will realize, and I will go over the most important ones here.
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does."
By accepting personal responsibility, you gain the freedom to create your own life, any way you want it.
When you admit to yourself that you are solely responsible for your life, you immediately recognize how much control you really do have.
Any goal that you want to achieve is within your control, and external circumstances don’t control your fate.
Personal responsibility is also the foundation for personal development in general. By acknowledging your role in the process, you give yourself the opportunity to improve.
Trust And Respect From Other People
Let’s say you make a mistake while working on a project at work. If you admit your mistake, people are more likely to believe you about other things you do. Your word has more meaning to other people when you take responsibility.
But it’s not just a matter of trust. You also earn lots of respect when you take responsibility for your actions.
It is rare for someone to willingly and without hesitation fess up for their mistakes, so when you do, you will stick out. If you develop a reputation for being the guy who accepts responsibility for his actions, people will often simply ignore the fact that you made a mistake altogether.
Fewer Negative Emotions
There are all sorts of negative emotions that come with not accepting personal responsibility.
When you blame others, you may feel anger or resentment towards that person. You will almost invariably feel guilty or ashamed.
The worst part about denying responsibility is an overall sense of powerlessness. When you feel like you don’t have control over your life, you can easily become depressed.
Roadblocks To Accepting Personal Responsibility
I wish I could say it is trivially easy to start taking responsibility for your life, but there are roadblocks that you must learn to recognize.
Each of the following is a defense mechanism employed by your mind to help protect your self-image. Taking responsibility makes you vulnerable, and your ego doesn’t like vulnerability one bit.
“Attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil that is in others."
When something goes wrong, do you immediately look for some external culprit?
It doesn’t really matter whose fault it is, anyways. What happened, happened. The question now is: how are you going to respond to it?
Unfortunately, all too many people fall into the trap of responding by blaming someone else for the problem. They shift their own responsibility onto someone else, and judge the other person for having failed.
It’s so easy to say, “I didn’t get the TPS reports done on time because so-and-so didn’t send me the information!"
When you blame another person, you give up control of the situation and your ego feels a little bit better. But even if it’s their fault, you are still responsible.
The fact remains that you didn’t do what you had to get done, regardless of whose fault it was. Now it’s just that much harder to move forward and respond in a productive way.
You spend your energy focusing on the wrong thing, like resenting another person, when you could use that energy to advance in your goals.
“Every excuse I ever heard made perfect sense to the person who made it."
― Dr. Daniel T. Drubin
Making excuses is similar to blaming others, except it involves blaming circumstances instead of people.
When you set new goals, you often have a sort of “backup excuse" in case you are to fail. Think about this for a minute and you’ll almost certainly notice a backup excuse for one of your goals.
For example, I want to get 1000 subscribers to this blog by the end of the year. If I fail, I already know what my excuse will be: I was busy working on other things and couldn’t work full time on this blog.
This gives me an easy way out, and I can avoid the responsibility for the failure (which hopefully doesn’t happen).
Obviously, this is an unhealthy way of thinking. Success or failure in that goal is on me and no one else, regardless of external circumstances. And by taking responsibility and recognizing this, I am more likely to take the necessary actions to succeed.
Complaining is simply a focus on what is wrong. This will make things seem worse than they are, and can easily distract you from all the good things going on in your life.
Complaining can easily become a habit, at which point you will always see things in a negative light. And your focus is on the negative aspect of your situation, rather than what you can do to change it.
The more you complain, the easier it becomes to not take personal responsibility. “It’s too cold out, I’m so uncomfortable" becomes the norm instead of “I should put on a jacket".
A useful technique to combat regular complaining is to reframe your thoughts.
Playing The Victim
When you blame others, make excuses, and complain enough, you may develop a victim’s mentality.
The victim mentality is the opposite of personal responsibility. In fact, playing victim involves surrendering control over your life to external circumstance.
This is when people give up on controlling their own lives because they see themselves as having no influence. It’s a waste of their time.
Everyone will feel like this at least on occasion, but you can’t let it become regular. Once you are experiencing learned helplessness, it becomes very challenging to take personal responsibility.
How To Take Responsibility For Your Life
You need to make a conscious decision to become the sole person responsible for your life, and you need to make that decision now.
But you can’t just say you’ve decided to take personal responsibility and then have it be true. Surrendering responsibility is a habit that you need to remove, and here is how.
Recognize Your Choices
At any given time and in any given situation, you have a choice of how to respond.
It doesn’t matter how dire your circumstances are. You could be locked away in an extraordinary rendition prison, but you still control your mental state.
You can choose to focus on something positive, no matter how negative or un-free a situation you are in.
From now on, look at the choices you have available to you instead of feeling constrained.
Take The Blame
When something goes wrong, openly acknowledge it as your fault, even if you feel there were external circumstances that contributed.
If you shift responsibility to someone or something else, you will remain stuck in a rut because “it’s ____’s fault!"
It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. When you shift responsibility, you give up control of the situation.
Don’t be afraid to take risks or make important decisions. Don’t be afraid to mess up, even though it can be “scary" to take responsibility for your actions. It’s even scarier what you may have missed by acting out of fear.
So, when there is a problem, don’t ask yourself who is to blame. Instead, ask yourself: “What could I have done differently?"
This shifts the focus onto your control of the situation instead of feeling like a victim.
Accept Yourself And Your Circumstances
Accept responsibility for who you are right now.
It’s not other people who made you the way you are, but only your own thoughts and actions.
Sure, many of those thoughts and actions were conditioned in you by your family, society, friends, or any other external influence.
But it is you alone who had the thought or performed the action. And it is you alone who must take responsibility for them.
You don’t need to be happy with your situation or your life as it is, you just need to accept yourself and the fact that you are the one who got yourself there.
While negative circumstances may have had a significant impact on you and you may have experienced huge amounts of social conditioning, dwelling on them or blaming others won’t help you improve your situation.
Only through accepting personal responsibility can you move forward.
For more information on this, check out these posts:
Stop Relying On External Validation
Don’t depend on other people to feel good about yourself.
If you need external validation to be happy, you surrender personal responsibility for making yourself happy.
Sure, external validation is pleasant, and there is nothing wrong with that. But you cannot be dependent on it for your happiness.
Learn to validate yourself through acting authentically to your own values. This way you are in total control of your own happiness, because it is solely based on the way you act.
Be Open To New Ideas And Beliefs
You should be constantly challenging your own beliefs and filters through which you view the world.
Your limiting beliefs make it significantly more challenging to take personal responsibility. If you think that unless you have the body of a model you won’t get laid, you are making an excuse for your failure in a particular area. You lose motivation to do anything about it.
Forgive Yourself And Others
People make mistakes.
It’s inevitable. You do it. Other people do it. Everyone does.
You must learn to both forgive yourself and to forgive other people for any mistakes.
If you mess up, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just take responsibility and move on.
When someone else messes up, don’t hold it against them. If you cling to a desire to blame them, then you are shifting the focus away from your own personal responsibility for your life.
You Are Not Responsible For Other People
Accepting personal responsibility involves letting go of the need to feel responsible for others.
Everybody is responsible for themselves, whether they realize it or not.
If you feel burdened by other people, you need to let go of them. It isn’t your duty to take care of them, just as it isn’t their duty to look after you.
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."
― Eleanor Roosevelt
Taking responsibility for your life can be a very challenging and lifelong process, but it is necessary if you want to truly be happy.
You cannot possibly live authentically to your own values without taking responsibility for your own life.