Take Personal Responsibility For Your Life And Your Happiness

taking personal responsibility

“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.

Freedom

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

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.

Blaming Others

“Attack the evil that is within yourself, rather than attacking the evil that is in others.” 
― Confucius

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.

Making Excuses

“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

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:

Accept Yourself

Take Off Your Social Mask

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.

 

Conclusion

“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.

photo by: DVIDSHUB

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Comments

  1. As you said, you should not really on external validation. But great, substantive article. Also really liked the Teddy quote in the beginning and the Office Space reference half way through.

    I do, however, disagree with your last point that “You are not responsible for other people.” It seems too broad a statement. Aside from the idea that “you are your brother’s keeper,” what about family in general? Good friends making destructive decisions or coming on hard times? Doctors or law enforcement that sees someone in trouble on the side of the road, even when they’re off duty? Individuals with the means to help the poor within their midst?

    • I thought that point might be a little controversial. What I mean is that you can’t blame yourself for where other people are in their lives.

      You have personal responsibility for 100% of everything in your life, whether you ‘recognize’ it or not. But that holds true with everyone. If someone says that some problem of theirs is your fault, you should realize that they are wrong. You don’t have to help everyone; it’s not your responsibility. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, just that you aren’t obligated to.

      My one exception (well perhaps there would be more than one, but I’m not trying to be rigorously philosophical here) is the parents of a small child. If you make the decision to bring a baby onto the planet, you sure as hell better take care of it.

  2. Never knew about that Romach arch tradition. Seems to be an interesting way to “encourage” results and responsibility.

    I think the Stoics had a great mindset. Separate the things in our lives to two categories, things we have control over and things we have absolutely no control over. By focusing only on the former, you can focus all your efforts to creating tangible results. Don’t get hung up on the consequences of things that you couldn’t possibly have had any influence on.
    Vincent Nguyen recently posted..How to Do What You Don’t Want to Do, Lessons in DisciplineMy Profile

    • Vincent, that is a very wise rule of thumb. Ultimately it’s just a waste of energy to focus on things you can’t change.

  3. Good post Mickey, you covered all the bases. It seems that we all look for the solution of our problems outside of ourselves. Could it be that we do not want to face the truth?
    “The truth will set you free”.
    Biomagnetips recently posted..Cell Phone RadiationMy Profile

    • Yeah, that’s a problem. People are afraid to admit that they can be wrong. People are also afraid that they have the power to change but they haven’t done it yet…it makes us feel bad when we realize we could have done something to better ourselves the whole time.

  4. Is that really true about the Romans? Hardcore! With that in mind, it’s a little less surprising – though not any less incredible – that a good number of Roman arches still stand.

    I really liked one of your first points about how personal responsibility leads to respect. Not that you should rely on external validation, as you’ve pointed out, but I think most people realize that being a responsible, respectable, person is ultimately a positive and mature goal to aim for.
    Jeremy recently posted..GKEN-E’s Positive BeatsMy Profile

    • Right? The Romans were pretty badass.

      And getting respect isn’t necessarily about external validation. Respect means that people will treat you better, which is beneficial in and of itself.

  5. Bill Sutton says:

    Excellent article Mikey D. Well said. Keep up the good work.
    Remember, you can’t control everything, but you can control how you react to everything.

  6. I found this article because I searched for taking responsibility for yourself and only for yourself. I love the comments on personal responsibility. I am particularly interested in how to stop the responsibility train at myself. It’s so freeing to take personal responsibility, but there are those of us self-centered or misled enough to believe we are somehow able to manufacture other’s well being too. I am working to turn that kind of thinking around. Thank you for this helpful post.

    • Thank you for the comment! I think part of taking responsibility for yourself is understanding the reality that, ultimately, everyone is 100% responsible for themselves. Of course, this implies that you are not responsible for others, even though you can do things to help them, etc. But ultimately, everyone needs to make their own decisions.

  7. I think you’re on track, but at the same time you contradict yourself a little when you say on one hand that one should not look for external valuation since one cannot control others, yet on the other hand define success as how people respond to you, i.e. using 1000 blog readers as a benchmark.

    This is why politicians and teachers (among others) can literally go crazy. We are taught to focus only on critiquing ourselves, not others, yet success in these and other areas is defined in terms of how many people has one changed or improved and/or how positively one is viewed by students/constituents/etc.

    • That’s a good point, Nate. But when the potential audience is a gigantic number of nameless, faceless people on the internet, I think the law of averages comes into play. I think there would be a serious difference between the following two thought processes:

      “I want 1000 subscribers to my blog.”
      “I want Nate to subscribe to my blog.”

      I would argue that I can exert significant control over whether or not I get 1000 subscribers, whereas I have very little control (and would consider it external) if I were to focus on a specific person or subset of people and seek their validation.

  8. where did you get the information on the roman dude?

    • It’s been so long that I don’t recall. You can google it and see many references to this. That being said, it could just be a myth.

  9. This is great! I’m going to be using this as material for a belief speech in my public speaking class 😀

  10. I absolutely love circular reasoning. If you want to be happy, just be happy! Damn, why did I not think of that years ago?

    Seriously – If things were that easy, the world would be a different place.

    The title should be “How to earn ad impressions from those desperately searching for happiness.”

    • Thanks for the comment Dave – I’m sorry you didn’t feel like this was useful to you. For what it’s worth, I only put ads on this site this past summer, well after this post (and most of my writing) was published.

      In what way do you feel that this post utilized circular reasoning? I’m not saying “if you want to be happy, just be happy.” I just re-read through this piece, and I don’t see anything that could be construed that way, honestly. Did you actually read it? If anything, I’m saying the opposite; you can’t expect happiness to just come to you. You need to actually do something to make it happen.

    • Mikey never did say that it was easy.

  11. If you want something done right, do it yourself. If you try to delegate your tasks to other people, you will most likely not get the results that you want. It may be because they don’t understand the process the way that you do, or on more personal notes, they might be trying to change what you do.

  12. Thanks Mike, I really enjoyed your blog it is so inspirational and true from now on I will Stop Relying On External Validation and take control of my life. Because at the end of I am the leading lady in this movie I will stop behaving like a best friend while I am the star of the show.

    I am trully inspired.

    Thank you and God bless you

Trackbacks

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  7. […] Remember that there is no need to “prove” yourself. You need not make excuses when you are criticized or someone disagrees with you. Sure, sometimes excuses are valid, but it is best to just accept responsibility. […]

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 It should be the responsibility of every employee him/herself to be aware of their own rights, and equally the responsibility of employers to be aware the rights of their employees, not rely on […]

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