One of our community members, LF, offers a personal story about the concept of accountability and the freedom and power it gives us, especially for those of us who are on a journey of change. Thanks, LF!

–Michael

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” – Unknown

As a child, were you ever told to take responsibility for your actions? I was. And I was also encouraged to “own up” to what I did. Or remember when you pointed a finger at someone and a teacher told you that every time you point your finger, there are three others pointing back at you? Young kids are often taught to avoid making excuses, but even as adults, we easily fall into the blame trap.

Stuck in the blame game.

Ever said any of these lines?

  • “I’m running late because my kid forgot his backpack.”
  • “If you didn’t overreact about everything, I would have told you what I was doing last night.”
  • “If my spouse wasn’t such a nag, I would be in a better mood in the mornings.”

It seems like there’s always someone or something else at fault. If stuff keeps going wrong in our life, if people keep disappointing us, how are we ever supposed to be happy? There are so many things and people that need to change in order for us to have a better life, we think.

If we believe that this is true, we give all the power and possibility of our life getting better to something or someone outside of ourselves—circumstances and people we can’t control. When we let this happen, it leaves us feeling hopeless and frustrated. But our lives can improve when we take personal responsibility.

Expecting others to change leaves us feeling hopeless and frustrated.

What is personal responsibility?

Personal responsibility is defined by one author as “a person’s ‘response-ability,’ that ability of person to naturally respond to the various challenges and circumstances of life.” Another definition is taking full responsibility for our own emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.

A survey done by the National Institute of Marriage indicated that 99% of respondents believe personal responsibility was either important, or very important, to the quality of relationships. And the most identified benefit of personal responsibility was a better ability to manage hurt and pain. So personal responsibility is good, but seeing where we fall short of this is hard to do.

Why does it seem like things will never get better?

It took a few career changes for me to realize that I wasn’t taking personal responsibility in this area of my life. I wondered why the same negative situations seemed to follow me around. After being at a new job for a few months, I was asking myself, “What is wrong with these people? They’re rude, they don’t respect me, I can’t connect with them.” I eventually left the job, found a new position in a new company with new co-workers, and before long, I was saying the exact same things to myself. Eventually, I started to consider my role in my dissatisfaction. I asked myself some really tough questions, like:

  • What am I doing or not doing that might cause others to respond to me like they do?
  • What personality characteristics do I need to address?
  • What am I not giving in this situation that others might need from me?

I slowly started answering these questions and acting differently. Miraculously, or so it seemed, the people and circumstances around me began to change for the better.

Miraculously, or so it seemed, the people and circumstances around me began to change for the better.

Let go of the outcome.

When I first began the process of taking personal responsibility, I had a lot of resistance. Thoughts like, “It’s not my fault” and “Even if I start taking responsibility, nothing will ever change” continued to come up. I felt that if I couldn’t change someone else or “fix” whatever was wrong in my life, then this whole responsibility thing was pointless.

This switched when I developed a peace around the fact that I cannot guarantee a certain outcome. I may be able to influence other people or situations, but I don’t have complete control over anything but myself. It meant, however, that I had to invest in the process. I had to focus on my input and detach myself from the outcome.

For example, I want to have the best relationship possible with my adult child. The problem is, I can’t control the other half of the equation. That sets me up to feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen. Instead, I focus on being the best parent I can be. With this goal, I find peace knowing that I took personal responsibility for doing my part to make the relationship great, which is all I can do. This mindset shift helped me stop putting the weight of the world on my shoulders. I do my part, and the other person is responsible for theirs.

Learning to take personal responsibility.

So, how do we begin to let go of the need to control other people, circumstances, and outcomes, and instead, use that energy to control our own responses, actions, and choices?

  • Identify what you want to accomplish, but only use this as a guide. Remember to be detached from the outcome. For example, I might know controlling anger will give me the best chance to fix a broken relationship, but fixing the relationship is not an outcome that I can control because I’m only half of it.
  • Set a plan of action. Using the above example, I would identify what triggers my anger and plan out what I will do when that happens the next time. I will take a time out and go for a walk or write in my journal.
  • Feel good about yourself for following the process and the effort you’re making. With each victory, each time you take responsibility for your actions, you are becoming who you want to be.

These are simple steps but they aren’t easy. We all want to see positive results of our actions and we want to see them quickly. What I think you’ll find, as I have, is there will be positive change. Even if the outcome is not what you were hoping, you’ll see positive change within yourself as hopelessness and frustration are replaced with peace and empowerment.

With personal responsibility, hopelessness and frustration are replaced with peace and empowerment.

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