With all of the craziness of our current presidential campaign and a recent business crisis, I am inspired to write about personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is defined as a person’s “response-ability,” that is, the ability of a person to maturely respond to the various challenges and circumstances of life. It is the inner resources, assets, and advantages of personal responsibility and character that one brings to the challenges and circumstances of life.
When personal responsibility is low, a person is a victim of circumstances, at the effect of life and not able to consciously and purposefully choose his or her own thoughts, feelings and actions. Victims typically identify themselves based upon attributes of powerlessness, dependency, entitlement, apathy, worry, fear, self-doubt, and the like. The victim lives at the effect of what happens around them and has little personal responsibility to, in response to the challenges of life, choose and direct life’s direction and destiny.
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 Dana! 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.
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 a 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.
Forgive Yourself – 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.
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.