Personal responsibility is the golden ticket to living your most empowered life. By accepting full responsibility for your words and actions (or lack thereof) you are putting the most important person in the driver’s seat — yourself.
When it comes to shirking responsibility, people are often surprised to hear that it isn’t always as straightforward as simply pointing a finger and saying, “It’s their fault!” It’s completely possible to duck ownership of our own actions by slyly blaming someone or something for what always boils down to a decision that we made.
Here are some examples of what it can look like to dodge personal responsibility, and place the blame squarely on someone or something else:
“I didn’t want to eat the cookies, but Kate baked them for me so I had to eat them or it would have been rude, and now I feel like crap.”
In each of these scenarios, the most important aspect is the I: I chose to eat cookies. I chose to stay up late watching television. Sure, Kate baked cookies, but she didn’t force them down my throat. Yes, Andriana wanted to binge-watch television shows, but she didn’t handcuff me to the couch and physically make me watch them, too.
While we can’t control outside circumstances, we always have a decision in how we choose to act.
Let’s re-frame the above scenarios accepting personal responsibility:
“Kate baked cookies for me, and I chose to eat a bunch of them.”
“I chose to stay up too late with Andriana watching television.”
I am an adult who is privileged to be in control over my body and what I choose to do with it. If I want to eat cookies, skip a workout, or stay up late it’s fine, but I must take personal responsibility for my choice and be willing to own the subsequent consequences. Because the fact of the matter is that you, and only you, are solely responsible for your part in any situation.
Here is example of something that recently happened to me:
My boyfriend and I were paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe recently, and — while teetering on my paddle board — I took out my GoPro to try and take a selfie of us with our dogs. As soon as I extended the selfie stick, I realized I hadn’t put the screw in place, but by then it was too late.
Sploosh! The GoPro shot off the end of the selfie stick and instantly sank straight to the bottom.
My guy looked at me with alarm and said, “What happened?” I shrugged and replied, “I forgot to put the screw back in it.”
This is what accepting personal responsibility looks like:I could have blamed the choppy water, or my pup for wobbling the board around, or the makers of GoPro, but that all would have been ridiculous. The mishap was my fault for not paying attention when I put the camera together earlier that morning. (Sidenote: my boyfriend dove into the lake and miraculously managed to recover our GoPro.)
We all get into misunderstandings or disagreements with people that we care about, and personal responsibility is incredibly powerful and helpful here. Over the last few years, I have been quick to step up to the plate and accept where I’ve messed up in an attempt to repair a situation.
I’ve learned that there is a huge difference in terms of outcome between taking ownership by saying something like, “I’m so sorry. I messed up by _____________ . What can I do to make this right?” versus, “Yeah, well, the only reason I did X is because you did Y and Z!”
When you own up to your part, and focus on that and only that, you will open up the doors for a more productive conversation. In all of the times over the years that I’ve fully owned up to the part that I played in an undesirable circumstance, I’ve only had one person not be willing to try to work through the issue. And even in that circumstance, I still had peace knowing that I took responsibility for my part in the situation and tried to make it right.
A few years ago, Jen Sinkler wrote about this being her go-to response when someone complained to her. Since then, I have asked myself this question countless times (and usually in Jen’s kind, but assertive voice). The reason I love this question so much is because it immediately puts you in charge. It’s a great reminder that while you may not be at fault for something, you absolutely have control over your words and actions, which affects what happens next.
Over the last couple of years, my willingness to take full responsibility for my words, actions, and — often the most difficult — my reactions to other people’s behavior have had a more powerful and positive impact on my life than any other change I’ve made.
Accepting personal responsibility can be really challenging in some situations. This is especially true in circumstances that we can’t possibly control, such as how another person acts or what they say.
When you blame other people or outside circumstances for your behavior, you are essentially turning your power over to them. You are saying that how another person acts or what someone else does dictates your outcome, and that simply isn’t the case.
Here are a few reminders to stay fully in your power:
Remember: your words, your actions, and your reactions are your responsibility.
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