How important is it to take full responsibility for our life?
What are the best ways to do it?
Fleet Maull, PhD
Consultant | Trainer | Executive Coach | Author of “Radical Responsibility: How to Move Beyond Blame, Fearlessly Live Your Highest Purpose, and Become an Unstoppable Force for Good“
First of all, we need to recognize how we disadvantage ourselves and give our power away by not taking responsibility for our life, for the circumstances we face each day, and for the choices we make in how to respond to those circumstances.
We cannot control other people or the world around us. As hard as we might try, it is a futile project. The only place we have any real, consistent influence is with ourselves; with our own attitudes, thinking, emotions, and behaviors.
Managing ourselves and really embracing ownership for our behaviors and the choices we make day in and day out is not easy, but it is completely doable.
First of all, it is helpful to realize how conditioned or programmed we are by the challenges of the human condition, by our childhood, and by our culture and society. Most of the time we are reacting to the world around us in very habitual and relatively mechanical ways, rather than consciously responding to the world.
Getting into the driver’s seat of our own life and taking charge of our own destiny, to the extent possible, begins with developing some kind of self-reflective witnessing capacity so that we can observe our own reactive patterns and begin to step into a more wakeful and conscious way of responding to life’s circumstances and challenges.
Through various mindfulness-based self-awareness and self-regulation practices, we can begin to assume responsibility for managing our own physiology, emotions, and behaviors.
Mindfulness practices allow us to increase both self-awareness (including self-empathy and self-understanding) and our capacity for self-management; the first two quadrants in Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence or EI model.
Mindfulness practices also help us develop greater capacity in the other two quadrants of EI.; social awareness and relationship management. Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence (MBEI) involves this integration of secular mindfulness-awareness practices with the intentional cultivation of emotional intelligence, giving us the capacity to take responsibility for and better direct our own lives with wakefulness, self-compassion, and greater energy.
Embracing this more conscious and self-responsible approach to living can begin with something as simple as being aware of our breathing, learning to breathe diaphragmatically or counting to ten (ideally while breathing diaphragmatically) before reacting when we are upset, so that we can release the hold of the reptilian brain’s fight or flight response on our consciousness and regain access to the executive function in our neocortex and our capacity for making reasonable decisions or exercising good judgment.
Elisa Robyn, PhD
Psychologist | Educator
The hardest part of taking responsibility for our lives is accepting that all of our actions and choices have consequences. Not making a choice has consequences.
It is easy, and in fact, people often do, to take credit for any accomplishment, basing this success on our intelligence, hard work, drive, and savvy. However, we are the first to blame anything negative in our lives on “bad luck” as if we had not rolled in the way the experience unfolded.
If we want to take responsibility we need to be willing to say that we accept the consequences of our actions or lack of action.
This does not need to be filled with guilt. In fact, being able to see our life as a book with many chapters is helpful. This chapter was more difficult but learned from the experience.
Whenever I am as a leader in a meeting that is reduced to finger pointing I am the first one to say that I am willing to be held 100% accountable for anything my team did. I will take the blame. This is powerful and ends the argument, allowing the group to move forward.
Certified Life Coach | Content Provider and Editor, e-counseling.com
Your life is about your values and actions, the essence of “you.” How you meet your needs, and your obligations to other people, is what people mean when they speak of “taking responsibility for your life.”
Deciding on your priorities, from most important to least important, is what sets you apart as an individual. Those priorities, those values, and your sense of responsibility are proven with your behavior.
Examples of taking, accepting aka choosing responsibility include:
- Keeping your promises to people even if you find that inconvenient.
- Acknowledging your mistakes, and initiating actions to solve problems for someone else’s benefit, for your benefit, or for your mutual benefit.
- Tidying your home, office, vehicle, or something else so that your and/or people can easily find what they need and function in pleasant, sanitary conditions.
The opposite, irresponsible behavior would mean tossing your trash wherever you wish, smoking in areas where other people are unhappy about the smell or exposure to toxins, and leaving broken items as they were.
That’s why people feel irritated when they realize that you didn’t place a fresh roll of toilet paper to replace the one that you used up or that you left a burned out bulb in place instead of replacing it. Your inaction shows a lack of respect for yourself and for other people. It’s the essence of irresponsible behavior.
Let’s re-focus on actionable tips and examples of taking responsibility for your life. Think of the time that you ran your own errands instead of asking or cajoling someone else to accomplish them for you. Recall the scene when you solved a problem without being asked to do so. Your initiative met needs and left people happy, satisfied, and feeling secure. They knew that they could rely on you.
Remember the times when you prevented the potential for some sort of trouble by thinking “The deadline for this project is X date, so I want to finish my work a day or so ahead of time so that I can recover in time if something goes wrong,” and “I’m making a mental note to get the oil and lube for the car, and that the technician checks the brakes. I need to be safe when I travel.” By now you’re probably remembering other occasions when you took or should have taken, responsibility for your life.
We need to remain functional, not dysfunctional. However, humanity is hard-wired to be lazy. By disciplining yourself to accomplish tasks you overcome the problem.
Though there will be times that you simply need to breathe so that your body and mind can recover from stress or from being tired instead of taking different actions, the important thing is that your overall behavior and thinking generally lead to independent behavior. You have what is called “accountability” (e.g, “Yes, I made that mistake and I will correct it or not make it again”).
By fulfilling your obligations to yourself and to the rest of society you are taking responsibility for your life. It’s an exciting, empowering reality that leads to many emotional and other rewards.
Stephanie Korpal, M.Ed., LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Marble Wellness
As a therapist, I often try to help clients see that the emotions they feel can be influenced from within, and not just from the external environment. Sometimes people lose their locus of control with feelings and get into a rut of reacting the same way and to the same degree to events that happen to them.
It can be exhausting to feel like you’re at the whim of the world around you!
On the flip side then, it can come as liberating to relearn that you have so much power over how to feel—and even the thoughts you experience—in response to certain events. It may take a while to learn those skills, and therapy is definitely an incredibly useful way to get to that end goal, but it can be so worth it!
You become the arbiter of your emotional energy again! And when you retain that energy, you can go the next step and decide what other activity gets it—so not only are you preserving yourself but then you can spend time on the things you want, instead of external events to which you previously felt beholden.
Director of Green Key Personal Development
Winston Churchill once said “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
How does this phrase reflect in what is meant by taking responsibility?
As defined by the English Oxford dictionary, responsibility is:
- The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.
“a true leader takes responsibility for their team and helps them achieve goals”
- The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
“the group has claimed responsibility for the fatal murder of …..”
By definition there is an understanding that responsibility lies with an individual or a group/team. Responsibility whether you take it or not has a direct impact on relationships – can you be relied on to do what you say you will do, and therefore, is there trust in that relationship?
Responsibility in one’s personal life is the same as in a business world, whoever you might be – husband, wife, mother, friend, subordinate, manager or leader. Each one of these roles, and many others, encompasses the need to take responsibility for what you are doing, or what you have done. Firstly being answerable to yourself and secondly to others involved in the commitment to do something.
How is taking and showing responsibility manifested? We show our ability to take responsibility:
- by doing what we say we will do. Not only that, but by doing it by the agreed time.
- by admitting we have made a mistake, if indeed that is the case, and not blaming someone or something for the mistake. Being honest with yourself and admitting a mistake, means you can learn from it and move on.
Just because no one takes responsibility for the mistake does not mean the mistake did not happen. Spending time and energy blaming someone else for the problem is counter-productive to empowering others as well as the end result.
Tip 1. Do what you say you will do and by when you say you will do it.
What happens if you committed to doing something and unforeseen circumstances occur, meaning you will not be able to deliver as agreed?
Of course, life throws curve balls at us on occasions, which lead to circumstances that we firstly did not seek and secondly do not want. Such circumstances are seldom the norm, and if you are a reliable, responsible person this can be handled by explaining the situation and agreeing a “Plan B” as soon as you know that you cannot deliver. Do not delay, thus limiting the opportunity for the other party in finding an alternative solution in a timely manner.
Tip 2. Inform those to whom you committed that you are unable to meet the deadline as agreed in a timely manner. Explain why and agree on a “Plan B”.
What about “responsibility” from a leadership perspective?
Considering responsibility from a leader’s perspective is no different to responsibility in our personal lives, with the exception that we are part of and therefore committed to a team, having responsibility to each and every team member.
Responsible leaders develop trust through doing what they say they will do and taking the blame, by admitting their performance is the reason why the team has not succeeded, rather than looking for someone to blame. An effective leader will take responsibility for the mistake and admit he or she did not prepare enough, give enough guidance, or support.
Leaders are the ones who have ultimate responsibility for decisions taken, whether right or wrong. President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office with “The Buck Stops Here”. This phrase refers to the fact that the President has to make and accept the ultimate responsibility for decisions.
Tip 3. As a leader you are responsible for all decisions taken in your team whether you made them or not and whether they turn out to be right or wrong.
Empowerment of people goes a little further by expanding on the notion of taking responsibility. A leader who is able to create an empowerment culture within the team and the organisation, gives out responsibility and power.
“Empowerment is the creation of an organisational climate that releases the knowledge, experience and motivation that reside in people.” (Ken Blanchard, Leading at a Higher level)
Empowering subordinates is easier said than done for many reasons, including subordinates themselves misinterpreting the term “empowerment”, often mistaking it for freedom to work as they please whilst making decisions around their own job. Empowerment requires direct reports to embrace the freedom and in doing so participate fully in sharing risks and responsibilities. This commitment to increased responsibility to achieve full empowerment engages direct reports and gives them a sense of fulfillment, ultimately leading to greater organisation performance.
Does the power of empowering others to take responsibility work?
There are numerous organisation studies that demonstrate the benefits of empowerment including an increase in return on sales between companies that empower and companies that do not empower. Edward E. Lawler III, Professor of Business at the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business, found the difference to be 10.3% versus 6.3% increase on return of sales.
Tip 4. Empower in the true sense of the word to release the knowledge, experience and motivation of direct reports.
Tip 5. As a direct report commit to taking a full share of the risks and the responsibilities.
“In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape our ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are our own responsibility.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
R. Jade McAuliffe
Coach | Founder, No Parameters | Bestselling Author of “Wake Me from the NIGHTMARE: Hope, Healing, and Empowerment After Suicide Loss“
I finally accepted responsibility when I began validating my present circumstances, good, bad, and in-between.
Easier said than done? Maybe, but fighting with reality is always a losing battle.
After my sister’s suicide death in 2015, I was plagued with fear and rage. I blamed my parents and the mental health system for not addressing the core issues that caused her symptoms and suffering.
While blame and rage are normal responses to traumatic grief (and are completely justified), projecting those feelings onto others didn’t help me move forward. In fact, resisting any emotion led only to further misery, reactivity, and, eventually, physical illness and surgery.
I couldn’t change the past, no matter how often I replayed those troublesome scenarios, and the future was merely a dream (and all too often a frightening one). My sister’s choice to leave was ultimately her responsibility.
In order to move forward, I had to give myself permission to stay present (as often as possible) and accept whatever was, so I could honor myself and create space within my body and mind to heal and deal with my grief and new reality.
Accepting responsibility began with validating my own experiences. If I wouldn’t, I’d search for someone who would and then immediately dismiss their validation.
We can’t get from others what we refuse to give ourselves. Surrending to reality ultimately helped me accept responsibility.
It meant celebrating what worked in my relationships and observing and re-evaluating what didn’t, without attachment, so I could make effective and lasting changes. It became easier to stay objective within this calm state of watchfulness because, here, there were no judgements, there were only lessons.
I’m strangely grateful for all of my experiences, good bad, and ugly, because they taught me to take ownership and become the leader of my own life. I’m now my greatest advocate. There’s no need to run, hide, or place blame when we’re at home within ourselves and allow others the gift of their own experience.
Owning our emotions and experiences, whatever they are, really is the ticket to peace, healing, and freedom.
Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider
Get your spending under control. If you’re spending blindly and only stopping when you see “declined”, you need to reign in your spending and make a budget.
- Take a second to reevaluate what you’re spending money on each month. Where is your money going? If you can’t answer that, you need to take responsibility for your spending and make a plan.
- Budgets can be boring at first, but if you build in a plan to fund your hobby or save for a long term goal, you’ll be more motivated to stick to it.
If you’re in debt, hiding from it won’t help your situation.
- Take action and face your debt head-on. Make a plan to pay off your debt using the avalanche method or the snowball method. While the avalanche method is faster, the snowball method may give you some quick wins and motivation to keep taking control of your debt.
Use credit cards responsibly. Credit cards are serious financial tools and can have great rewards, but can be misused easily.
- If you have a credit card, make sure you’re paying off the balance in full every month before the bill is due.
- Credit cards can be completely free to use if you use them responsibly and pay them in full on time.
If you don’t have a credit card yet, have an honest conversation with yourself about how responsible you are, and if you’re ready for one. It’s okay to not have a credit card if you don’t think you can be responsible with it — and using one irresponsibly can quickly get you in over your head with debt.
Teacher of the Alexander Technique | Creator of Your Brilliant Back 28 Day Posture Challenge
Your Posture Tells A Story
When someone considers taking responsibility for their life, the most common thoughts would be around finances, diet and getting enough exercise. Most people will underestimate the importance of taking care of their posture – until they have pain and begin to suffer from chronic back and neck issues.
We sit and stand throughout the day. The question becomes how well do we sit and how well do we stand? Even poor habits in how we walk will impact the health of our posture. Take a moment and ask yourself, how conscious are you about your posture?
The way we sit, stand and walk can move towards compression and strain or support us in balance, freedom, and ease. Our daily habits will impact how we breathe, the functioning of our nervous system and the health and balance of our muscular-skeletal system.
We sit for many hours during the day – driving, spending long hours in front of the computer and cell phone use. We perform countless repetitive actions throughout the day from being a parent and picking up infants and children, gardening, cooking, long hours seated at a desk, even playing an instrument can impact our posture.
As a posture coach and teacher of the Alexander Technique, the majority of clients that I see have already developed poor posture in their daily habits, and these patterns of stress eventually lead to cycles of discomfort and pain.
Here are some simple principles that can guide you in beginning to think about your posture. Some examples:
Check into the way you are balanced on the “sit bones” of the pelvis. Take a moment to try this:
- Have a seat on a firm surface, not a soft cushiony chair.
- Bring your sit bones to the edge of the chair with your back unsupported.
- Bring your attention to how you are balanced on the sit bones.
- Is there an equal distribution of weight on both sit bones? Or are you favoring one side?
- Ideally, you want to have your weight evenly balanced on both the right and left sit bones.
Take a moment to try this:
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Bring your attention to your knees.
- Make sure that the knee cap is not locked or pushed back into the knee joint, creating a locked or hyper-extended leg.
- Standing with hyper-extended legs will put a strain on the lower back.
When taking responsibility for all of life’s demands, our posture impacts every aspect of our life. Building awareness of your posture and learning the skills to stay balanced will serve you well in all activities – at work and at play, bringing more pleasure into your day.
Taking responsibility for your posture is choosing freedom, choosing to feel more ease and grace in your movements.