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R is for Responsibility

What Does It Mean To Take Responsibility For Your Actions?

"Taking responsibility means a person a person no longer blames outside circumstances or other people or past events for the conditions of his own life" Brad Blanton

Essentially, this means being self-effacing and acknowledging the role you play in all aspects of your own life.

Rather than looking around for someone or something else to blame, taking responsibility is about being honest with yourself and accepting that our choices have lead us to where we are now and our daily input or lack of it, creates the life we are living.

We can't always control our circumstances but we do have the ability to ‘co-author’ our life journey.

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”  Anne Frank

We have no control over where we are born and the type of families we are born into, we have little control over the education we receive and the values that are instilled into us. It is all too easy to simply stay in the mould that has been made for us but we have a responsibility to ourselves and the world to become the best versions of ourselves, not be a replica of someone else or to allow others to live their lives through us Yes, other people and factors have an influence, but at the end of the day we are responsible for our own actions and anything that happens within the boundaries of our control.

"Look at the word responsibility-"response-ability"-the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling." 

Stephen Covey

So how do we take responsibility?

“The power behind taking responsibility for your actions lies in putting an end to negative thought patterns. You no longer dwell on what went wrong or focus on whom you are going to blame. You don't waste time building roadblocks to your success. Instead, you are set free and can now focus on succeeding.” Lorii Myers

The first step in taking responsibility is to be honest with ourselves, and not play the victim.

“The victim mindset dilutes the human potential. By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.” Steve Maraboli

We often deliberately deceive ourselves in many ways; making excuses and justifying why we have to or can’t do something but this is just being a victim of our own self-deception.

“We tell ourselves lies in a distorted attempt to remain sane, but in fact it is the lies that turn us towards insanity.” Matthew Kelly

We are used to telling lies to ourselves about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, our situation using excuses such as “Everything would be alright if...”, “If I had more time” “If I was younger, healthier, richer etc I’d."...

What excuses and lies do you tell yourself?

Once we accept that we are responsible for our actions (or lack of them) then that is when we experience progress and growth and to help us, we can use the principle of positive psychology to concentrate on looking for things that will enable us to move forward and flourish.

“There’s not a chance we’ll reach our full potential until we stop blaming each other and start practicing personal accountability.” John G. Miller

It is important to recognise what things are our responsibility and what are just our perceived responsibility

It is all too easy to take on responsibility for too many things in a quest to make other’s lives easier but in so doing we can disempower those we are trying to support, by unintentionally propping them up and allowing them to continue their own self-sabotaging actions, and in so doing, we can exhaust ourselves physically and mentally and our own life and priorities can become out of balance as we expend our own energy unnecessarily and in the wrong direction.

Our actions, albeit well-intentioned, if not appropriate can diminish the ability of others to take responsibility for themselves, provide an immediate source of someone to blame when things don’t go as they would like, hinder others from working through things at their own pace, based on their own values and restricts their ability to flourish and build confidence in themselves and their own choices.

It is vital to be clear about our boundaries and keep in mind the bigger picture rather than rush in with a knee-jerk reaction based on an emotional response. Sometimes our saying ‘no’ or not choosing to jump in and bail people out can be enough to throw others back on their own resources and force them to face up to their responsibilities and for others the simple act of saying no can be enough to give them the ‘kick up the backside’ and confidence required to ‘step up’ to face what is before them.

Our decisions and subsequent actions become clearer when we base our actions on the values we hold, not our emotions and reactions

“Values are important because they can guide you and motivate you through situations where your feelings might lead you off course. Acting in accordance with your own deepest values is inherently satisfying and fulfilling – even though it often forces you to face your fears.”

Russ Harris

Our personal values are our moral compass and are essential to guide us to know what to say, how to act, how to treat ourselves and others, and what life choices to make. Values are not based on temporary feelings which can be destructive and uncontrollable but on stable facets of conscious choices and decisions i.e. based on evidence and are constructive and controllable.

Our environment can be a determiner of our actions but there are always opportunities within our limitations. We may not always have a choice in our circumstances and environment but we do always have a choice about how to react to those things that are imposed upon us.

When we know our moral principles and use them to guide us rather than our feelings, it can also aid us to find our purpose more easily, make decision-making easier, increase our confidence and help us be more efficient when working through difficult situations.

We take deliberate, intentional action based on our values rather than allow ourselves to be subject to the winds of fate or the whims of others

“You don't make progress by standing on the side lines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” Shirley Chisholm

Our future will be a direct reflection of the decisions we make right now, our actions and our daily habits. Our habits can help us to accept responsibility which leads to growth or avoid responsibility which causes us to stagnate or deteriorate in a downward spiral.

Habits are the building blocks of our character and are not what we say or think but are produced through our consistent actions.

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine”. John C. Maxwell

Developing strength of character requires effort. It is important to be vigilant as to whether it is our character or our ego driving us in our reactions and interactions with others.

“Character - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life - is the source from which self respect springs.” Joan Didion

The future is not something that arbitrarily happens to us, it is an ‘external expression of our internal reality’ (Matthew Kelly). We create our own future whether it is by default or intention.

I love the quote by Sean Patrick Flanery that says ‘Do something that your future self will thank you for’

What are the benefits of taking responsibility?

“The real difference between people is between those who take responsibility for their situation in life and those who blame others.” Marty Rubin

With responsibility comes freedom

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” Eleanor Roosevelt

This quote is well known but we can equally turn it on its head and say ‘with responsibility comes freedom’

When we realise that we have the power over our own lives and we take responsibility for our lives and our actions i.e. accept that we are in charge of our own life, it is easier to start creating and maintaining the life that we want.

Don't ever put your happiness in someone else's hands.” Christopher Barzak

It is essential that we build our lives with our own values and invest in ourselves rather than allow others the power to affect our quality of life. When we find our own meaning in life, and reason for existing and living, we are not destroyed when others let us down or disappear from our lives because our happiness doesn’t depend on someone else.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.” Jean-Paul Sartre

If we put our life and happiness in other people’s hands, we create a house made out of paper rather than solid bricks based on a good foundation (our values)

By taking responsibility for our own actions it improves our relationships with others

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.” Pema Chödrön

There is a very interesting TED Talk by Ray O'Laughlin based on ‘The Man in the Mirror' by Dale Wimbrow. Ray reminds us of the difference between accountability and responsibility.

There is a lot of talk about using others to hold us accountable ( and it can be useful to a limited extent) but at the end of the day, we cannot put the responsibility for our lives, our growth, the changes we want to make in our lives in the hands of anyone else. The only person we are really accountable to is ourselves ; we, not others, are responsible for our lives and the direction it is taking and when we accept this and act on it, this leaves us free to have mutually encouraging relationships with others that are equally balanced.

When we take responsibility, it is showing that we have respect for ourselves and others, and this has a net gain on all of our relationships. By stepping up and owning our behaviour we gain self-respect and the respect of others along the way too.

When we take responsibility, we are bound to make mistakes because we are human. It is important to face up to these mistakes and forgive ourselves and move on and learn from them

“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 is a double edged sword but by accepting responsibility for the things we can and should control, it has a number of positive benefits. Taking responsibility will increase our energy as we won’t be wasting time resisting what is, and it will increase our feelings of happiness and satisfaction about our life as we acknowledge the good things in our life and can take pride in what we have achieved.

Having a proactive, positive approach to life with intentional habits will spill over to other aspects of our life too, will create a growth mindset and enhance our relationships.

“This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don't wait.”

Natalie Goldberg

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