When things aren't going your way, it's hard to accept your own role in the situation. Often, it's much easier to look externally – at other people, at the circumstances, or at just plain bad luck. However, while all of these things can be factors, failing to take personal responsibility can block you from becoming your best self.
Making excuses provides short-term comfort, but it holds you back from growing and improving, and from avoiding similar mistakes in the future. But how do you know if you're failing to take personal responsibility, and what can you do about it?
If you're ready to empower yourself by taking responsibility and leaving excuses behind, this article is a perfect place to start. We'll explore the key signs that you have difficulty accepting personal responsibility, explain the benefits of changing your approach, and provide concrete tips and reminders that can help you stay on track.
Perhaps someone has pointed out that you have a habit of making excuses, or maybe you're feeling stuck and are ready to try anything that might change your mindset and behavior.
However, if taking personal responsibility has been difficult for you in the past, know that this is perfectly understandable.
It can seem scary and negative to think about how we contribute to our own difficulties, and if you already suffer from low self-esteem then it makes sense that you'd want to protect yourself.
Thankfully, taking personal responsibility doesn't have to be frightening or heavily self-critical. Instead, it can mark an empowering new phase of your life in which you take control of who you want to be and how you want to spend your time.
To see why and how, let's delve further into the difference between taking and avoiding responsibility.
So, how do you know that you need to work on accepting responsibility? We've already gestured toward the kind of excuse-making mentality you might be tempted to adopt, but we'll now consider the profile of a responsibility-avoider in more depth. Do any of the following signs sound familiar? If so, read on to see how you can start making changes.
If you have a victim mentality, this means that you view yourself as powerless. You're someone who constantly asks questions like, why do bad things happen? Or why do I always seem to get treated badly at some point?
While it's natural to feel bad when things go wrong, a victim mentality involves indulging in self-pity and feeling sorry for yourself at the exclusion of considering productive lessons you can draw from your current situation.
In contrast, when you stop feeling sorry for yourself then you're able to focus on fostering a positive mentality that pushes you toward change and away from stagnation.
If you want to leave the victim mentality behind, start asking yourself “What can I do to make things better?”
This encourages you to see what your power is and how you might be contributing to the problem. Secondly, try emptying your negative thoughts and feelings of self-pity into a journal and then leaving them behind.
Of course, others will sometimes play a role in negative situations in your life – sometimes by accident, and occasionally on purpose.
However, it's important not to assume that others are entirely to blame for everything that goes wrong. Blame shifting keeps you trapped in the same cycle, making the same mistakes and avoiding the same responsibilities.
If you want to learn how to stop blaming others, it's helpful to dig into the psychological reasons for blaming others.
In particular, as noted in the introduction of this article, we often do this sort of thing because we find it hard to accept our own flaws.
Work on embracing your flaws – you don't have to be perfect to be good enough, and everyone makes mistakes! In addition, develop a practice of questioning your blaming practice. When you say “It's all ____'s fault!”, take this as a prompt to stop and ask, “But what role did I play?'.
Making excuses sometimes takes the form of blaming others, but there are further ways to avoid personal responsibility by making excuses.
In particular, you might start to take responsibility and then veer away into explaining to yourself that the situation wasn't really under your control. For example, suppose you make a mistake on a work assignment.
You might acknowledge that this isn't your boss's fault, or the fault of any of your coworkers. However, you might say things like “Well, I was late to work that day because of bad traffic, and the wording of the assignment was quite complicated, so I couldn't really have done anything differently.”
So, how to stop making excuses. It takes time and effort to stop making excuses, but the key is challenging your thinking.
Every time something goes wrong, ask yourself to find at least one thing you could do differently next time to help get a better result.
Complaining takes up a lot of energy, but it's an easy habit to fall into if you find it tough to take personal responsibility. In some ways, complaining is just a way of externally expressing some of the above signs – blaming others, viewing yourself as a victim, and making excuses.
You might do it in your journal or do it out loud to friends, but either way, it completely distracts you from any role you might have played in your own discontent.
One thing that can help you to stop complaining is to set a time limit.
Try to get it all out within five minutes, for example, viewing it as a cathartic kind of purge. Then, move on to being productive and proactive.
A second strategy that can be useful is to make yourself accountable. Tell your close friends that you're working on complaining less, and let them remind you if you're overdoing it as an accountability partner.
Armed with a clear idea of what it means to have a habit of avoiding responsibility, let's move on to think about why this all matters so much. As it turns out, accepting personal responsibility can completely transform your life. This should give you the inspiration that you need to start shifting your habits and holding yourself accountable.
Firstly, no matter what your life goals may be, taking personal responsibility goes a long way toward helping you meet those goals. Ask yourself: what's your purpose, or your direction in life? What are the values and aims that undergird all the choices you make? Setting life goals has a huge amount to do with being disciplined in your actions.
In other words, by mindfully approaching each day with a plan for what you want to do, the habits you want to cultivate, and the place you want to direct your energy.
When you don't take responsibility, you block yourself from your life goals by surrendering control. You say that whether you get to where you want to go is more about other people and about luck.
In contrast, when taking personal responsibility you see that all of this is fundamentally up to you – this opens up a whole new perspective on what you can achieve.
When you accept and see that you have responsibility for yourself, your actions and your own life, you start to become self-aware.
What is self-awareness? This is when you learn to develop an ever-richer picture of who you and what you want, and doing so has knock-on effects on all sorts of other areas of your life.
Why is self-awareness important? Because it means understanding the reality of your own strengths and weaknesses and how to use all of those to your advantage. The benefits of self-awareness also include more mature relationships with better communication.
Your potential is closed off if you can't accept that you could be contributing to the negatives in your life.
Deep down, you have a sense that there are things you could be working on.
However, you won't allow yourself to look at those things or to do that work.
There's a wonderful feedback link between self-awareness and taking responsibility for yourself – each of these traits continuously enhances the other. Consequently, you become increasingly empowered and increasingly knowledgeable.
At first, you might not see why taking more responsibility for yourself increases your happiness. For example, isn't it uncomfortable and unpleasant to think about your weaknesses and the ways you could do better? Won't that make you sadder rather than happier?
The answer is that it doesn't have to – not if you take the attitude that we all have room for improvements and that making mistakes doesn't undermine your value.
In addition, there's something truly liberating about taking responsibility for your own happiness. In particular, you realize that to a large extent, when considering how to be happier, it's already in your control.
It's not up to your partner, your friends or your family to make you happy, and you can choose to be happier than you are.
So, instead of viewing yourself as being at the whims of fate every day, you can wake up and ask yourself “How do I want to feel today? And what can I do to make that happen?”.
The sense of control discussed above with respect to happiness also extends beyond your emotions. Consider that when you take responsibility, you can take control of your life in all respects. As you begin to view yourself as being personally responsible for the life you live, you start to realize that you can decide what you want to pursue, and when you want to pursue it.
In a nutshell, a shift in mindset doesn't happen to you but rather happen through you. It's considered ‘growth mindset vs fixed mindset‘. You're in command of what your future looks like, in every area – your dating, career, fitness and your family life.
In contrast, the old mentality involved thinking that others control your life, limiting your choices and keeping you stuck. When it finally dawns on you that this isn't true, the relief can be truly incredible.
Finally, a huge element of taking responsibility for yourself is a willingness to answer for what you do – to consider what happens as a result of your behaviors and choices, and to honestly evaluate those outcomes.
As suggested above, this adds up to doing something different in the future when things don't work out. Consequently, the gap between you and your goals gets shorter and shorter at a faster rate.
As with many aspects of taking responsibility, self-accountability can sound like a heavyweight to carry at first. It can sound as though you'll live a life of self-recrimination and self-doubt.
However, once you start to practice it, you'll see that it frees you up to abandon the things that don't work for you and to lean into the best parts of yourself.
What's more, it makes your social life much better. Instead of blaming others, you apologize when appropriate and little things never get a chance to become chronic grudges.
To take personal responsibility, the biggest step you have to take is deciding that you want to stop making excuses.
However, it's helpful to have techniques on hand to keep you on track.
Having reminders you can refer to when it becomes hard to avoid the urge to blame others is especially good. These reminders will help to stick to your plan and stay consistently accountable to yourself.
When you catch yourself focusing all your resentment and anger on another person, stop and take a few deep breaths. Pull back from your urge to blame, and focus on yourself. How did you get here? What happened? If you could do the situation over, what would you change?
When you hear consistent moaning coming out of your mouth to friends, family or colleagues, catch yourself and change direction. It's okay to say something like “I just realized I'm moaning about this – let me change track.” Ask yourself: what's the positive in this situation, if there is any? If not, how can I move forward?
Add a personal reflection period to every day to stop you from analyzing the past and stressing about the future. Whether it's a guided meditation, mindfulness exercises, or just a walk, find time to zone into the present moment.
Set your goals in clear, unambiguous language. Write them down (write an intention statement) and pin them up somewhere if it helps, and stick to them. Focus on these intentions throughout the day, and let your guiding question not be “Why me?” but “What can I do in order to turn my intentions into reality?”.
We all hit roadblocks, but when you do it's important to view them as beatable challenges. How can you overcome them? What strategies can you use? These are not signs you'll be permanently stuck or that you're powerless. They're not problems but rather prompts to grow beyond your present self.
Finally, don't look to your partner, your friends, your children or anyone else to make sure you're happy. Your happiness is up to you, which is both a great gift and a great responsibility. If you want to feel a certain way, explore how you can get there – don't ask others to take you there.
Now that you fully see why and how taking personal responsibility can change your life, why not take the next step into your empowerment? Whatever your goals and values, you can make these the center of your existence with the help of manifestation techniques. As the Law of Attraction teaches, our intentions and our desires shape what we receive from the universe – so if you're taking responsibility, you're deciding what you'll get from the world around you.
Exercises like saying positive affirmations, doing creative visualizations and creating dream boards support the idea that you create your own future. When you use the Law of Attraction effectively, you get more and more evidence that taking responsibility works! Unlike making excuses, it provides you with a path to being the very best version of yourself.