Taking personal responsibility is one of the key principles of self-development. If you’ve read a few self-help books, you will have come across this idea already.
All successful people know the importance of taking personal responsibility. It may be a mindset trait that they have developed or one they do naturally.
In this article, I will cover what taking responsibility is and why it’s important. I’ll then cover 10 ways to help you know if you are taking personal responsibility or not.
You can use these as a road map to assess how well you take responsibility in your life. I cover many personal examples of how I took personal responsibility to help me get to where I am today.
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What is Taking Personal Responsibility?
It’s being responsible for how you think about, deal with, and react to the events in your life. It’s not (in my view) being responsible for the actual events themselves.
At the time of writing this article, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. I believe that I am not personally responsible for this pandemic coming into my life and the health and financial consequences of this. This is clearly outside of my control.
However, I can take personal responsibility for how I think about it, deal with it, and how I react or respond to it. I can choose the meaning that I give to this event.
Taking personal responsibility is something you continually work on. You always have an opportunity to take more personal responsibility.
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Why Is Taking Personal Responsibility Important?
It gives you more choices for how you think about a situation or event, and more options on how to respond to it.
It gives you more control over the situation. When an unexpected or negative event happens, you may feel a lack of control over it.
However, when you take personal responsibility, you regain some control. This gives you greater personal power. You feel you can influence or change the situation.
It helps you focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. It enables you to go from victim to victor.
Taking personal responsibility allows you to go from effect to cause. You realize and understand that these things are happening for you, rather than to you. They are happening for a reason.
I want you to understand that where you are today is largely based on the decisions and actions that you took in the past. It’s essential to take responsibility for where you are now, even if it’s not where you want to be.
Taking personal responsibility is understanding that the positive decisions and actions made today will lead to the future you want.
10 Ways to Know If You Are Taking Personal Responsibility
So what do people that take personal responsibility do? Well, I’ve identified 10 specific mindset and behavior strategies that let you know when you are taking personal responsibility. These are the ones I use, along with many other successful people.
1. Setting and Achieving Goals
If you don’t set goals, you will be part of someone else’s goal! Here is a personal example.
About 12 years ago, I worked in a law firm in London as a software trainer. Several colleagues left the company at the same time. This created a lot of extra work for me to keep things going until we replaced them.
Week after week, I left the office at 7pm. On my way to the tube station, I would walk past people relaxing and having fun in pubs and restaurants. I felt sad and despondent as I walked past them.
At that time, I didn’t have any meaningful goals. I enjoyed the job and was happy to put in the extra hours. I regret that now though. If I had other goals, I would have worked more efficiently and made those other goals happen.
So when you don’t set goals or have a plan, it’s easy to get sucked in to someone else’s goal or plan. If you’re an employee, this will often be the company’s goals or plans.
Setting and achieving your goals is an important component to taking personal responsibility. I encourage you to set big goals. Then work your way down to smaller goals and then daily goals or habits.
This will help you set the direction of your life, rather than unconsciously following a direction created by someone else.
Besides setting goals, you want to live intentionally. Be intentional about how you spend your time and the activities you do. Here is an example.
You’ve set a goal to drink less alcohol, and tonight you are going to the pub. Being intentional is deciding in advance how many drinks you will have and sticking to that. If you’ve decided on 2 drinks and a friend offers to buy you a 3rd drink, then you can make an instant decision to have another drink or not. Even if you have the 3rd drink, this is far better than not being intentional, and having 3 or more drinks without even thinking about it.
You can also be intentional about how much time you spend watching TV or Netflix. Or about who you spend time with.
And when you don’t set goals or live intentionally, years go by with little or no change. You remain stuck in the same dead-end job. You are not where you want to be financially. Or you go backwards. This is especially the case with health when you don’t look after it.
Many people that don’t set goals go through a midlife crisis in their 40s or 50s. This is when they regret the things they did or didn’t do when they were younger.
If you are in your 20s or 30s, it’s so important to take personal responsibility. To set goals, live intentionally, so you don’t have regrets later in life.
2. Overcoming Fears
You are taking personal responsibility when you are regularly overcoming fears. Fear is the biggest barrier to success. It’s what causes you to live an average life. A life where you settle for what is, rather than what you really want. Overcoming fears is your gateway to a fantastic life.
What are the specific fears that stop you? Here are the major ones.
The 3 Types of Fear
The first is fear of the work involved. Is it too difficult, painful, challenging or time-consuming?
Second is fear of success. If I am successful, how will people think of me? What additional responsibilities will I have?
Third is fear of rejection. This is big! It’s fear of what other people might think or say when you venture out on a fresh path. Especially if that path differs greatly from what most other people do. It’s rarely other people that stop you, it’s you!
Fear stands for False Expectations Appearing Real.
We blow things up in our mind and make it much bigger than it really needs to be. We then believe it’s real and don’t take action. You’ve probably experienced times in the past where you took action to overcome a fear. You then asked yourself “what was all that about?” or “why was this such an enormous deal in my mind?”
In the 90s when I was dating, I had 2 big fears. These were:
- Talking to women and getting their phone number (there was no internet, email, social media or online dating apps back then).
- Picking up the phone and asking for a date (for those lucky times when I got a phone number!)
When I confronted these fears by taking action, I felt a sense of elation and aliveness afterwards, like a positive dopamine hit. This feeling would drive me to do more scary or uncomfortable things. When I focussed more on how I would feel afterwards, it was so much easier to do anything that took me out of my comfort zone.
I also realized that these 2 fears were stopping me from relationships and love. This made me more motivated to take action and confront these fears.
At school, when I was 11 or 12, I could swim. However, I was afraid of jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool. This went on for months and the fear got bigger and bigger.
When I finally jumped (with a little help from a teacher, but that’s another story), I felt wonderful with an amazing feeling of elation. I also realized that I had made this far bigger in my mind than it needed to be.
So taking action is key to overcoming fears and being responsible for your life.
3. Responding Positively to Life Events
You know you are taking personal responsibility when you positively deal with life events. As I explained earlier, you cannot control everything that happens to you, but you can control your response.
E + R = O (Events + Responses = Outcome)
Unsuccessful people blame the event for the lack of results or outcomes. They don’t understand how their actions or responses (or lack of them) led to this.
Successful people change their responses to the event until they get the outcome or result they want.
So what responses could you change? You could start with communication. How could you communicate differently to get a better result? How could you influence other people more?
Then change how you think about and imagine this event in your mind. This will then change your feelings and influence the actions you take. You have complete control over how you think and imagine.
As I’m writing this article, we are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s been fascinating to see how people and organizations have responded positively to this. Over the last few weeks, there have been online church services, virtual choirs, entire companies working from home and therapists running their sessions online.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to motivate people to think creatively and implement unique solutions quickly. It forces you to step up and do things you believed you couldn’t do.
4. Making Your Own Decisions
You are taking personal responsibility when you make your own decisions. It’s deciding about what you want, rather than basing your decisions on what someone else wants.
Let’s say your parents want you to become a lawyer or doctor. However, you want to be a musician or internet entrepreneur. It’s very easy to get pushed into what your parents want you to do, especially when making these decisions in your teenage years. You take personal responsibility when you stand up to them. When you follow your heart and your passion.
It’s also about the small decisions that you make every day. Decisions about what foods to eat or whether to exercise. It’s deciding to make regular time for your own personal development and mental health, rather than letting work and other priorities get in the way.
Every daily decision you make will compound over the years and dramatically affect your life in 5, 10 or 15 years’ time. If you make poor food choices every day, your future health will suffer in negative and predictable ways. If you make daily decisions to work on your mental health, you’ll be a much more positive and resourceful person in the future.
Don’t underestimate the power of making the right decisions consistently every day. They will compound and add up over time.
5. Not Blaming Other People
When you blame the government, spouse, parents, friends, boss, or anyone else, you are not taking personal responsibility.
As soon as you blame someone else, you take away your power to change it. You’ve surrendered your power to someone else.
You feel like a victim and believe you have no control. You miss out on learning what you could do differently next time.
If your boss says or does something that makes you feel angry, then you could blame your boss for your anger. Or you could do some inner work to find out what triggered this anger. Ask questions like:
- What precisely did my boss say or do that made me feel angry?
- What was I doing (or not doing) that may have caused my boss to act this way?
So you can see how taking responsibility can lead to thinking and acting in more positive ways.
Also realize that it’s not someone else that makes you feel a certain way. They may trigger it, but the feeling comes from within you.
6. Not Complaining
To complain about anything, you need to believe that something better exists. Otherwise you have nothing to compare it against. So complaining is comparing what is with how you think it should be.
Complaining is a choice. People complain to feel better temporarily. Others may take pity on you, and that makes you feel better. Complaining can be a way of releasing anger too.
However, complaining is an excuse for not taking action and not taking personal responsibility. Complaining is an alternative to facing the fear or risk you need to take. It distracts you from taking action.
Complaining solves nothing, and it keeps you stuck.
7. Taking Charge of Your Thoughts and Feelings
The average person has 60,000 thoughts each day and we ignore most of them. It’s essential to understand that these thoughts are not you! You are the observer of your thoughts. You can decide the thoughts to pay attention to and the thoughts to ignore or challenge.
If you identify strongly with your thoughts and feel that they are part of who you are, then this article will help you learn how to become the observer of your thoughts instead.
Do you put things off when you don’t feel like doing them? People that take personal responsibility rarely do that. They take action despite how they feel. So when you don’t feel like doing something, and procrastination sets in, take action anyway! This is what successful people do.
I often record videos and write articles when I don’t feel like doing them. However, once I start, I feel more motivated and inspired and it’s easy to keep going. So feelings follow action.
It’s important to know when to stop too. Listen to your body. Are you feeling tired or burned out? Know when it’s time to stop and take a break.
8. Not Making Excuses
This is like blame, especially if another person is your excuse. Perhaps you blame your parents for not giving you certain opportunities when you were younger.
However, most excuses are about you lacking a skill or personality trait. Here are some examples of common excuses.
- I’m not smart enough.
- I’m not intelligent enough.
- I’m not outgoing enough.
Time can also be an excuse. For example:
- I’m too busy to start an exercise program right now.
- It’s not the right time to start an online business.
Or it can be other external factors like the weather!
So why do people make excuses?
First, it allows them to relinquish power and control. You can say “it’s not my fault”. However, this also removes the ability to change the situation. It becomes outside of your control.
Second, excuses make you temporarily feel better. You don’t have to do something that is difficult or challenging. But feeling better doesn’t last. Soon it changes to feelings of regret.
Finally, making excuses provides an alternative to facing the fear. It’s much easier to make an excuse than confront something that is scary. This could be a fear of rejection, failure or even a fear of success!
The problem with excuses is that you know they’re not true or helpful when you first make them. However, as you continue to make the same excuses, they form a belief. The excuses become true for you. You then act as if they are true.
So making excuses takes away your power to change the situation. You relinquish personal responsibility and the ability to take effective action.
9. Know What Brings Happiness
Understand that happiness is not linked to a future goal. It’s a habit that you can cultivate daily. Happiness comes from helping, caring and serving other people. You’ll feel happy when you’re living to your values, doing what is important to you and feeling that your life has purpose and meaning.
Happiness is about being grateful for what you already have.
As I write this article during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m grateful for many things that I previously took for granted. I’m healthy, I’m making some money, my family and friends are all safe and well. I get to experience another day of my life. You can always find things to be grateful for, when you look for them.
10. Put Yourself First and Help Others
The last way to know that you are taking personal responsibility is when you put yourself first, but help others as well. It’s when you understand that you can’t help other people effectively when you don’t feel good about yourself. Or when you don’t take time out for yourself.
You can still help others, but it won’t be as easy or enjoyable when you don’t look after yourself too.
To help you understand this, remember why you always put on your own oxygen mask on a plane, before helping others.
So this is about taking time for your own personal development. It’s creating time to learn and look after your own health and fitness. This gives you the knowledge, skills, health, energy and vitality to help others more effectively.
When you help others, do this with a sense of gratitude and not as a chore. You’ll feel much better as a result. The people you help will feel better too.
Use this article as a roadmap for taking personal responsibility. Look at each of the 10 ways and assess the ones that you do well, and the ones that you could improve. Be totally honest.
As I mentioned earlier, you can always take more personal responsibility. It’s something that I constantly work on. Your brain finds it very easy to blame and make excuses. So find opportunities to take personal responsibility every day. You’ll then feel empowered to change and create the life that you truly want and deserve.
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