Taking Personal Responsibility

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands.” ~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Taking responsibility is taking control of a situation and owning the consequences of an action. There are two basic types of responsibility direct or personal responsibility and indirect responsibility. Direct responsibility is taking ownership the consequences your own behavior. Indirect responsibility is taking ownership of the consequences another person’s behavior.

At work, taking responsibility sometimes feels like accepting blame or fault for something that you may not have even been a part of creating. A lot of times we fear that if we get blamed for too many bad things at work we might lose the job. It can be hard to work on improving yourself when you don’t have a job or income. The interesting thing about making improvements in your personal life is that as you start applying them you’ll notice changes in the way you handle responsibility in your work life. Your employer will notice too.

As you become adept at taking personal responsibility you’ll see opportunities to take the indirect responsibility for things that are not caused by your actions. Things that happen in your life may not be your fault but it is be your responsibility to fix them. Taking responsibility is not taking the blame for causing a problem. It is taking action when something needs to be fixed. The same applies in the workforce. You may not have written the code that is broken but you can take the responsibility to fix it.

Episode Breakdown

Stop Doing

Avoid playing the blame game.

In order to take personal responsibility you cannot blame others. It could be anything from bad situation growing up to poor relationships or anything. Blaming is the direct opposite of taking responsibility. It puts all the power and ownership in the other person’s hands.

When you blame you let others define who you are. The person at fault likely doesn’t care how you feel about it. Blame tends to result in bitterness, resentment, and powerlessness. Even justified blame doesn’t help you to be happy or successful.

Releasing the blame doesn’t justify the actions of others. What they did is still wrong. It doesn’t ignore the fact that life can be difficult. What it does is to move the focus of your life back to being about you and not them. It allows you to reclaim your freedom and power.

Instead of focusing on who is to blame become a victor by overcoming. Victims look for who’s at fault for their problems. Victors overcome their problems no matter who caused them. Life is not fair and there are times you are the victim. It’s on you whether you stay the victim or you become victorious.

Avoid making excuses and constantly complaining.

Making excuses for yourself doesn’t allow you to learn from your mistakes. This pattern of behavior creates a cognitive bias. Nothing is ever your fault, even when there isn’t anyone else to blame. Without personal accountability you are unable to grow.

When you complain you give up the ability to do anything about a situation. First off you are wasting energy that could be spent on finding as solution. Complaining is an inability to accept what is happening in the here and now. If you can’t do anything about a situation, what does complaining accomplish? This is not the same as a cathartic vent of frustrations to a trusted friend before you take action.

Complaining is just another way of blaming an external force. This traps you in the victim mode. You see the yourself as not having any choices. No-one enjoys being around a complainer.

When you stop complaining and making excuses you silence the negative inner monologue. What happens outside of you doesn’t matter. Your actions are what you control and you are responsible for them. Responsibility is about action, excuses and complaining are about inaction.

Avoid people who bring you down.

The people we spend our time with influence who we are. It sounds like cheesy “dad” advice but it really does affect you. You will start to pick up the habits and mannerisms of the people you are around the most. If you are constantly around toxic people they will bring you down. Being around people that are constantly complaining and blaming will cause you to do the same.

Spending your time with the right people will improve your mindset. Being around happy people will improve your mood. Strong people will encourage you to grow stronger. The kind of people you are looking for are the ones that take personal responsibility in their lives.

It is up to you to choose the people in your life. Look for people that encourage you to grow. You want people that are organized, mature, responsible, positive, and successful. Look for people being productive, especially in areas that you want to thrive.

You need to know the person that you want to be. You should have a plan that defines criteria for success in life. Knowing what is important and not important will guide you in this. With this information identify the values that are important to you. Find people who have the values and traits that you want.

Stop taking things personal.

This is very difficult for the introspective and those that tend to overanalyze things. It’s a very self-centered way of looking at the world. Don’t assume that everything is about you. Disagreement is not a personal attack.

You cannot control what other people think, say, or do. There is no point in worrying about it. Even if it is about you, don’t let that worry you. You only have control over your actions and how you behave.

Don’t make assumptions about what is going on. Ask questions instead. Use affirming statements to yourself such as, “They are talking about …”, etc. Doing these can be very powerful and liberating. You’ll be surprised at the results of simply asking questions.

Stop chasing happiness with outside attachments.

This can be the most difficult for the outwardly focussed. A lot of people associate happiness with having the best of things. This could be the best car, house, phone, etc. It could also be having the best job or best education.

This kind of emotion is like a drug. It is a temporary joy like getting a new toy on Christmas morning. When the excitement is over the joy fades. You’re left wanting more because it’s not lasting.

Happiness is not in what we have. It is in who we are and how we see ourselves. True happiness only comes from within. Stop looking for it outside of yourself and look for how you can become happy within. Then you can be happy even when you have nothing.

Start Doing

Do what you’ll say you’ll do.

Integrity is being honest and having strong moral principles. The whole concept of responsibility relies on doing what you say you will do. You need to be trustworthy in what you are doing and saying. Previous points have been about after something happens, this is about preemptive responsibility.

“Mind what people do, not what they say, for deeds betray a lie” – Terry Goodkind, Wizard’s 5th Rule.

You can’t take responsibility if you don’t do what you say you’ll do. You can say all day long you’ll do something but until you do it nothings is affected. The house doesn’t stop stinking no matter how much you say you’ll take out the trash. It stops stinking after you take the trash out.

Make sure that you are able to act on what you say. Don’t agree or promise anything unless you know that you can accomplish it. Think of “yes” as a contract. Use “no” as an invite to renegotiate the contract. Keep a schedule and immediately put new commitments on there. If unable to keep a commitment own up to the failure. Don’t make excuses. Do what you can to make things right. Be honest with yourself and others.

Live in the present moment.

“There is no future. There is no past. I live each moment as my last.” ~ Rent

Life is in the here and now. The past is gone and we can’t get it back or change it. The future is yet to be so we can only guess at it. This goes back to living in the now from mindfulness.

Take responsibility for the present moment. By doing so you will be able to redeem past mistakes. You’ll also be able to influence the future to be what you want. Don’t obsess over past mistakes or future fears.

Be careful of the thoughts you choose each moment. As you become present in the moment you’ll be aware of your own thoughts and feelings. Rather than only recognizing them in hindsight. You’ll be able to watch what is going one in your head in real time. You’ll be able to redirect thoughts that don’t serve your goals and aspirations. What you do in the present creates the future. So what you do and how you respond to your thoughts and feelings will direct where your life goes.

Use the power of intention.

The power to choose how you look at life is in your hands. You make choices all the time and don’t even realize it. Even when you don’t make a choice you are still making a choice. You are making choices each moment that will affect your future self.

One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that we didn’t have a choice. This is another way of absolving ourselves and avoiding responsibility. It is a fancy way of making excuses by placing blame on circumstances. There is always a choice, though it may be unpleasant. Successful people take responsibility for their choices.

Be intentional in the choices that you make. Start with a vision in mind. You’ll need to know where you want to go with your life, business, relationships, etc. Make choices that move you toward your vision.

Look for the good in people.

We tend to judge others by their behavior not the intentions behind that behavior. We also tend to judge ourselves by intentions. When you understand where someone is coming from their behavior makes sense. That does not justify behavior, only puts it in perspective.

Avoid placing labels on people. These labels give you a sense of entitlement to act a certain way around them. One of the worst is “non-techie” which gives you the sense of being smarter than the person with this label. A lot of doctors and lawyers and people much smarter than you are “non-techie”. This tends to happen to people closest to you more than others. She’s the responsible one in the relationship so I can be irresponsible.

Take responsibility in conversations by listening to understand. It’s too easy to only listen in order to respond. Instead of preparing a counterpoint or response ask questions. Do it to understand where the person is coming from or what they are saying, not to play Socrates.

Focus on taking action.

This has been an underlying theme in taking responsibility. You cannot be nor show you are responsible without action. It is the most critical piece to taking responsibility.

Without action you’ll never achieve your goals. If you don’t move toward becoming responsible you will stay the same. Or worse you may even backslide to be less responsible. Without action you cannot take responsibility.

If you want to make change but aren’t able, you are benefiting from the lack of change. In order to change you must first recognize what is keeping you where you currently stay. You got into this position for a reason. Identify what you are getting out of the situation then see how you can what you need to do to change.

Start with small steps toward becoming the responsible person you want to be. So long as you are doing work you are moving forward. Your life will improve even with small steps. Small is a relative term. What is small to you may be huge to someone else. It all boils down to the habits you make and maintaining them.

Book Club

Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence

This book is about languages specifically sociolinguistics which is the sociological study of how language influence society and how society influences language. In the introduction Dr. McGinty explains why, even though we’ve almost our entire lives speaking, we need to learn to learn how to talk. The problem she points out is that we did not receive formal training in speaking and therefore do not know the full nature and power of the language we use. She breaks it down into a dichotomy of two types of language: from the center and from the edge. The first two chapters describe each of these. Language from the Center is authoritative and takes the lead. It conveys competence, knowledge, and authority. Language from the edge on the other hand is inquiring and exploratory. It conveys approachability and inclusion. It asks questions, contextualizes, and avoids arguments. In these first few chapters Dr. McGinty not only defines these two types of language but explains the necessity of each and begins to talk about when to use each one to be most effective.

Tricks of the Trade

Taking responsibility is power. If you can fix a problem, you gain power in a situation. Often, this translates into personal and political power. If, instead, you avoid problems, you are essentially wasting the opportunity.

Editor’s Notes:

We both had microphone issues when recording this episode. We addressed this to the best of our ability in post but there are still some pops and static.

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