Life is full of choices, and what you make of them determines your entire experience. Sometimes you may swim against the current, and other times you may go with the flow. Recognizing that the outcome of your life is a product of your decisions is what accepting personal responsibility is all about. Weather any storm that may come your way like the captain of a ship, since after all, calm waters never made a skillful sailor.
Two Different Philosophies on How Our Lives Are Shaped
In the “Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health,” sociology professors Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky describe how some people “attribute the events and conditions of their lives to their own actions, while others believe their lives are shaped by forces external to themselves, like luck, chance, fate or powerful others.”
On one end of the spectrum, you have people who hold a creator mindset, while on the other end you have people who hold a victim mindset. One is empowered, and the other is powerless. One believes they have a say in the outcomes and experiences of their lives, while the other believes that regardless of what they do, external forces will dictate their future. Who are you, and more importantly, who do you want to be?
Chance Vs. Choice: What Is Your Personal Philosophy?
Responsibility is a contraction of the words “response” and “ability.” In other words, your ability to respond to your environment. Skip Downing, author of “On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life,” defines responsibility as “the ability to respond wisely at each fork in the road, your choices moving you ever closer to your desired outcomes and experiences. The opposite is waiting passively for your fate to be determined by luck or powerful others.”
You can choose to be the creator of your own destiny, seeking solutions, taking action and trying something new when prompted with any stimulus from your environment. Or you can choose to be the victim of your world, blaming, complaining and finding excuses for your choices when prompted with a stimulus from your environment. The former helps you achieves your goals and accept responsibility, while the latter seldom helps you to achieve either.
When blame and guilt come up, recognize that they are ways of evading the difficulties involved in tackling an issue. If you find yourself looking to blame others or yourself, consider thinking in terms of acceptance as opposed to judgment. It’s a very simple distinction but it is powerful because it can help you step back from your conditioned response patterns. Granted you have your way of looking at things, but sometimes you may forget that you are making choices and those choices have consequences that profoundly affect your relationships and your perspective on life.
An Example of How Proactive Personal Responsibility Can Help Avoid Trouble
In this day and age we choose to provide mountains of data and information about ourselves online. In “Law Practice Today,” Avery Blank discusses how tech companies such as Google and Facebook “fulfill their respective missions by helping people answer all sorts of questions and stay connected with family and friends.” However, the product of some noble missions can invite ignoble missions of others. Just like accessibility and openness of information can lead to advances in the information age, it can also lead to the misuse of information you provide, for example to engage in identity theft or fraud.
You are capable of taking some basic steps to accept responsibility and protect yourself to avoid finding yourself in scenarios like these. For example, you can choose to withhold personal information, protect your accounts with proper security measures — such as frequently changing your passwords and using complex characters — and notifying the appropriate party if a breach occurs so the entity can take the necessary steps to remedy it. In security as well as other areas in your life, accepting responsibility pays off.
The Psychological Benefits of Having a Choice
Compared to the belief that outcomes are determined by forces external to oneself (also known as determinism), Ross & Mirowsky discuss that if you believe your locus of control lies internally, that belief links you to low levels of psychological distress. Conversely, if you believe that your locus of control is external, that belief associates you with higher levels of psychological distress.
Jennifer Hamady put it this way in “Psychology Today:” “By distancing ourselves from our own potential role in problems, we also disregard the possibility of our place in the solutions, as well as the joy and affinity that come from problem solving effectively together.” Consequently, owning your choices and accepting responsibility increases your self-esteem and elicits positive emotions of empowerment.
Remember that growth is a process, not an event. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate toward accepting responsibility.