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I bet that, at some point in your day today (if not already), you’ll come across such a platitude in one or more of your social media feeds:
You are a strong, independent person”
“You deserve to think highly of yourself”
“Happiness is a choice
… and so on.
I actually just jumped on my Instagram feed and found those. Lest you think me dismissive or derisive of such sentiments though, I am not! I have no problem with messages of empowerment, but they have to lead to action and be routed in personal responsibility. Without personal responsibility they are at best ineffective, and at worst harmful.
In my coaching programs I talk about my “seven pillars.” These are, as the name suggests, the core tenets of creating lasting, meaningful change in your life.
Very often, the change people seek through my work is financial. Nevertheless, the applications of this go to all areas of life, because we are not just our finances, our relationships or our physical health — our lives are the sum total of many different aspects. So if we want to exact change in one area, we have to start with the common denominator in all areas: Ourselves!
The importance of accepting personal responsibility
This is what “empowerment” is all about, really. Unless you accept full, personal responsibility for everything in your life; you’re giving away your power to change it. This is where so many people go wrong when they set out to change their lives.
They sign up for a course. They change their hair color. Maybe they take up a hobby or start jogging. At some point though, the train runs into the buffers. Reality kicks in, and something goes “wrong.”
Now, whether it actually did or did not is a matter of perspective. But to you: It’s big-time FUBAR. So, what do you do? Out of instinct, the finger starts pointing outwards. You look at all of the extenuating circumstances that have conspired to thwart your efforts.
It’s only natural that we do this, but it’s of vital importance that you are able to train your conscious mind to intervene and halt the process. What’s going on during these moments is that your ego is feeling bruised. Rather than accepting responsibility, your instinct is to search for reasons why it wasn’t your fault, in order to save face.
Stop giving away your power
If you sat down with yourself at such a crucial juncture, and actually asked “What’s more important: saving face (or appearing to) in the moment, or learning lessons so that I can make more informed decisions going forward?” You know full well what the answer would be.
And come on — who are you fooling? You know that people can see right through what you’re doing anyway. So, why waste your energy on keeping up the pretense that you’re never to blame, when you could be turning those opportunities to learn into gold?!
Why do I put the emphasis on “gold” (i.e. finances)? We know that there is a solid correlation between reported life satisfaction and income. It’s consistent across the world that those living in higher-income countries report greater life satisfaction.
Find your purpose
Deeper than mere income though, I would argue, is a sense of purpose. And I’m not the only one. Cynthia Vinny wrote an excellent article on the subject of eudaimonic and hedonic happiness. As she points out, both hedonic (short-term pleasure based) and eudaimonic (higher-purpose oriented) happiness are needed in order for a person to live a truly satisfying life. So … you need to take full responsibility for your life and find a purpose. How?
There are lots of exercises and practices that you can do, in order to readjust your subconscious mind. I use many in my coaching that I’ve tried and tested over the years, but the key is: Find ones that work for you. If you don’t want to have to engage in potentially endless trial and error, start by getting to know yourself better.
Understand how you work and what will work in alignment with you
Again, there are lots of ways that we can do that. I’ve even developed some, but for the purposes of this article (and the sake of brevity), I’d encourage you to just bring your awareness to the need for understanding who you are at your core.
Taking personal responsibility really starts with this. A big reason why you’ve perhaps struggled with it in the past is that your subconscious programming has always fought back. The chemical response that puts your back up as soon as your culpability is raised, is all a part of how your brain is wired.
Once you can really get comfortable with the idea that taking personal responsibility isn’t about fault-finding, but instead is about empowering yourself, that resistance will start to weaken. There’s no need to push back on something if you truly feel that it is there for your betterment. That’s easier said than done, though, because while you may be able to intellectualize the notion that it’s empowering, your subconscious will be less inclined to agree. You need to drip-feed supporting evidence to it by using emotional energy.
So, next time you identify an opportunity to take personal responsibility and do so, celebrate it! I mean it. Physically move about like you’ve just achieved something huge. That will begin training your brain to be comfortable with personal responsibility, and eventually, it will start seeking out more opportunities for it. Once you are comfortable with the notion that you are the sole architect of your life, it’s time to nail down your purpose. What is it that is going to give your actions, your growth and ultimately your life, meaning?
Purpose not only gives you meaning, but it also gives you that all-important guiding light. It’s the north star that will keep you oriented towards a goal and give you clarity when presented with choice or hardship. With a strong enough purpose, the “hows” will take care of themselves.