“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
“They” say things happen at the “right” time. For me hearing a presentation, live, by Jack Canfield, came at the perfect time.
I was in San Diego, the traveling babysitter for my precious 5-month old granddaughter, while my daughter attended a nutrition conference. It was an all around win-win situation—a new place to sightsee and of course spend quality (alone) time with baby Rachel and daughter Penina.
When I found out Jack Canfield was the final key speaker, I jumped at the chance to attend. And the topic certainly resonated with me—“getting from where you are to where you want to be.” Now how’s that for someone in transition working to carve out a new path!
There were a lot of takeaways, fabulous ideas to hold onto; so much so that I’ve been carrying around his book, The Success Principles, and studying it since I got home.
One thing that really speaks to me is this idea of taking 100% responsibility for one’s life.
As a society, we are so quick to assign blame and pull out all the excuses as to why something did or did not happen.
All the “He made me, she made me….” finger pointing. There’s a reason why “the dog ate it” became such a classic excuse.
We relinquish all power when we go there. Where are we in this? I know that by nature many of us are passive recipients of life and are at the mercy of what befalls us.
In my workshops with parents on teaching responsibility, many are stuck or love acting in their role as helicopter parents, swooping down to save, rescue, and do all for their kids—all under the guise of, “The more I do for my child, the better parent I am.”
And therefore what are we teaching our kids when they come in to class and tell the teacher, “My mom forgot to pack my lunch”?
Then there’s the parent who comes ranting to school, “Don’t suspend my little Stevie for calling Andy names and hitting him in the playground; his sister does that to him at home, it’s no big deal.”
We are facilitating the perpetuation of an entitled breed of human beings.
In my practice as a therapist, clients would talk for years about being stuck because of what their dysfunctional nuclear families did to them. “My mother did this, my father that…”
And then of course there’s me. What comes all too naturally for me is my quick ability to find fault with others, to pass judgment and criticize.
Who is to blame—why, my mother of course, queen of “judgmentalism.” I fight against these tendencies constantly. But they do rear their ugly head often enough. I guess it’s in my bloodstream. I’m aware of it; I work at it. I know where it comes from; therefore that explains it but it certainly does not excuse it.
This is my problem, my issue. What matters is how I handle it and work to respond differently—to catch myself while it’s doing its internal dance before it parts from my lips.
Not owning up to our actions—this takes away our part in doing anything different. We simply remain stuck while we continue to complain and feel miserable in our status quo of negativity.
We don’t have to worry about any discomfort of stepping out and trying on any new responses in this place.
There is no disqualifying the hurts and pain of the past. Our past, along with its inevitable issues and problems, contribute to who we are.
But we can go beyond the pain of our “stuff” and create new and good lives despite….
But we first must take charge of ourselves and decide we are capable of doing, being, and acting differently. We have to decide it’s up to us and not pass along our power to the blame and excuse game.
Assigning blame and making excuses keeps us victimized. We don’t have to do anything different because it’s not about us; it’s about someone or something else. We’re simply the recipient.
We may in fact be the recipient of external forces outside our control, but we have the control over our reactions and responses in what we do and how we handle it.
Ah, but beginning to look at ourselves and our responses might shake us up a bit. It means we might have to make a move, do something different, or try something new. That can be scary.
Steps to take to begin taking responsibility for our life:
1. Decide you’re going to take on this new way of thinking. It is a different mind-set.
2. Make the conscious decision that it’s up to you.
3. Read some great books (or audio tapes) out there on this idea—by Wayne Dyer, of course Jack Canfield, and Eckhart Tolle. I recommend Madeline Levine’s The Price of Privilege.
4. Pick one thing and decide you’re going to respond differently—for example, when you’re stuck in traffic, decide you’re going to have a different response. Instead of getting all worked up, take some deep breaths and relax back into your seat with some good music on.
5. Put a visual Stop sign up in your mind when you feel yourself becoming defensive and ready to blame.
6. Apologize for something sincerely without attaching any “and” or “but” to it. “I’m sorry I raised my voice, but I couldn’t help it.” The “but” disqualifies the apology. Take responsibility for the reaction of yelling.
7. Take an action step, however small or inconsequential it may seem, toward something you want to attain.
8. Empower yourself with “I can” and “I will” statements. “I can give this talk.” “I will write this paper.” Then the juices start flowing and we rev ourselves up with positive energy. (Possibly some fear, too, but we will push through that.)
The internal stop sign goes up with the “I won’t” and “I can’t,” and we cut ourselves off from any creative or out-of-the-box thinking that might yield some unexpected, “Yeah, I can do this.”
9. Adopt the attitude, “change begins with me.”
10. Step outside your comfort zone. Try a different behavior or response to a familiar scenario. If you’re always running late in the morning madness and snapping at everyone in frustration, you can try getting most things ready the night before; try getting up earlier to get ready first; or decide to infuse yourself with some quiet time while everyone else is still sleeping.
This type of thinking and acting isn’t always easy, and it can feel like it’s too much effort, but becoming proactive in creating the life you want will yield tremendous results. You don’t need that big new happening to occur; you’ll see and feel it in the small changes. Those will be the stepping stones to continue onward.
Photo by Shot in the Blue
About Harriet Cabelly
Harriet Cabelly, LCSW is a therapist specializing in grief, loss. and critical life situations. She's also a speaker, author, and group leader. Harriet works from the lens of positive psychology and existentialism. She has a private practice seeing clients both in-person and virtually. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through critical life-changing circumstances. Harriet is the author of Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life. Visit her at rebuildlifenow.com.