Take responsibility for your success, but don’t go overboard.
One of the key lessons parents teach their children is what it means to take responsibility. The type of responsibility taught undoubtedly varies from family to family, but, unfortunately, there are some counterproductive views of responsibility that cross all kinds of cultural and socio-economic barriers.
Learned helplessness is one such view. It takes a huge bite out of your effectiveness and confidence because it makes you feel like you’re at the mercy of circumstances. Phrases and attitudes that may reflect this include, “Why did this happen?” “That’s just the way it is,” and “What can I do about it?”
The underlying assumption behind each of these phrases is that you, personally, have no power to change the situation. By acting on that assumption, you turn over responsibility for your results to fate, chance, or the wishes of other people. Is that really going to get you what you want? I don’t think so.
So how do you change this habit of counterproductive thinking?
- Assume that you do have control over your outcomes — at least to a large extent.
- Remember that you do always have 100% control over your response to what happens — regardless of whether you like the results or not. (For a powerful exploration of this concept, check out Viktor Frankl’s classic work, Man’s Search for Meaning, written about his experience in Nazi concentration camps.)
Blaming goes hand in hand with helplessness. When you blame others for poor results, you shift the responsibility away from yourself and over to that other person. When it comes right down to it, you’re conceding that they’ve got all the power to create those results, and you have none.
Now, I’m not denying that people around us have an impact on our outcomes and activities; they certainly do. However, if you habitually look for ways to assign blame for your own undesirable outcomes, all you’re really doing is abdicating your own personal power. And if you’re essentially powerless, are you likely to be able to join the ranks of truly successful entrepreneurs?
Fortunately, there’s some good news about how to start shifting this counterproductive habit of thought.
- Challenge yourself. When you find yourself blaming someone, stop and reflect on how you yourself contributed to the undesirable outcome. Did you take some actions that, in retrospect, were less than brilliant? Did you not take some actions that could have warded off the problem?
- Don’t beat up on yourself. Accepting responsibility for your actions is not the same thing as telling yourself you’re a worthless bit of pond scum. Come from a place of emotional neutrality as much as possible.
- Look to the future. If you play the blame game too often, you stay trapped in the crummy outcomes of the past. What good does that do you? Better to look ahead and figure out how to create more of the results you want and fewer of the ones you don’t. That’s where the following technique comes in really handy.
- Focus on problem solving. Forget blame; look for solutions or – even better – ways to preempt the circumstances that resulted in your disappointing outcome.
Empowerment or sabotage: Which of these results do YOUR thoughts create?
Mind reading is another counterproductive thought habit; it’s a very easy way to shoot yourself in the foot. Mind reading is the tendency to assume you know what people are thinking and why they’re acting a certain way, even though you’ve never explicitly confirmed this with them. The big problem here is that your assumptions are colored by your own filters, world views, and attitudes, none of which may apply to the other person.
This mental habit represents a double-whammy of misused responsibility. On the one hand, you’re taking on inappropriate responsibility by basically deciding what the other person thinks. On the other hand, you’re giving up your personal responsibility to confirm with him or her that you’re viewing the situation correctly. Most of us have probably encountered the old saying that “to assume makes an ass of u and me.” It would be a lot funnier if only it weren’t true.
So what does it take to abdicate your mind-reading crown?
- Make it a habit to ask yourself: “Did I reflect back her comments to be sure I understood her correctly? Did I ask her for explicit confirmation that I’ve got it straight? Did I just ask him what was behind his comment/action, rather than making up stories about it?”
- Keep track of problems you avoided by refusing to read someone’s mind. (Trust me: You’ll avoid a lot of problems.) Making it a point to acknowledge the embarrassment, stress, or lost time/money you avoided will be a powerful reinforcement for making the effort to clarify communications.
Control fantasies (no, not that kind) are a sneaky and subtle form of distorted responsibility. When you fall prey to this particular type of counterproductive thought habit, you’re basically acting as if you have the responsibility, the right, and the power to manage everyone else’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. While a healthy ego is essential to trying and accomplishing anything of value, acting as if you’re in charge of the world goes beyond healthy into the realm of arrogance. Paradoxically, this same thought habit may also indicate low self-esteem, in that people who try to make everything just right for others put themselves dead last on their priority list.
The bad news about thinking you can and should control everything around you is that eventually you will burn out, become resentful, and lack the time and energy to do the things where you really shine.
How do you release control fantasies?
- Identify your priorities: the things that truly are important to you.
- Say “no” to activities that don’t directly relate to those priorities. This requires you to set boundaries with other people and — probably even more importantly — with yourself.
- Force yourself to accept that you may disappoint some people by saying no, and acknowledge that they, not you, are responsible for their own emotions.
- Accept that you can, without being a prima donna, assign your own needs and wishes just as a high a priority as anyone else’s.
So…What’s been your experience with accepting responsibility? Do you tend to do too much of it, or too little, or just the right amount? What have you found to be helpful in establishing how to be appropriately responsible? Any useful tools and techniques you’ve discovered will be much appreciated by all the rest of us!This entry was posted in choice, mindset, personal power, success factors and tagged counterproductive, personal power. Bookmark the permalink.