When things go wrong in life, it is easy to search for a scapegoat i.e. somebody to blame so that you do not have to accept responsibility for your outcomes. Blame is a very harmful attitude to adopt. Not only are you deflecting responsibility from yourself but you are damaging your relationships by suggesting that others are holding you back. You adopt a narrow focus whereby somebody else, or something else, is to blame. There is a major problem here as you cannot improve a situation unless you actually accept responsibility.
The main reason that many people refuse to accept responsibility for their life is that they feel like they are blaming themselves – as though they deliberately screwed things up. That is an inaccurate reflection of what it actually means to accept responsibility for your life. When you accept responsibility for your life, you are simply identifying the areas where you can influence change, so that you might achieve a better outcome on the next occasion. You are not attacking anybody or anything; you are identifying and implementing potential solutions. Accepting responsibility is a more positive and effective approach than attributing blame.
You can learn more about the excellence lifestye, with my FREE Pursuing Excellence Report.
5 Ways to accept responsibility
When you accept responsibility in your life, you are acknowledging that no situation is permanent. You are simply saying that a situation is not going as you wish and, you are going to take charge and get it back on track.
The following behaviours will enable you to accept responsibility for your life and avoid blaming others for your circumstances.
1. Focus on solutions rather than problems
If something is holding you back and preventing you from achieving your objectives, it is important to be able to identify the problem. The difference between those who overcome their problems and those who don’t is where they focus next. Those who fail to overcome their problems, focus on the problem. Those who succeed in overcoming their problems, accept responsibility for the situation, focus on identifying an appropriate solution and take the necessary action. Being solution-focused is a clear sign of those who accept responsibility.
Focusing on the solution, rather than the problem, is not as easy as it might sound. If you are like me, when things go wrong, your first instinct is to get frustrated and irritated. In your head, you may even go through all the additional problems that this is going to cause for you. In my younger days, I would spend hours or even days, thinking about and, cursing the problem. This type of mindset has never solved a problem.
These days, I usually allow myself to be frustrated for a moment or two, just to get it out of my system. Then I accept responsibility for solving the problem; even if I can’t work out what I did to contribute to it. I make a list of actions I can take to get things back on track and I start implementing those actions at the first opportunity.
It is ok to feel a little frustrated when things go wrong, as longs as you don’t take it out on others. Your feelings and emotions must be experienced but, you must let them flow and let them go so that you can accept responsibility for solving the problem.
Emotional maturity is critical when faced with problems. Read 12 Signs of emotional maturity for some practical advice.
2. Avoid blaming others
When something goes wrong and you achieve an undesired outcome, there will often be an opportunity to blame at least part, if not all, of the outcome on somebody else. This is the easy way out. When it is somebody else’s fault, you have an excuse to avoid taking action. If you want to achieve your objectives, you need to avoid this trap. Sure, somebody else may have made a mistake, but you need to accept responsibility by identifying how you can influence a better outcome next time. That may require you to have a chat with the other person but that is unlikely to be the only area for improvement that you identify.
When you accept responsibility, you are not interested in the blame game. You are focused on achieving the best possible outcome. This means that you are willing to explore every aspect of the situation, not just the parts that you can blame on others.
Blame is usually a tool you use to avoid losing the approval of others. It is essential to portray strength and competence to win the respect of other people. You don’t want to look weak or incompetent in the eyes of others so, you find somebody else to pin the blame on. That way, you distract from any role you may have played in the situation. At least that is your aim, but you need to consider the following points:
If you rush to blame, rather than accept responsibility, you will do more harm to your relationships. You will come across as a fake, contrived bully whom nobody likes, trusts or wants to work with.
If you think that you might be approval seeking, you can check it out by reading the 13 Approval seeking behaviours you need to stop.
3. Focus on what you can influence
One of my favourite books of all time is ‘Slaying the Dragon: How to Turn Your Small Steps to Great Feats’ by the great American athlete, Michael Johnson. In one chapter, Johnson discussed his approach to things going wrong. He divides the things that went wrong into two categories – those which he can control or influence, and those over which he has no control or influence. He then throws away the list of things which he cannot control or influence and focuses solely on the things where he can affect change.
Johnson understands that there is little point in wasting time mulling over the things you cannot change. It is more beneficial to focus on what you can affect and this way you are sure to achieve better outcomes in the future.
When a major problem or disappointment arises, it can seem overwhelming. The size of the challenge which lies ahead can be enough to put you off. But when you consider the size of the challenge, you are usually considering many things which you cannot control. That is why Michael Johnson’s approach is so effective, it reduces a big challenge / problem to a small number of actions which you can actually take responsibility for.
To take Johnson’s approach further, you may be left with many things which you could accept responsibility for and, you could take action on. Rather than let that overwhelm you, you can identify the things which will have the biggest, positive outcome and you can accept responsibility for working on those. When you have done those, you can revisit the less impactful things, but you will often find that you don’t need to do anything with them.
Focusing on things you cannot control adds no value to your life. Focus on the most important things you can control or influence, take action on them and get better results.
The 80/20 Principle will help you to identify the most important things you need to accept responsibility for so that you can make the best use of your time and resources.
4. Own your problems
It is one thing to identify those things which you can influence but it is another thing to actually do something about them. Don’t just identify areas where you can accept responsibility. Step up to the plate and take ownership of the situation. Once you identify the problem, state what you are going to do about it.
I regularly meet my good friend, Jamie, for a coffee and conversation. One of the topics we love to talk about is productivity. We share tips and strategies for ensuring that we are doing more of the right things. There is a strategy Jamie uses in his meetings which has always stuck with me.
In his meetings, he and his colleagues will come up with a list of tasks/ projects which need to be completed to move things forward. After coming up with the list, most people feel that they have done a good job and they are ready to leave. But before they can leave, Jamie has one more thing that must be done.
He goes through each item on the list and ensures that somebody there will accept responsibility for it. They will accept responsibility for getting it done and they must state when they will have it done. After the meeting, Jamie will email a list of the agreed actions, who has accepted responsibility for each action and, when they will have it completed by.
By ensuring that people accept responsibility for the action points, Jamie has turned his meetings from talking shops into collaborative sessions which generate results.
It is great to talk about problems and how to solve them but if you don’t take ownership of the situation and, ensure that positive action is taken, you are just wasting your time.
Talking through your problems can feel great but you must remember that a problem is not solved until it is solved.
For more about taking ownership and solving the problem, read Solve a problem; don’t fix a problem.
You can learn more about the excellence lifestye, with my FREE Pursuing Excellence Report.
5. Forget fairness
Many people exclaim that they have been unfairly treated when things don’t go their way. Fairness is just an excuse to justify those times when you do not want to accept responsibility. Fairness is a human concept. Take a look at the world around you; there is nothing fair about life e.g. why should one person be born with good health while another is born with serious health issues?
When you focus on fairness, you are asking why something happened to you. There really is no way of ever answering that question. And you are just looking for someone or, something else to blame. As discussed earlier, the blame mindset does not help you to solve a problem. So, you are focusing on a question you can’t answer and, even if you could answer it, the answer wouldn’t help
What you can try to identity is:
For the vast majority of problems you will face in life, this will give you all of the information you need to solve the problem. This allows you to accept responsibility for the problem and more crucially, to accept responsibility for solving the problem.
If you need to have a word with somebody as part of the solution; so be it. But your focus is on their behaviour; not on whether you think they are being fair or unfair.
Forget about fairness and blame. Accept responsibility for solving the problem and take whatever action needs to be taken to solve it.
When you accept responsibility for the problems you face, you can stay calm, composed and in control when under pressure. This is critical to solving problems while avoiding stress.
To learn more great strategies for remaining calm, composed and in control, check out 'Breathe'.
Blame is rife in modern society. Whenever something goes wrong, we immediately start a witch hunt to find the culprit. While bad events can be a result of someone deliberately causing harm, they are more often unintended events. Blaming somebody else for your bad experiences may help you to feel better about yourself, but in the long-run an attitude of blame will mean that you will not achieve your objectives. An attitude of responsibility allows you to look objectively at a situation and identify the areas for improvement. Rather than focus on the problem and who you can blame, you focus on finding, and implementing, effective solutions. When you accept responsibility, you will find solutions quicker and in a manner which allows you to correct others without causing rifts in your relationships. Quite simply, if you want to achieve your objectives and enjoy quality relationships, you must choose to accept responsibility for your life.