What it means to take responsibility

As a coach, I receive a great deal of inquiries from people who say that they want to improve their life. They dream of a better life and claim that now is the time when they are ready to make the necessary decisions and take the necessary actions, to turn those dreams into a reality. With a limited amount of time, I have to be careful with where I allocate my time. It is not possible to coach everybody on a one to one basis, as much as I might love to. To help me decide, I try to split those who inquire into those who take responsibility for their life and those who do not take responsibility for their life.

I have learned over many years of coaching that people who do not take responsibility for their life are unlikely to succeed with making significant changes in their life. A coach will be great help but it is the client who must take responsibility for implementing the agreed changes. I have learned to recognise some signals that indicate whether the individual is willing to take responsibility or not. It is worth taking a few minutes to analyse your own behaviour and determine whether you take responsibility for your life or not.

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7 Signs that you take responsibility for your life

If you want to know whether you take responsibility for your life, read the following 7 points and ask yourself honestly ‘Do I apply this principle?’

1. Knowing who you want to be

take responsibility Sigmund Freud quote

A successful and happy life requires a plan. You need to know the person that you wish to be and what is important to you. Clear purpose and values will guide your decision-making and empower you to prioritise and focus on the important matters.

In reality, there is only one person who you can successfully be – yourself. But one of the most difficult things to understand in this world is who you really are. It is a life long journey which you are not likely to ever complete. But the more you understand about your true nature and the nature of the world you live in; the happier and healthier you will be. You can only undertake this journey if you take responsibility for your own life.

Values based living

Identify, define and prioritise the values that make you who you really are with 'Values Based Living'.

2. Knowing what you want

take responsibility Noam Chomsky quote

When you know what you want from life, you can take responsibility for each decision and action that you take. These decisions can be based on their ability to help you move closer to the life you want. You set effective goals and you pursue them.

Having something to aim for can give you a little guidance for the actions you need to take each day. It also allows each day to be measurable as you either took the necessary actions or you did not. However, it is important to note that goals are not something you should use to beat yourself up about. They simply allow easier guidance and decision making.

When you take responsibility for your goals, you prioritise that which you know needs to be done over that which it would be nice to get done.  This can also take a great deal of stress and pressure off you.

Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting

Learn to be set powerful goals which will serve to inspire and motivate you.

3. Not blaming others

take responsibility Hubert Selby jr quote

Blaming others is the easy way out and it is a trap that we all fall into. But, when you blame others what you are really doing is stating that you are incapable of rectifying the situation. When something goes wrong, blaming others strips you of your power but when you take responsibility; your primary focus is to identify what went wrong so that you can rectify it. Even if somebody else screwed up; try remembering the following:

  • It’s unlikely that they deliberately screwed up
  • You are probably the person who asked them to perform the task
  • You could have checked beforehand whether they could do what was asked of them
  • Most importantly, throwing around blame will not solve the problem

To rectify a problem, you need to take responsibility, identify what went wrong, determine what you can do differently next time and, put your plan into action. If you need to tell somebody else that their performance needs to improve, use a constructive feedback approach. Choose to empower rather than attack.


For more on providing feedback without blaming others check out my article on Constructive Feedback.

4. Not blaming yourself

take responsibility William Butler Yeats quote

Just because you are not going to blame others; it does not mean that you should blame yourself. Let me be clear, whether you blame others or you blame yourself, blame weakens those involved and blocks your rational thought and creativity. You do not need to punish someone; you need to solve a problem. Take responsibility for the situation, identify the changes you need to make and make them.

It must always be remembered that human action/inaction only plays a part in any situation. There is a multitude of other factors involved, any of which will have played a part in whatever outcome was achieved. The only one you can usually focus on is the human role so that is what you strive to change. There is no need to berate yourself as if you deliberately screwed something up. Just identify what you can change and change it.

Life is constantly in a state of ebb and flow and we are constantly learning so, see every issue as an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience.

5. Being honest with yourself

take responsibility Kurt Vonnegut quote

In order to take responsibility for your life, you must first give up all of the excuses. You know those old stories that you pass off as facts of life so that you do not even try to make the necessary changes, e.g.:

  • I’m too old
  • I’m too young
  • I’m too busy
  • I can’t afford it
  • Those things don’t happen for people like me

There are many more examples which I could give but I am sure that you get the point. Cut the excuses; cut the B.S.; take responsibility for your life and make the changes which you would really like to make.

6. Recognising that you benefit from the Status quo

take responsibility Mahatma Gandhi quote

If something in your life needs to change but you are not changing it; you are benefiting from the situation in some way. You could easily come up with excuses but when you take responsibility, you identify the ways in which you are benefiting from the current situation and then you attempt to maintain those benefits even after you have made the necessary changes.

For example, if you were spending too much time drinking alcohol down the pub, you would first examine what the benefits were. If you realised that the benefits were that you enjoyed socialising with your friends, you could choose to organise social events in a different environment e.g. dinner parties, theatre, cinema etc. This would greatly increase your chances of successfully changing your habits around drinking. However, if you fail to acknowledge and recognise the benefits, your chances of success are greatly diminished.

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7. Knowing you have choices

take responsibility Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote

Of all the silly stories that we tell ourselves, perhaps the silliest of them all is that ‘I had no choice’. When we do something that we regret or that we know that we really should not have done, we pull out this beauty of an excuse.  We think that it absolves us of all responsibility for the outcomes of our decisions.

Regardless of the situation, there is always a choice. It may be an unpleasant choice, and it may feel as though there is no realistic alternative but you do have to make a choice. The most effective people take responsibility for their choices and are willing to stand by them; even if it makes them unpopular.

Living Pursposefully

Taking responsiblity starts with having a clear sense of purpose for your life. Discover your purpose with the 'Living Purposefully' course.

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If you want to create a happy, health and successful life, you need to take responsibility. To take responsibility is not a onetime action. You need to take responsibility for each and every decision that you take in your life; the things you choose to do and the things you choose not to do. There is nothing wrong with dreaming of a better life, in fact, visualisation can be a powerful tool but unless you take responsibility and take action, that better life will never be anything more than a dream.

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