On Maintaining (or Reclaiming) Our Personal Responsibility

You are in Control hand writing with a black mark on a transparent board

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. –Alice Walker

None of us are given a cheat sheet for life when we are thrown into this world. If we were, I imagine the first lesson would say something like this: “You have control over only one thing in this world: yourself. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that this is all you need.”

Incase you need a reminder today, you are incredibly powerful. You, alone, control how you see the world, how you feel, and what successes and failures you have endured. The decisions you have made in the past created your present reality, and everything that you are currently doing is molding your future. This realization that we are completely responsible for our life can be a bitter pill to swallow (not to mention terrifying)—especially when things feel chaotic or not in our favor. But, as the late Flannery O’Connor wrote, the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.

Personal responsibility invalidates the premise that our happiness depends on the outside world—which is a relief considering that, quite frankly, the world throws a lot of crap at us. Pinning our happiness to external factors is not only exhausting but also impractical; the world is objective and will keep on spinning whether we are happy or not. Relying on outside factors to shape a life that works for us will leave us perpetually disappointed.

Within psychology, the term “locus of control” refers to the extent to which individuals perceive that their behavior shapes the events in their life. Individuals with an internal locus of control believe they can shape life through their own decisions and actions, and tend to be more confident and capable of dealing with stress. These individuals are more likely to end up in leadership roles. Individuals with an external locus of control believe that the events in their life are caused by outside influences rather than themselves. Individuals with an external locus of control are more prone to depression and anxiety and often feel helpless when amid an unfortunate situation.

Most of us experience both sides of the spectrum at various points in our lives, but by recognizing the power of our thoughts and behaviors—by keeping that internal locus of control—we avoid victimizing ourselves. There is no denying that sometimes we cannot control the events in our life, but we can always control our response to them. (And we can shape our circumstances more than we think.)

By rejecting responsibility over our circumstances, we reduce our ability to change them. And until we learn to take responsibility for the decisions we make and how these decisions affect our lives, life will always feel like something that is happening to us rather than something that we are in control of. The perception that we’ve lost control of our life—that we are the victim—not only makes living much more difficult than it has to be, but it also robs us of our personal validity.

Maintaining that feeling of control is not always easy and can be uncomfortable, at times. If you find yourself struggling, try these tips:

— Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, so that you can more easily own up to yours. Making mistakes and learning from them is an integral part of life. Try not to be so hard on yourself; learn from them and let them go. Positive affirmations work.

–Cultivate strong relationships where honesty is expected. Not everyone in your life feels comfortable being completely honest with you. Cherish those friends who have your best interest in mind, and let them know that you value honest feedback above anything.

–Also, remind yourself that messing up does not devaluate your worth, it simply makes you human.

I’ll conclude with a wonderful piece of advice that floated my way just a few moments ago after an older gentleman, named Mike, sat beside me at Starbucks. After engaging in a short conversation, he said, somewhat out of the blue: “Let me give you one last piece of wisdom that my mentor gave to me thirty years ago…

Throughout your life, make sure you know what your good and bad habits are, and then periodically break them. This will teach you about control.”

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