Answer this truthfully…are you really living your life? Or are you pretty good at existing, flowing with, and reacting to things as they happen? Better yet, are you steering at the helm, taking personal responsibility, or are you sitting in the passenger seat, letting others decide for you?
Whatever your answer is, it’s OK. You’re human, and you’re most certainly not perfect. None of us are, but a victim mentality won’t help, so if you are playing the character that blames their circumstances instead of taking personal accountability, then here’s your wake-up call.
You have the luxury of deciding who you want to be every single day you wake up. It’s the people who have mastered the art of living happily and peacefully that have cracked this code, the ones who wake up content and taking responsibility for their actions.
Keep reading and find out how to change your perspective and start accepting personal responsibility for how your life looks.
Table of Contents
Personal Responsibility and Self-Actualization
Humans that are content, living as the best version of themselves, and holding themselves accountable for their happiness are what psychologist Abraham Maslow calls living as “fully human.” You’ve probably seen Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs pyramid somewhere in your life, because it’s a leading human behavior theory explaining the motivations behind us as humans.
People have always struggled with the idea of “self-actualization” (i.e. being fully human) sitting at the top of the pyramid, making it appear like an unattainable peak that few will ever reach. However, that wasn’t Maslow’s intention; he didn’t actually create the pyramid. He wrote about a hierarchy, and someone else assumed it was a pyramid, and after all these years, we’re finding out what he really meant.
“In this choppy surf, a clunky pyramid is of little use. Instead, what is needed is something a bit more functional. We’ll need a sailboat.” -Scott Barry Kaufman
Humanistic psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman reworked and refreshed the pyramid based on the latest science in human behavior in his novel, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization. Being fully human, Kaufman stressed, is about living in the moment, enjoying the ride, and doing what you love, because when you feel like you’re achieving your purpose, you feel aligned within yourself, and you’re able to make a meaningful contribution to the world.
Here’s how to edge closer to that stage through personal responsibility.
Why You Need to Take Personal Responsibility
When you set sail, you don’t set off without a direction or destination in mind, right?
Life is the same, though a lot of us are out there living aimless lives and consequently falling prey to the grips of anxiety and depression. This is why it’s important to have an aim or direction, a North Star to head towards, which shouldn’t be confused with materialistic goals, like getting rich or buying that house.
If you’ve ever lived the “I’ll be happy when” life, you’ll know it’s a tough lesson to learn when you find out that you never feel genuinely happy because the goalpost keeps moving. It’s also key to make life decisions yourself because living someone else’s life is a sure-fire way to end up unhappy.
What you need to do is find a balance between deciding what direction will lead you to be your best self and making sure that you’re enjoying all areas of your life.
“The hard part is really living in the moment and being able to sail through life without the end in mind. Just like it takes courage to open your sail on a sailboat and see where the winds will take you, it takes a lot of courage to become the best version of yourself.” -Scott Barry Kaufman
What Is the Best Version of You?
Aiming to be the best version of yourself is all about acceptance. You need to be able to accept the good with the bad, accept the shadow, and all the things that hide and cower in the dark. Uncover the darkness by giving it some light.
If you’ve had a rough childhood or suffered trauma, if you feel aimless or lost at sea, whatever it is, you have to accept a portion of responsibility for where you are. You’re not responsible for the beliefs you hold based on things people have told you, but you are responsible for dealing with them.
People who accept responsibility for their strengths and weaknesses and choose to spend their life developing and improving on the healthy, positive aspects are the ones who show courage. Climb up the mast of your sailboat and rise above your own personal desires and feelings. You might just see that there are billions of other boats bobbing around out there, and some might need your help.
But you can’t help them until you’ve helped yourself.
How to Take Personal Responsibility
The road to learning how to take personal responsibility can be a difficult one, but start simple, and then begin to tackle the more difficult aspects. Here are two steps you need to take based on the sailing metaphor we’ve been working with.
1. Focus on the Basics of Your Journey
Just like the ocean, our life has many ups and downs, ebbs and flows. If you start building a solid sailboat, you can withstand the weather and hold course without capsizing or filling with water. The hull represents your basic needs: safety, self-esteem, and connection with others.
Check-in and ask yourself whether your basic needs are being met. Do you feel confident about who you are as a person? Do you struggle with willpower and motivation? Do you have enough connections with others?
“No human being is exempt from the dire consequences of loneliness, and no other basic human need satisfaction can substitute for a deep connection.” -Abraham Maslow
2. Open Your Sails and Be Willing to Fail
Maslow was all about not focusing and stressing too much on the destination. Yes, head in the right direction, but focus on enjoying the sail by finding purpose and following that desire to explore.
When was the last time you took the courage to really open your sails? To be vulnerable and willing to fail? When was the last time you were in a flow state, in a moment where you were so engrossed in what you were doing that you forgot about your insecurities and worries, where you were just happy?
Maslow believed we all had our own form of peak experience:
“Whether an excellent athletic or music performance, creative experience, aesthetic perception, the love experience, sexual experience, childbirth, moments of insight and understanding, religious or mystical experience, or overcoming a profound challenge — it is any experience that comes close to perfection for that person.”
Being fully human means that you seek out new, challenging, and uncertain events to further develop yourself. Wouldn’t it be nice to raise the tide for the other boats and seize amazing opportunities? Imagine if you could just forget all about what’s negative and just focus on being in the moment.
3. Move Forward With Intention
As you sail through life, are you making intentional goals and plans, or are you simply letting things happen and watching life pass by without grabbing hold of the moments?
To start taking personal responsibility, work on goal setting. When possible, set SMART goals so that you can measure your progress as you move through them. When you know when and how you should be completing goals, it will be easier to measure your progress and take responsibility for all you have and haven’t done to achieve them.
You can learn how to set SMART goals here.
4. Live in the Moment
As you’re moving through the ups and downs on the ocean of your life, are you really honing in on each present moment, or are your thoughts focused on the past and future? Do you dwell on the mistakes others made that forced you into a difficult position? Do you complain about what’s happening now?
Stop blaming other people or situations if you really want to relish each moment in your life. Start taking personal responsibility for each thought and emotion that passes through you. Stop reacting and start analyzing.
If you have trouble with this, try starting a mindfulness meditation practice to give your mind the space it needs to exist in the present.
If you don’t remember the last time you felt truly happy, if you feel uninspired or lost, if you feel like you’re on the wrong path, then start with the basics. Make sure your basic needs are being met before you move closer to self-actualization.
Look at the mistakes you’ve made in life, learn from them, and move on to doing bigger and better things. Once you start taking personal responsibility, you’ll find your compass naturally points you in the direction of happiness and success.
Featured photo credit: Alex Blăjan via unsplash.com