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How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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.

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[1] somewhere in your life, because it’s a leading human behavior theory explaining the motivations behind us as humans[2].

Use Maslow's hierarchy to start taking personal responsibility.

    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.

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    “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[3]

    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.

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    “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.

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    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[4]? 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.

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    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.

    Final Thoughts

    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.

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    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.

    More on Taking Personal Responsibility

    Featured photo credit: Alex Blăjan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Daina Worrall

    Lawyer, C. Hypnotherapist and RTT Therapist - Personal Development & Mental Health

    Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice) How to Cure Depression (Professional Advice from a Therapist) How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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    Last Updated on November 24, 2021

    How to Deal with Setbacks And Use Them for Future Success

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    How to Deal with Setbacks And Use Them for Future Success

    Life is crazy. Sometimes it is beautiful and amazing—you feel like you’ve got things figured out, you’re on top of the world, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be. But sometimes, life sucks. It’s hard, complicated, tragic, and awful, and you can’t imagine how you’re going to take one more step forward.

    At various points in our lives, we are all met with setbacks, failures, and obstacles. Some are small, like a speedbump, just enough to slow us down. Some are huge, like a wall, and stop us entirely in our tracks. But while difficult, challenging, and often heartbreaking, all of them give us an opportunity—an opportunity to pause, restart, reflect, learn, grow, and reshape our lives.

    My life has been full of setbacks and obstacles. I’ve lost loved ones, missed opportunities, and made huge mistakes at work. I’ve suffered from injuries, accidents, anxiety, and overwhelm. Some setbacks sent me crying in my room for weeks. Some landed me in therapy. Some just left me with self-doubt and imposter syndrome. But through them all, I’ve learned how to honor them, get through, and use them to prepare for future success.

    While I often couldn’t see it at the time, I now know there have been no mistakes on my journey. Instead, each step has led me to the life I live today. Each scar made me stronger. Each failure helped me learn, and each setback had a strange way of setting me up for the next step in my life.

    Whatever setback you might be facing and however big or small it may be, in this article, I’ll share simple, practical ways you can deal with whatever life throws your way so you can come back stronger, wiser, and more resilient.

    Types of Setbacks

    There are all types of setbacks you might face along your journey: personal, professional, financial, and environmental.

    Personal setbacks might include injuries, illness, mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, relationship challenges including breakups, divorce, and fights with those you love. This also includes loss of all types: a partner, child or loved one, a job or home, a hope or dream.

    Professional setbacks might include bombing a critical meeting, losing a big sale, working under a terrible boss, being overlooked for a promotion, or being laid off or fired.

    Financial setbacks could include limited or not finding work, losing money, an investment gone wrong, or being underwater in your home.

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    You might face environmental setbacks, including natural disasters like a fire or hurricane, or, like many are facing right now, a global setback due to the pandemic and all the impacts it is causing in many areas of our lives.

    Often, one setback leads to another and causes a downstream effect, impacting every area of your life. However, it is possible to take a step back and help manage how things go.

    3 Powerful Steps to Deal With Setbacks in Life

    Here is a three-step process I created to help you deal with your setback, capitalize on the experience, and set yourself up for future success.

    Step 1: Allow Yourself to Feel

    When bad things happen, many people want to go straight to fixing it, looking at the upside, trying to work through it, or pushing through whatever pain they may be feeling. However, it’s critical to first give yourself permission to acknowledge and allow yourself to feel. Are you hurt? Angry? Frustrated? Embarrassed? That’s okay.

    Often when we have a setback, we are told—or we tell ourselves—“everything happens for a reason,” “the sorrows make the joys so much sweeter,” “it could be worse,” or we immediately try to find the silver lining. This is what can be defined as “toxic positivity.” When you deny, minimize, or invalidate your feelings, not only is it unhelpful, but it can also be harmful.

    Maybe a setback has left you feeling angry, frustrated, sad, hurt, overwhelmed, terrified, disappointed, worried, embarrassed, or all of the above. Whatever the feelings are, allow them to emerge. Because unless you feel it, you’re not going to move past it. If you don’t grieve or honor your feelings, they have a way of sneaking back up on you. There’s a saying:

    “What the mind conceals, the body reveals.”

    When we conceal, try to hide, push down, or ignore our emotions and feelings, they don’t simply disappear. They go deep within us, and they eat at us. So, that sudden heart attack, unexplained high blood pressure, or unexpected anxiety may not be so inexplicable after all. We physiologically need to acknowledge and feel our emotions.[1] When we do, it provides a release and prevents those feelings from eating away at us.

    So, take the time to honor, acknowledge, and truly feel your feelings. Cry. Scream. Journal. Talk to a friend or work with a therapist or coach to acknowledge and understand your emotions. Identify what the feelings are telling you. Let them arise. They may persist, but they will eventually pass once they are heard and dealt with.

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    Step 2: Pause and Reflect

    Life setbacks allow you to pause and reflect on what you want from life. Life has a way of giving you whatever is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. Even if you can’t see it yet, this change is trying to teach you something. Here are some ways to step back and garner perspective.

    Get Clear

    You can use this setback to identify what you want or don’t want in this next stage or step of your life. Just had a bad breakup? Identify what you want and need in a life partner. Lost your job? What do you want in a job or career going forward? This is your chance to evaluate your priorities, identify what’s important to you, and define what you want from now on.

    Learn the Lesson

    Identify what you learned from the situation. Lessons in life have a way of being repeated until they are learned. For example, I had a client who was disappointed about how an entrepreneurial venture had turned out. He had a falling out with his co-founder and decided to move on from the business. He was down, frustrated, and trying to figure out what to do next.

    As we reflected on this setback, I asked him to consider what he learned from the situation. Once asked, he revealed that he learned to make sure he was aligned with his business partners. He realized he wasn’t as great a manager as he thought he was and that he should have trusted his instincts on a few decisions made along the way. As he made a list of what he learned, he could move forward with knowledge and experience about how he could better set up his next venture. How can you do things differently next time?

    Be Grateful

    Now is also the time to be grateful for the setback—to be thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow and see things from a different perspective. I know it’s not easy, but challenge yourself.

    Perhaps you lost your job. Did you like your job? Were you thriving? Did you feel like it was really where you wanted to be? I had a client that lost their job recently, and while devastating, it was a tremendous gift. They were miserable, burnt out, and hated their boss, but they would have never left that job on their own. Letting go allowed them to be free and move on to something better where they could thrive.

    Often, setbacks provide an opportunity to reassess your life and what you are genuinely grateful for. I know many people who have had severe medical issues who step back and take stock of their lives and what’s important and eventually feel deep gratitude for all they have, even amidst the chaos. Why are you grateful for what happened? How can you find appreciation for your recent setback?

    Step 3: Use It as a Step Forward

    Once you’ve had a chance to process and reflect on your setback, it’s time to use it as a stepping stone for future success. Think of your life as a progression. Each setback, lesson, and failure are like stairs with each step taking you towards your future. When you face a setback, you can choose: will this setback take me down, or can this setback bring me closer to where I want to be? If you view your setback as a failure and get stuck in what went wrong, it will be. If you view it as a step up, you can move forward.

    I also like using the metaphor of a backpack. We spend our lives filling our backpacks with tools, tricks, and strategies for any situation. When you have a setback, you learn and grow and add another tool to your backpack. You are now more skilled and equipped to handle whatever life throws your way. Each setback makes you better at life!

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    Life doesn’t get any easier; you get stronger, wiser, and more capable.

    Years ago, there was a story shared with new hires at IBM. According to the anecdote, a VP made a huge mistake that reportedly cost the company $10 million. The employee met with Tom Watson Jr., the head of the company, expecting to be fired, and presented his resignation letter. Instead, Mr. Watson replied, “You are certainly not leaving after we just gave you a $10 million education!” Regardless of whether this long-told story is true, the point is critical—leaders at IBM did not see failure as a problem if it was turned into a valuable learning experience.

    Most entrepreneurs live this way. They know that failure takes them one step closer to their success. Salespeople are the same. They understand that each “no” gets them closer to the next “yes.” Thomas Edison was famously quoted as saying, “I learned 10,000 ways not to invent a lightbulb.” He saw every failure as an opportunity to learn.

    Think about how to use your setback as a step forward. I have close friends, a couple who were just diagnosed with cancer at the same time. Are they scared? Of course. But they are looking at this as an opportunity. The minute they found out, they began to research ways to make healthier decisions from food to sleep to environmental choices. They are looking at this setback as an opportunity to change their lifestyles together. By looking ahead, they will boldly fight cancer and live longer, healthier, happier lives.

    Think about the setback you are currently experiencing. What opportunities will this bring to your life? As you look at your setback, what options does this bring? How can this setback be a setup for what’s next? What changes does this force or allow?

    Not sure? It can be helpful to look at the situation as a neutral observer. Imagine you’re a fly on the wall or you’re watching a movie of your life and setback. From this zoomed-out view, what do you notice? What insights or advice would you give yourself? What perspective does this new setback bring? How will this set you up for future success?

    Pay It Forward

    Once you’ve learned and grown from your setback and used it to set you up for success, then what? At some point, you’ll have the opportunity to pay it forward. Consider how you can use your experiences to help others who are going through the very same setback you once thought was impossible.

    If you look at many successful business owners, mentors, TED talkers, motivational speakers, and entrepreneurs, most of them have one thing in common: they faced a major setback. They usually hit rock bottom, and they used their setbacks, failures, and painful experiences to help others.

    Arianna Huffington got rejected by 36 publishers. Walt Disney was told he lacked creativity. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school (twice!). Oprah Winfrey faced a challenging childhood, was told she wasn’t suited for television, and was fired from her first co-anchor position. Eckhart Tolle was on the brink of suicide before he became one of the most prominent spiritual teachers in the world. And JK Rowling hit rock bottom before the Harry Potter series went on to become a smashing success. I could go on.

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    Use Your Setback to Make a Difference

    How can you use your setback to make a difference for others in a powerful way?

    You don’t have to be an influencer, write a bestseller or stand on stages across the world. Maybe you’ve struggled with addiction and can support others in your local AA group. Perhaps you were challenged to make your business successful, and you can help other local entrepreneurs. Maybe you had a tough childhood, and you’d like to be a big brother or sister for those who could benefit from your help, wisdom, and support. Maybe it’s as simple as teaching your kids a different way of being.

    Whatever challenges you’ve faced on your journey, you can use your experiences to make someone’s life better. Sure, you don’t have to do that now. But you can look to the future and dream up ways to spin the negative into something positive.

    However big or small your ripples will be, these experiences are setting you up to help someone else. Who will that be?

    Final Thoughts

    Let’s face it. Life is full of setbacks, failures, obstacles, and challenges. Setbacks are not in the way of your life. They are a critical part of your life. They are redirecting you to where you truly should be. They are not throwing you off your path. Instead, they are reminding you which way the path lies.

    Philosophically, I believe that life is working for us, not against us. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that my setbacks are opportunities for learning and growth. I believe there are no mistakes on our journey, even when it feels that way. But that doesn’t mean I don’t completely understand how it feels when a setback smacks you straight in the face. It can hurt, but it can also be the best gift.

    Right now, this setback may feel like the end of the world. I promise you, it is not. Instead, it’s a chance for you to define your destiny. You get to choose what happens next. Will this setback take you down, or will this setback be the very thing that defines who you are? It’s completely up to you.

    More Tips on How to Deal With Setbacks in Life

    Featured photo credit: Jonathan Chng via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] verywellmind: 5 Reasons Emotions Are Important

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