Many of my clients tell me they want to own their lives. The focus of this work varies -- some clients are trying to get clear on what they want, some are trying to identify and end bad patterns, and still others are trying to create new patterns that serve them better. But the crux of it is the same: my clients are all taking greater personal responsibility for the way their lives are going. (And I applaud them for that.)
The tricky thing about personal responsibility is that it's so easy to shirk. What's your internal monologue when you misplace your keys? When I do, the first thing I think is, "this can't be happening." The second thing is, "did someone move my keys?" Then I slide into "I can't believe I lost my keys -- what an idiot!" and then, "I'm going to be late if I don't find my keys. I HAVE TO FIND MY KEYS!" I never approach lost keys with the mindset of "yes, of course, I've misplaced my keys somewhere and will be able to find them in no time."
An interesting article by Christopher Avery uncovers a very typical thinking pattern when it comes to personal responsibility. In his model, Avery points out that when we first face a problem, the brain's immediate reaction is to deny that the problem is even happening. (My old roommate and I had a running quote board and the one that lasted the longest up there was "It's Ok, It's Not Happening.")
The next step in the process is to lay blame. I think tons of people in the world just get stuck here and never move past it.
After blame comes justification. If nobody else moved my keys, I must have put them in a safe place (and not their normal place).
After justification comes shame. So many people get stuck feeling bad about the decisions they've made that they don't own up to having made them. Shame gets its own cycle for many people, spinning them off into other, more distracting kinds of despair.
After shame, there are two choices -- you can either accept that the situation is what it is and that you are somehow obligated to move forward with it (gritting your teeth, of course), or you can run away and quit, dropping whatever it was you were doing in the first place. (In the keys example, this might look like feeling like you have to leave the door unlocked because you couldn't find your keys, or deciding not to leave the house at all, thereby removing the need to find your keys.)
It is only by realizing that you have choice at every stage that you can move through the stages of the model into owning your responsibility.
There are three things that will help you live in a place of greater personal responsibility and move through all the phases between denial and responsibility more quickly -- having the intention of owning your shit, being aware of where you are and how you might be getting stuck in one of the stages in the model, and confronting yourself with reality by questioning the assumptions you are making.
Here's an example of how I put this into work.
I was in a training class at a hotel recently and over the break I needed to check out of my room. I went to the room to pick up my suitcase, and the key didn't work. My first thought was, "well, that's not right, the key's supposed to work," (denial) so I tried again. Didn't work again. Then I thought, "Oh, the front desk must have cancelled my key!" (blame) so I called them to get it fixed and I had to make the round trip to the front desk, adding to the time I was away from class.
On the way back to class, I really wanted a cup of coffee, but I knew I was going to be late. I ran through all the reasons I could use to apologize for my delay -- the key, the front desk, how bad I felt about being late -- and I ran through what it would feel like to sit in the class without my coffee (obligation) and I decided that I would "own my shit." I chose to have the coffee, even though it would make me late, and I wasn't going to blame anyone, justify my lateness, or even feel bad about it. I was at choice, I was aware, and I was willing to take ownership if need be.
In this world it's easy to be hard on ourselves for the mistakes we make. Especially when we feel we should know better. But to truly own your personal responsibility for your life, you have to see that mistakes aren't inherently bad. That the world is not black and white. And that there are going to be times you do things that would be easier to blame or justify away. The benefit to personal ownership, in my opinion, is the feeling of freedom and choice that comes along with it. Saying, "I did this. I chose to do it. And maybe it's not perfect, but it's what I did."