The Paradox of Responsibility

responsibilityDo you make excuses for your failures? Do you have a million reasons why you weren’t able to accomplish the tasks you had in mind? Do you blame others when things go wrong, illustrating an external locus of control? If you do, you will find yourself immobilized. You’ll be held back because if you don’t believe the situation you’re in is in your control, you are not going to try to change it. You have already made your excuses. Because that’s what excuses do: give you a bullshit reason not to change. Individuals who fall strongly into this category are most likely extremely frustrated and unhappy with their lives, which becomes especially evident when things go wrong. How can they not be? Having no control over your life is a psychological prison. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

In this article I’m going to talk about the importance of an internal locus of control, but I’m also going to break down where self-help books fail in regards to this topic. There’s a crucial detail that they leave out, mainly because it would make their idealistic beliefs seem less promising. But at Motivation Hacker, we blow through the fluff and come up with practical ways to live our lives. I have no interest in sharing ideas with you that make you feel good today, but hurt you in the long run.

It is clear then, that an internal locus of control is important. You must assume responsibility for the circumstances in which you find yourself if you wish to change them. You have to shift your thinking from the idea that “things happen to you” to the being-in-control-of-your-life idea that “you have to make things happen”. There’s a theme here that’s similar to the previous article: if you believe it’s in your power to make things happen, you will put in a persistent effort to see the changes you desire. And when you see the changes you desire, you’ll reinforce the idea that you do have the power to make things happen. Basically:

If you take responsibility for yourself, you will develop a hunger to accomplish your dreams.

It’s empowering. It’s quite possibly the greatest discovery I’ve made. As soon as I put myself behind the steering wheel of my own life, things began to happen. If I had weaknesses that were holding me back, I set out to change them. Things like receiving a rejection letter didn’t mean I was rejected. It meant I had to call them again, set-up an appointment and appeal the rejection. When my cellphone provider was going to charge me $500 for roaming fees and every customer service rep I talked to said there was nothing they could do about it, I didn’t sit back and make myself a victim. I asked for the manager. I got the same answer. But I didn’t just simmer in anger and make a cathartic Facebook status about it. I knew I had to find another way, and I did: I was given the email of the president of customer service, who waived the charges. Problem solved.

When you find yourself in control of your own life, you will find yourself more satisfied and content on a daily basis. You will never again have to feel that feeling of “all these unfair things keep happening to me and it’s not fair” feeling. It’s extremely important to shift your thinking from “this sucks” to “what can I do about it?”. I don’t think anyone with an external locus of control, ever, has reached a significant level of success. If there are exceptions, these would be the individuals who “got lucky”. And are you willing to bank your entire future on luck? I know I’m not. Knowing the right people helps, and getting lucky helps. But these things are overrated. Besides, if you had the power to make things happen, you could weasel your way into knowing the right people and pave your own “luck”. Because is it really luck if you made it happen? Here’s the answer:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

We all come across opportunities to get lucky every day. But if we’re not prepared to pounce on them, we won’t. In fact, we probably won’t even recognize them if we’re not prepared. So let me repeat that: if you’re in the driver’s seat of your own life, you can pave your own luck. The more control you assume, the more control you will have.

But wait. As I alluded to earlier, it’s not all that simple. There is a paradox here. If you’re familiar with any self-help books, you’ve come across the responsibility assumption. This is the belief that the circumstances in which you find yourself are completely your responsibility. This belief entails taking 100% responsibility for everything in your life. If you find yourself in some unfavorable situation, you put yourself there, either consciously or unconsciously, and it’s your job to get out of it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books that go into this. The majority of mainstream self-help books and self-help classics all suggest the same exact thing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them right. But wasn’t I regurgitating the same exact advice just now? What gives?

The problem with this advice is that it can be easily misapplied. This happens when an individual assumes control over a situation that they don’t actually control. If you do this, you will find yourself running into a wall repeatedly. Imagine trying to find the solution to a problem, but failing no matter what you do. You’re doing everything you know, working your ass off, and the results are nowhere to be seen. Months pass, years pass, and still no results. In fact, things start to get worse. Whose fault is all this? Yours. Because everything is your responsibility, remember?

The reality is that you don’t have control over everything that happens to you. Of course you don’t. And we can fall into a lot of trouble when we assign blame to ourselves regarding events that were actually outside of our control. If you own a business and the industry you’re in crashes, the crash wasn’t your fault. But how you respond to it is. However, how can you possibly know the best response? Maybe the wisest thing to do would be to immediately leave the industry and start a business elsewhere. Maybe it’s to stay in the industry until it recovers. Maybe you leave the industry, start a business elsewhere, and that business tanks. Maybe you quit, go back to college, and find a more stable job. If you’re too hard on yourself when shit hits the fan, you’re going to suffer through a lot of mental anguish, which cues the paradox of responsibility:

How do I take responsibility for everything in my life, if not everything in my life is in my control?

The solution to the paradox, is this: what is in your control is figuring out which aspects of your life are in your control, and which aren’t. Let me repeat that. Not everything is in your control, but you have to take responsibility for knowing when this is the case. When a situation is in you control, you take charge. If a situation is completely out of your control, you approach it accordingly. Referring to the example above, if you know the industry you’re working in is dying, don’t waste your energy trying to keep your business afloat. It’s time to move on to another industry. In this case, it isn’t your responsibility to keep working on your business and making it better. Instead, your responsibility is to realize that the market has changed, and the time has come for you to adapt and move on. Both of these decisions involve taking responsibility (which is obviously a good thing). However, one decision has realistic understanding of where it has control, while the other is beating a dead horse by claiming responsibility under the wrong circumstances.

An unrealistic viewpoint of control is will lead to that running-into-a-wall situation mentioned earlier. Let’s go through some more examples. What if you ask a girl out and she turns you down? If it was your fault, it will leave you ruminating about how your personality isn’t attractive enough, you’re not good-looking enough, or that you’re not intelligent enough. So it’s not her saying yes that’s in your control, but how you handle it and move on. If you mistakenly believe her response is within your control, you’re going to keep trying when there is going to be nothing to gain. Again, you’ll be beating a dead horse. So be very careful in deciding whether something is truly your responsibility or not. If your persistent effort is fruitless; if you’re not getting an inch closer or even falling further away from where you want to be, you should probably reconsider the situation. Sadly, it’s common for individuals to fall into traps like these, for instance: thinking they can change another person’s mind (especially a relationship partner), or that it’s their responsibility to stand by their business even if it’s in a dying industry (and lose all their money in the process).

Therefore, misapplying the responsibility assumption can carry some pretty serious consequences. However, these consequences pale in comparison to the consequences suffered by individuals who feel, every day, that the life they’re living is not theirs to control. These frustrated individuals are slaves to their own minds and slaves to society. Recognize that while some things are in your control, other things aren’t. However, make this distinction very carefully. There are going to be far more situations in which you do have control than you’ve been taught to believe. Far more than people will tell you to believe. So while it’s important to let go of the things that you don’t control, look to take charge whenever you can. It is better to assume you can mould your own circumstances and be wrong, than to assume you are powerless and be right.

One thing you definitely have control over is ignoring excuses your mind makes. Don’t believe yourself when your mind tells you you’re not good enough. Don’t believe your immediate instinct to label something as impossible. Is it really impossible? Isn’t there something you could do to make it happen? More often than not, there will be a way. So ignore your mind’s silly defense mechanisms, keep your eye on your goal, and do what it takes to get there. You won’t always know exactly what you’re doing, but if you take responsibility for getting there, you’ll figure it out along the way.

Are you willing to step up and mould your own destiny?

Comments

  1. A good article, I sort of needed this right now, to push myself even harder. Thanks for that, keep writing!

  2. Great essay. Responsibility is such an important part of being successful, in any realm.

  3. really great article!!
    but can you please elaborate how keep up the responsibilities you have taken, how to be aware about them, acknowledge them and test them from time to time so that we do slip down from our path??

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