When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~Viktor Frankl
Challenges are part of life. We are constantly being hit with new challenges that take many different forms: Difficult people. Losing a job. Marital difficulties and divorce. Sometimes things just suck.
And that’s when it can be easy to sing what I call the “if only” blues – if only he didn’t do this or not do that. If only she would listen. If only this hadn’t happened. Then, I could be happy.
But as the common saying goes, you can’t change events or people, but you can change how you react to them. So, it’s not about changing other people or circumstances. It’s about changing our mindset.
The single most powerful mindset I’ve found is this. Every challenge, every form of adversity, happens for you, not to you. It means you have something to learn. We all do. Of course, you’re not likely to know what it is you have to learn when things really suck.
So, the mindset – and the access to learning – is knowing one simple truth: Everything that is or will be is up to you.
In other words, we are each completely responsible – for all our mistakes, as well as our successes and happiness. This was a sobering, yet powerful, realization for me.
It’s so easy to blame others for our unhappiness. But one bitter pill I’ve learned to swallow is that nobody else is responsible for my reactions but me. Whether it’s your unhappiness, frustration, or anger – or compassion, joy, or love – you get to choose.
Choosing to take responsibility for our circumstances empowers us to make the changes we want. Because by blaming others, we actually make ourselves powerless to change anything. Likewise, when something goes wrong, the most powerful thing you can do is own up to your part.
For example, suppose the new employee you just hired is screwing up big time. No matter how many times you try and steer him in the right direction, things just don’t seem to improve.
You can blame your employee for being incompetent. Or you can own your part. Were there any red flags you might have overlooked or rationalized that might have indicated he might not be a good fit for the job? Or maybe you can see there are specific things he excels at and simply shift his responsibilities.
Or perhaps a close friend starts picking fights with you or starts insisting her way is the right way. Generally, if someone is really getting under your skin, there’s a good chance they’re not feeling heard.
It takes real courage to take responsibility. Because it can really sting, I know. When we feel attacked, denying responsibility or blaming others can be a great defense. After all, we generally react and respond emotionally to emotional needs of our own. And I admit, when someone blames me, I default to the urge to defend myself.
But if it’s someone close to you, fighting back can potentially destroy the relationship. Blaming others pushes people away and cuts us off from valuable friendships and other meaningful relationships. On the other hand, taking responsibility by owning your part builds trust, promotes respect, and ultimately strengthens relationships.
There is a popular quote that says to be the change you wish to see in the world. As Gandhi encouraged:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
I believe this to be true for our relationships and our life circumstances. When you take responsibility, you’re likely to immediately feel lighter, like a heavy weight has been lifted. Taking responsibility empowers you to make the changes you want.
That’s when you know what you need to learn. And that’s when you grow.
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