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Learn to Accept Responsibility for Your Choices and Actions

by Jennifer on August 26, 2009

“My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place
 for the next moment,”—Oprah

By Jennifer Blanchard

Personal responsibility is the responsibility you have to yourself. It’s your ability to keep yourself healthy, manage your emotions, be respectful to yourself, stay positive, etc.

So what does accepting personal responsibility mean?

It means:

  • Acknowledging that you are responsible for your life—the choices you make, the things you feel, the things you think. You choose how your life goes.
  • Accepting that other people and outside factors, such as your favorite TV show being on or there being dishes in your sink, are not to blame for the choices you made/make.
  • Pointing your finger at yourself when you think about the consequences of your actions/choices.

For example, if you come home from work fully intending to write for two hours, but then get side-tracked talking to your sister on the phone and don’t end up writing, you can’t blame your sister for you not getting your writing done. You need to accept that it was your choice to talk to your sister, rather than to tell her you’d call her back after you finished writing.

What Happens When You Don’t Take Responsibility for Your Actions?

  • You believe that outside factors cause you not to be able to write.
  • You think, “Life would just be easier if ______.”
  • You often feel guilty for not writing.
  • You wish you were more productive, wrote more often or had more time.
  • You often think, “At the rate I’m going, I should give up writing altogether.”
  • You often fear taking any risks, such as showing your writing to someone or entering a writing competition (or in extreme cases, writing at all!).
  • You often think of yourself as a victim of circumstance.
  • You often feel like a victim of circumstance.

The first thing you should know is this—you are not a victim of circumstance. There are no outside factors that cause you not to be able to write.

You do not write (or you write very little) currently because writing is not important to you.

Ouch.

OK, so that probably sounded a bit harsh. But regardless, it is a reality.

When something is important to you, you make time for it. When something really matters to you, you make time for it. When you really want to do something, you rearrange your day/life around it.

For example, you’re sitting at home one Wednesday evening watching your favorite TV show. You have dishes to do, laundry to start and you wanted to catch up on some work. Then your good friend calls and tells you he/she has tickets to see your favorite band play tonight. Even though you have other things that you need to do, you decide to instead record it and go to the concert.

You made a choice. Because seeing your favorite band play was important to you, you made all the other things you had to do less of a priority.

It works the same way with your writing.

How to Accept Personal Responsibility
If you’re ready to accept responsibility for your actions (or your non-actions), here are some steps to follow (Note—you may want to do this in your journal or writing notebook):

1) Reflect—Ask yourself the following: “What does accepting responsibility for my actions/thoughts mean for me?” “How frequently do I place blame on people or circumstances for why I don’t/can’t write?” “Why do I feel like a victim of my circumstances?”

2) Rate—Once you’ve reflected on your situation with personal responsibility, rate yourself.

On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 = never, 2 = rarely, 3 = sometimes, 4 = often and 5 = all the time—rate the following statements:

___ I take the time to fit writing into my schedule.
___ I make plans to write.
___ I sit down and write.
___ I get writing accomplished.
___ I manage my time well.
___ I skip my writing sessions.
___ I place blame on outside factors.

If you rated yourself 3 or less on any of the above, that is an area where you need to accept your personal responsibility.

3) Accept—There are areas of your writing life where you aren’t taking personal responsibility.

At first, the thought of accepting personal responsibility may cause the following reactions:

  • Anger—“It’s not my fault! Life just gets crazy and there’s no time to write.”
  • Guilt—“You’re totally right. It is my fault. I’m such as mess. I can’t do this.
  • Sadness—“Wow. All these years I haven’t been taking responsibility for myself and now I’ve wasted so much time. I could’ve had ten books written by now.”

Just know that these feelings are temporary. There is light at the other side of the tunnel.

4) Plan—You need to identify what beliefs you currently hold that keep you from achieving your writing goals.

For example, do you believe that you are not in control of your life? Do you believe that life just happens? Do you believe that you can’t change your habits? Do you believe that you will always be the same way you are currently?

Challenging your beliefs about what you can and can’t control will help you to start accepting personal responsibility.

You can’t control outside circumstances—that’s a given. But you CAN control your actions and thoughts.

And if you can control your thoughts and actions, you are in control of your life.

Ed. Note: This is part two in a three-part series on Making Writing a Priority that I’ll be running until tomorrow. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss tomorrow’s post: What Do You Want to Achieve? And if you missed part one: What Are You Losing By Procrastinating? be sure to read it.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott August 26, 2009 at 11:58 am

Amen; advice well given, and well received.

2 lara August 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm

wow. great post. of course in some ways we know we’re responsible for our own happiness, but it’s easier said than done. taking responsibility isn’t easy – but if we don’t, who will? thanks for a great post!

3 jblan August 27, 2009 at 11:35 am

@lara It is easier said than done. But I think that becoming aware of it is step number one toward actually doing it.

4 lisabirch August 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Jennifer, thanks for this. it’s a great reminder to have in front of your face in black&white. i make plans to write; i sit down to write; and i even get writing accomplished…often. my big problem is i don’t manage my time well; therefore i don’t quite meet deadlines like I know i could. although i usually work with loose deadlines, i still could do way better. the loudest thing i heard in this post is this: “When you really want to do something, you rearrange your day/life around it.” period.

5 lisabirch August 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm

…and actually, by “loose deadlines” i mean self-imposed deadlines. but as I sit here and think about this…self-imposed deadlines are just as important as any other deadlines, right?? should be. *smh*

6 jennifer blanchard August 27, 2009 at 2:13 pm

@lisabirch Hey, good to hear from you again! Although self-imposed deadlines are often difficult for many people to stick with…but they are just as important, if not more important, than any other type of deadline. After all, if you can’t keep your word to yourself, who can you keep it to?

7 CoachMarla August 29, 2009 at 1:23 pm

@Jen, I love how you emphasize “choice” and “integrity” here. A great post I’ll RT on Twitter.

Marla | @MarlaBeck on Twitter

8 Elaine Grant August 29, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Well said! Deadlines can help tremendously, but the temptation is still to wait until the last minute and then write furiously. The goal, for me anyway, is to plan time effectively so that writing and panic don’t become paired in one’s mind. (Associating panic with writing, I believe, is one more reason for procrastinating.) Getting a goal buddy can help — if you don’t believe your own self-imposed deadline, becoming accountable to someone else can make all the difference.

Elaine Grant
@elaine@grant on Twitter

9 Ryan December 30, 2009 at 5:40 pm

I came from from Mary’s blog: this is an excellent piece! it kicked my butt. thanks.

10 Wesley March 1, 2010 at 2:02 am

One is NEVER in complete control of their life. Anything can happen at any given time and can prevent anything from happening. Sometimes things are uncontrollable. Before playing in a recital, (violin) i just was about to use a stapler. Yes i knew how. No danger. I noticed then a clip was missing. So, i put in the clip, but no one told me the stapler was broken. After putting the clip in, it recoiled back into my finger and cut the inside of my nail. There was no way i would have ever none that would have happened. “You shouldn’t have been playing with staplers” is irrelevant, since all i did was attempt to use a normal stapler, and my papers needed to be stapled. One person i knew was walking down the street once. He had no problems with anyone, just walking down the street. A random thug comes up to him and immediately shoots him. It was a random intent of murder. He died. Nothing he could’ve done or anything anyone could have done would save him at that moment, considering how immediate it was. Life is never really under our control, and some people have to get their heads out of media based phsychiatry and take a good look at the real world.

11 jblan March 1, 2010 at 11:38 am

@Wesley I think you misunderstood the point this post was making. I wasn’t talking about taking personal responsibility for outside circumstances (ie: things you can’t control). I was talking about accepting responsibility for the fact that you’re not writing and no one is stopping you from writing except you. No matter what happens in your outside world, you are ALWAYS in control of how you react, the actions you take and the choices you make. ALWAYS.

12 Katie May 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Thanks for writing this. Ironically, I’ve just made the decision to take responsibility for my writing actions (just last night) and all I’ve done today is spend the day feeling that I’m a terrible writer and there’s no hope for me. Of course my writing’s going to be rusty, after years of rating it at such a low level in my own head!

I identified with so many of the points you made in this article. And in the midst of a day full of negative thoughts, it was a treat to be able to read the phrase: There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We always need to hear that.

I’m going to keep going, because I can only improve, especially if I really start to make writing more of a priority in my life. Thanks for putting this advice into words – it’s something I definitely needed to read today. 🙂

13 Jennifer May 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

@Katie You’re welcome! I’m glad it resonated with you. The first thing you need to do now is stop being so hard on yourself. Like you said–Of course you’re going to be rusty after so much time not allowing yourself the credit for the talent you actually have! Good luck with your writing. You’ve taken a huge step and I know it’s going to make a big difference for you.

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