Do you take responsibility for your actions?
Do you sometimes wonder what that actually means — and whether or not you’re doing enough?
Taking personal responsibility has to do with your actions, words, and choices and how they affect you and others.
Accepting responsibility is essential to anyone who acknowledges and seeks to honor the connectedness between all living beings.
To admit that your actions have consequences, not only for you but also for others, is to own your role in the co-creation of the environment you share with others.
Acceptance of that role requires something of you, and your response shapes your character and either facilitates or prevents your personal development.
But what does the right response look like?
What does it mean to take responsibility for yourself?
To take responsibility for yourself means not only acknowledging your mistakes but also taking action to minimize or make reparation for the consequences of those mistakes.
There’s an immediate cost to taking that action, but if you see it more as an investment in a better long-term outcome and in your personal growth, the cost is not a burden but a gift.
You may not be able to completely erase the effects of your mistake, but taking action to atone for it sends the right message.
And not only does it communicate your overall intentions to others; it also helps you realize the person you want to be and to take another step in that direction.
Not taking responsibility is certainly easier — in the short-term.
If you can shift blame to someone or something else, you absolve yourself of the responsibility for the consequences and the suffering they cause.
But sooner or later, your actions and their consequences come home.
And the suffering they cause is usually worse than the cost of owning your mistakes at the outset.
What happens if you don't take responsibility for your life and actions?
The more you avoid responsibility, the more you detach yourself not only from others but from your own identity as a connected being.
Once you take responsibility, you honor that connection and your debt to it.
That connection is a two-way street, after all.
As much as you put into it, you draw from it. Your self-responsibility isn’t only about you.
When you shift the blame and refuse to take responsibility for your words and actions, you cut yourself off from the gifts of that connection.
You also poison the well for others — particularly those closely connected to you.
You make it harder for them to benefit from their connectedness, not only with you but with the greater universe of connections.
It doesn’t mean they can never deepen those connections themselves, but when you shirk your responsibility — denying your connectedness — you disrupt other connections, too.
The Power of Taking Responsibility for Your Actions
1. Be aware of how your actions and decisions affect others.
You can’t effectively take responsibility for your actions if you’re not even aware of how they affect you and other people.
So, the first step is to become aware (or more fully aware) of the consequences of your words and actions.
Awareness makes it more difficult to avoid personal responsibility because it’s easier to see the suffering our words and actions cause for others.
The more aware you are, the more likely you are to want to avoid further suffering or to make amends for it.
2. Stop making excuses and shifting blame.
Once you get into the habit of shifting blame, it’s hard to stop. But it is possible.
The first time you accept full responsibility for your own words and actions, you’ll feel raw and exposed on the one hand but also stronger and, ultimately, more powerful.
Instead of avoiding blame and yielding your control, you’re accepting both.
By accepting responsibility, you put the ball in your own court.
And from there, you can take conscious action to repair the damage.
If instead you deny responsibility and choose to be another victim, you step further away from the path to the powerful and connected person you were created to be.
3. Know your limits.
You can’t control everything, and you can’t fix everything.
And when you try, things tend to go sideways — creating more problems for you to address and atone for.
As much as you may want to prevent unpleasant consequences so you can do what you want, no one person can control all the threads in the connected web of cause and effect.
Our limited minds and bodies can only deal with so much at once.
Knowing this can make you more thoughtful before you act or say something.
It can also remind you that, while you are responsible for your own thread-pulling, you can only do so much to either prevent or address the consequences.
4. Own your mistakes and apologize.
When you make a mistake, and the consequences cause suffering for others, taking responsibility means owning that mistake and offering a genuine apology to those affected by it.
You might be tempted to think, “Well, yes, I made a mistake, but these people who are attacking me for it aren’t suffering as a result — at least as far as I can tell. So, why should I apologize to them?”
For one thing, you might not see at the moment how your actions have affected them, but your lack of awareness doesn’t absolve you of the debt you owe.
If there’s at least a chance that your mistake affected someone adversely, you lose nothing by admitting your fault and offering a heartfelt apology for it.
5. Do what you can to minimize the consequences for others.
Once you’ve accepted responsibility for your words or actions, do what you can to make the consequences less painful for others.
Part of that can be a genuine apology, but you should also look for ways to minimize the negative effects of your mistake,
For example, if you bitterly regret lashing out at someone and saying or writing hurtful things that others witnessed, you can reach out to those witnesses.
Make sure they know you were in the wrong and that the recipient of those harsh words didn’t deserve them. Apologize to them (as well as to the ones you hurt) for the example you set.
6. Do what you can to make amends.
Aside from minimizing consequences for others, look for ways to make amends for what you’ve done — either to repair the damage or to make restitution.
If they’ve lost something of value, you may not be able to give them something equally precious, but do what you can.
If they’ve lost something as a result of your mistake, consider what you could sacrifice to make reparation for your words or actions. Share the cost.
7. Consider consequences for others before you act.
When you accept responsibility for your mistakes, you’re more likely to consider the consequences of an action before you take it.
You’re also more likely to want to avoid any action that has negative consequences for others.
Because you feel responsible for those negative effects, you know that if you cause them, you’ll have to own up to it, apologize for it, and make whatever adjustment you can.
Say goodbye to thoughtless actions and just “doing what feels good” if you care about how your words and actions affect others.
8. Do what you know is right — even when it’s difficult.
Once you see the potential consequences (for yourself and others) and care about avoiding the negative ones, it’s easier to see what you should do.
It doesn’t necessarily make it easier to do the right thing, but it does help you see the bigger picture of your words and actions.
Taking responsibility isn’t limited to knowing which option will result in the least pain for others, though.
It extends to the choices you make with that knowledge.
9. Improve your daily habits.
Personal responsibility also has to do with your daily habits — those you keep, those you break, and those you build by choice and decisive action.
When you see the bigger picture of your actions and their consequences, you also see the effects of your habits.
The good news is that you can change your habits and custom-design your own daily routines.
And while creating more helpful habits takes work, the personal cost is less than holding onto harmful habits or neglecting to create better ones.
10. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
No one can be called responsible if they have no regard for the way they treat others.
Larger actions may have more devastating consequences, but even the words you exchange with someone else can have far-reaching positive or negative effects.
And if you see the bigger picture of everything you say and do, you’ll see that it’s always better to treat others the way you want to be treated.
No one has a sincere and overriding desire to be abused or mistreated.
Even if someone manages to convince us we deserve only pain, at our root, we know we’re made for something better.
11. Forgive others and yourself.
Not only do you need to forgive those who’ve reacted to you in anger.
Once you’ve admitted your fault, apologized for it, and done all you can to make amends, you also need to forgive yourself — even if others choose not to forgive you.
Whether those affected by your mistake forgive you or not, freely forgive them to release yourself from the pain of your own resentment and bitterness.
It’s too easy to hold onto that when you feel as though someone will never forgive you or will never see you as anything but a traitor and a toxic influence.
Forgiveness opens the door to healing and continued growth.
And as important as it is to show compassion for others and to forgive them for what they’ve said and done, it’s no less important to forgive yourself.
You have as much right to compassion as anyone else.
Are you taking personal responsibility?
Now that you know what it looks like to take responsibility, what comes to mind regarding some of your own past mistakes?
Are there any that demand a genuine apology?
Have you hesitated to take full ownership and act to repair the damage or to make restitution?
Is there someone on your mind who deserves a fuller or more authentic apology?
Whatever they’ve said or done in response to your words or actions, it doesn’t negate or even diminish your responsibility or your duty to make what reparation you can.
If you know you’re at fault, acknowledge that before you point out the other’s mistakes.
Focusing on your own mistakes will keep you busy enough.
And saying “I’m sorry, but…” does neither of you any favors.
May your responsibility, wisdom, and compassion influence everything you do today.