Take Responsibility to Improve Your Life
I help many people to address various life challenges, such as anxiety, self-confidence, ill-health and difficult personal relationships. Whilst everyone is an individual with their own personal story and circumstances, there are several common factors that enable people to address their problems.
One of the most important steps for people seeking to improve their lives is to ‘take responsibility’. This can often be easier said than done, but when you accept that the onus is on you, then you can improve your situation and often solve problems completely.
One of the most useful life-mantras I have learnt is:
‘If something is having a negative influence on your life, then it is YOUR problem, regardless of whoever or whatever is causing it.’
We can be an expert in our problems, which seldom helps, or an expert in the solution, which is much more positive. The quicker you ‘take responsibility’, the sooner you move forward with your life.
Sometimes negative things happen to us which are not our fault, such as being made redundant, being bullied or suffering an injury. This often causes people to position themselves as a victim, saying things like, ‘It wasn’t fair’ or, ‘If I complain it will only get worse’ or, ‘It wasn’t my fault.’
Such comments may of course be true, but they don’t actually help us. They just lead to people getting stuck in a negative state. People who are in such situations tend to tell stories to themselves and others; these will be reasons and self-justification about why they are not overcoming problems but, in reality, they are just excuses.
Harsh though that may sound, it is true. There is always something that can be done to help address the situation, even though it may be difficult and painful to do so.
It often takes time to rationalise negative emotions and come to terms with what has happened. For instance, if you lose your job, split up with someone you’ve been in a long-term relationship with or experience the death of a loved one, then it’s natural to grieve. However, if the grieving goes on for too long then it can be very damaging.
Once people decide to ‘take responsibility’then a more positive future becomes possible. I’m not saying that the transition is easy, and a number of other factors come into play, such as self-awareness, perseverance and seeking help from others, but it can be achieved with the right mindset.
To ‘take responsibility’we need to do more than just reach a stage of acceptance. We need to develop a strong positive expectation about our future. So, I not only encourage acceptance, but also coach people to think, feel and be more optimistic about how they will live in the future.
That involves using our imagination to best effect, which itself is an important life-skill that we sometimes need help with. I’ll discuss that in more detail in a future article, but a key point to consider for now is that it takes the same amount of energy to think positively as it does to think negatively, so why not use that energy to help rather than hinder our lives?
People who have taken ‘taken responsibility’tend to move forward with small steps at first, but those steps build self-confidence and belief. You may still get spontaneous negative emotions, but you can then choose to stop and take control.
Lots of small steps build momentum and eventually become a significant journey. Then you realise that your life has become better and, just as importantly, you have learnt a number of new life-skills that will ensure you continue to have a positive future.
New Year Resolutions
At this time of the year many people make New Year resolutions, but research shows that almost nine out of ten people fail to achieve them. I’m sure most of us can relate to that. Who hasn’t decided at least once in their life to lose weight, eat more healthily, quit smoking, exercise more, reduce stress, get a better job or spend more time with their loved ones?
All of those ambitions are worthy. So why don’t people just go ahead and do it? Well, for a start, it’s not as easy as it sounds. If whatever people put into a New Year resolution was easy, then they would be doing it already and there would be no need for a resolution in the first place!
In effect, a New Year resolution is no different to any other personal ambition we may have. It’s just that the beginning of a new year represents an opportunity to make a fresh start with a positive affirmation that will help to improve our lives in some way.
Although setting-out with the best of intentions, the most common reasons for people failing to achieve their resolutions are that they set unrealistic goals, don’t measure progress or simply lose motivation. The good news is that there are a number of life-skills we can learn about and apply to achieve the outcomes we want.
Firstly, it’s important to have a compelling vision of what we want to achieve. To know where we want to get to, what it will look like, how it will feel. We need to be able to picture the end-goal in our mind, understand the differences it will make and the benefits it will bring to our lives. Most importantly of all, we need to tap into our emotions and know how it will make us feel. That’s how we create motivation and unrelenting commitment to achieve success, even when we encounter obstacles along the way.
Take losing weight, for example. As well as not being happy with where they are with their weight, most people achieve success through visualising how they will look, the new clothes they will wear, the activities they will take part in and the way they will feel about themselves. It’s about looking forward to how we will be rather than focusing on what we don’t want.
That’s why it’s important to set goals in a positive rather than a negative way. To think, write and talk about them positively in order to train and manage our minds, then to subsequently accomplish the changes we want to achieve.
Saying ‘no’ to some things in life can be very challenging. However, if we flip that and say ‘yes’ to an alternative that is more compelling and important to us, we can move forward with much more conviction. If we decide that we need to spend more time with a loved one rather than too many hours at work, for instance, then it helps to have a mindset that we are saying ‘yes’ to that person rather than saying ‘no’ to our employer.
Once we have a compelling vision we can set ourselves a goal. Where the vision is the overall aim and the goal is the specific detail. So, our vision may be to become happier whilst our goal will focus on, say, being a certain weight.
It then becomes important to set a SMART goal. Meaning Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. A SMARTgoal might, for example, be to reduce our weight from 120 kg to 80 kg over a year, whereas simply saying ‘I’m going to lose weight’ is not
Once we have a long-term goal we can then break it down into smaller, manageable chunks by setting appropriate targets at monthly, weekly or daily intervals, depending on the circumstances and what works best for us.
Taking small steps forward eventually creates a journey and builds momentum. I usually find that, once people have made some progress, they can feel the changes happening. That builds confidence, strengthens motivation and inspires people to complete the journey.
There will inevitably be challenges along the way. My advice would be to not turn a drama into a crisis or, as one of my coaching clients said recently, ‘don’t turn a pothole into a sinkhole!’ We may have to accept that our journey won’t be in a straight line but, if we persevere, we will get there in the end.
Finally, it’s important to accept help along the way. We don’t have to complete our journey (New Year resolution) alone. It’s often good to get support from someone, be that a professional life coach, a specialist in a specific subject or a trusted friend.
Now make those New Year resolutions really happen!