Did you ever stop to think that everything you are or ever will be is completely up to you? Just imagine! You are where you are because of who you are. Everything that exists in your life exists because of you, because of your behavior, words and actions. Because you have freedom of choice and because you have chosen each and every circumstance of your life, you are completely responsible for all of your success and failure, your happiness and unhappiness, your present and future.
That thought is like a parachute jump: It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. It’s one of the biggest and most important ideas that can ever occur to you, or anyone else. The acceptance of personal responsibility is what separates the adult from the child. It’s the great leap forward into maturity. Responsibility is the hallmark of the fully integrated, fully functioning human being. Responsibility goes hand in hand with success, achievement, motivation, happiness and self-actualization. It’s the absolute minimum requirement for the accomplishment of everything you could ever really want in life.
Accepting that you’re completely responsible for yourself and realizing that no one is coming to the rescue is the beginning of peak performance. There’s very little that you cannot do or have after you accept that “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!”
The opposite of accepting responsibility is making excuses and blaming people and things for what’s going on in your life. And since everything we do is a matter of habit, if people get into the habit of making excuses, they get into the habit of evading responsibility at the same time. If they set a goal or objective for themselves, they immediately create an excuse that they hold in reserve just in case the accomplishment of the goal is too difficult or requires more self-discipline and persistence than they had thought. As soon as things start to go poorly, irresponsible people trot out their excuse and let themselves off the hook. But that won’t get them anywhere in the long run.
A basic law of human life was first espoused by Socrates more than 400 years before Christ. It’s called the Law of Causality. We call it the Law of Cause and Effect. It states that for every effect in your life, there’s a cause. If there’s any effect that you desire, or desire more of, you can trace it back to the cause, and by duplicating the cause, you can have the effect.
For example, everyone wants to be healthy. If you set a high level of physical health and energy as your goal, or the desired effect, you can have it simply by finding out the cause, by finding out what other healthy and energetic people do with regard to diet, exercise and rest, and by doing the same thing. If you do, you’re likely to get the same result. This is no miracle. It sounds simple, but in many cases, it’s one of the hardest things in the world to do.
Unhappiness is an effect as well. If you wish to be happy, the first thing to do is to decide for yourself the kind of life situation in which you would feel wonderful. Think of the very best times of your life, and think of what you were doing, where you were doing it, and the people you were with at the time. Then write out, in complete detail, a description of your ideal lifestyle. Now you have defined the effect that you desire.
Next, look at your current life and ask yourself, “What are all the things in my life that are inconsistent with the lifestyle that would make me happy?” In other words, look at the causes of the effects that you don’t like. Then make a decision to begin alleviating or removing those causes, one by one, until what you have left is the kind of life you want to live.
Your thoughts are extremely powerful. They have the power to raise and lower your blood pressure, your pulse rate and your respiratory rate. They can affect your digestion. And if your thoughts are strong enough, they can even make you sick or healthy. Your thoughts tend to trigger images in your mind, and the feelings in your body are consistent with them. If you think or read happy, healthy thoughts, you will have happy, healthy pictures and experience happy, healthy emotions. As Deepak Chopra points out in his audiocassette program Magical Mind, Magical Body, every part of your mind is connected to every single part of your body in a complex web of messages and impulses that affect everything you feel, say and do.
Only you can think your thoughts, only you can decide what you’ll dwell upon, what you’ll read and listen to, who you’ll associate with and the conversations you’ll engage in; therefore, you are totally responsible for all the consequences of all those behaviors. It’s unavoidable.
Perhaps the most important part of the subject of self-responsibility involves your happiness and your peace of mind. There seems to be a direct relationship between responsibility and happiness on the one hand, and irresponsibility and unhappiness on the other hand. Let me explain.
First of all, the key to happiness is having a sense of control over what’s going on in your life. The more you feel that you’re in control, the happier you’ll be. Men and women who have risen to the top of their organizations tend to be far happier than people further down. This is because they feel far more in control of their destinies, far more capable of making decisions and taking action. The more responsibility you take in your company, the more power, authority and respect you’ll receive. One of the smartest things you can do is to take responsibility for the most important concerns of your boss. The more you accept responsibility for getting results in the areas that your boss considers most important, the more valuable and indispensable you’ll become in your organization. People who want more money and more respect often think that they can get it simply by asking for it or by politicking. The truth is that it will accrue to you rapidly as soon as you “step up to the plate” and undertake responsibility for results in your organization. The most respected people in any company are those who are the most capable of getting the most important jobs done on schedule.
The more responsibility you take, the more in control you are. And the freer you are, especially in your own mind, to make decisions and to do the things you want to do. So there’s a direct relationship between responsibility, control, freedom and happiness. The happiest people in the world are those who feel absolutely terrific about themselves, and this is the natural outgrowth of accepting total responsibility for every part of their lives.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is irresponsibility, or the failure to accept responsibility. Each person is somewhere in between, moving toward a higher level of responsibility or irresponsibility with every word and every decision. In fact, a good definition of insanity is total irresponsibility, to the point of needing a straitjacket and a padded cell. Thomas Szasz, the great psychoanalyst, once wrote, “There is no such thing as insanity. There are only varying levels of irresponsibility.”
A person who is completely irresponsible is subject to anger, hostility, fear, resentment, doubt-all sorts of negative emotions. And here’s why. All negative emotions tend to be associated with blame. Fully 99 percent of all our problems exist only because we’re able to blame someone or something.