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Taking responsibility isn’t as easy as it sounds

A common way we deal with upsets and challenges is to attribute responsibility for these happening to other people, events, circumstances or situations and not look so readily at what we bring to the party, to be taking responsibility. If your business isn’t doing so well then it is “because of the recession”. If we have an accident, it is “because of his or her driving”. If life is going badly, it is “because of the things that keep going wrong”, etc. To take responsibility, to be self accountable, is to enquire within and to explore what is going on within us that is helping these events to occur. Yet, even when you’ve got a grasp of this approach, you might find yourself flipping back to the “blame” polarity, which can of course involve blaming yourself too!

It is easy to blame others. When something happens involving something or someone outside of us, it can seem as if they’ve caused it. We came to believe early on in life that others controlled the shots and we had to influence their behaviour to get what we needed. So, to get fed we had to cry and if we weren’t getting our needs met, we’d make pretty sure “they” got it. Growing up brought us perhaps unpleasantly face to face with the possibility that if we were to progress in life, we needed to take responsibility for our lives. Some learn that more quickly than others, and then perhaps for some areas of their lives but not others, and other people get there later if at all.

To take responsibility for our lives involves the lot, including our thoughts and feelings, and this is where it can get hard because it can seem that someone else has triggered an internal response and so surely “they did it”. What is not so obvious is that that event “out there” pushed a button, some old-established thought or feeling, as a result of which we went through some well-established pattern of response. This is where the real practice comes in, pausing the “knee-jerk” response and becoming aware of your habitual internal processing.

The blame reaction can be very subtle, even occuring when we think we’ve “got it”. Or it can suddenly come along and bite you, to remind you it hasn’t gone away. The point here is to remember how awareness can work, how we can often need to “re-mind” ourselves, to bring ourselves back on to our path. With awareness, you notice it, get it and re-focus. It involves an act of will. To think we’ve “got it” once and for all if to kid ourselves. It takes working on and becoming aware of the more subtle ways the ego trips us up. Over time the more ingrained patterns emerge. This is not the time to give up, hard though it can be at times, but to stay the course. Ultimately that is what can be so rewarding.

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How to look irrelevant in the face of economic changes

There was more than just a tiny whiff of irrelevance in the face of economic changes that emitted last week from elements of our UK political class.

Recent claims from some on the UK’s political right that British workers are amongst the idlest will bemuse many people at work. The common comment has rather been that the UK has a “long-hours culture”, with people regularly working longer hours than almost anywhere else in Europe. The danger of course with this kind of debate is to deflect attention away from more pressing problems, for example insufficient stimulus to job creation and to demand in what is really a depression in the UK. There is a danger that the old political shibboleths of state intervention versus free enterprise will obscure what might really be done.

Idleness is not something that today’s bosses would recognise, but rather a very pressured workforce, prone to illness from stress and depression, having had real-term cuts to living standards, and being asked to work even longer hours to keep their jobs and to keep businesses afloat. It is not the most motivating message to hear from some of our politicians that workers are idle, particularly from a section of the community that has recently been through an expenses scandal, where there is widespread suspicion of elitist cronyism and who are currently in the middle of their two-month summer holidays.

What our hard-working staff across UK business and the public sector need is evidence that politicians, both on the left and the right, have a handle on the crisis and are driving forward a positive lead in moving things forward, rather than the current policy vacuum that exists. Hence it is interesting that business leaders have been calling on the political class to invest in infrastructure, particularly how antiquated much of it is, in order to help the UK be more competitive, or to build more houses for our expanding skilled population. Rather than an old-style, Thatcherite, laissez faire capitalism, these very capitalists want us to take more responsibility for our heritage, rather than abandon it to “market forces” as in the 1980’s.

What is missing is rather a coherent interpretation of economic changes that are affecting all of us, which are rooted in the rise of China and other “emerging” economies as against the “mature” economies” of the last 100 years, and the need to reform the structure of international trade and finance as illustrated by an massive imbalance between debtor and creditor nations, between surplus countries and deficit ones. “Austerity” is simply a re-run of the failed policies of the “balanced budget” Treasury orthodoxy of the 1930’s, which was discredited by the Great Depression and swept away by the Second World War, and by Bretton Woods and other wartime and post-war international agreements.

Thus one suspects the little band of ideological Thatcherites and “supply side” reformers have missed the point and that they, as are some on the other side, are trying to fight the political battles of the past and not noticed, or don’t want to notice, that the world has moved on, that we need action from our politicians that addresses needs across our society and in our ability to thrive in  a modern advanced world that is reorganising itself, and not just for the benefit of the few.

Anyway, watch this argument carefully. A whole new political dispensation will arise out of these sterile aruments of the past, and there’s a whole lot of people saying that now is time for real change.

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Seeing the benefits in adversity

It can be hard to get that when you’ve hit difficult times there’s very likely something in it all that you’ll benefit from long-term. Of course it can seem like a wind-up likely to be met with expletives. However, in all that might be going on, there might be some insight or learning that you need to get, maybe one you’ve not got till now, and which will prove a major gain for you in some way. The trouble is that this can be very hard to see at the time.

When difficult times come, what we can so easily do is focus in on the difficulty. From a pain/pleasure perspective, we want to avoid the pain and get more pleasure. So we’re struggling to avoid something. We’re also likely to want to restore the old situation, which is presumed to be OK in some way, even though things are probably changing and we can’t have it back. So we’re likely to be grieving for what we’ve lost. In what is called the Change Curve, we first have to feel the pain, reach the “pits” and find a way to accept what has happened, what the lessons are and what the new way forward is, before building the new life. There’s probably a letting go somewhere too. Many people are unable to make this transition and stay stuck somewhere before acceptance, for example feeling upset, angry or depressed about what has happened or attached to the old ways. The adversity may go on a long time and we need to find the endurance to see it through, even when we can’t see the end point. People can so easily give up along the way. There may be false dawns, when it looks like it’s working out but then things fall back to the default phase of difficulty.

People who have lost their job and have found it has taken them a long time to get back on their feet will know this one, as might people who have had business or financial difficulty or a major illness or bereavement or a disaster, among some typical examples.

It can be as though the hardship itself obscures the awarenes, the insight into the situation that’s needed for learning to take place. Energy is more invested in survival than creativity. However, many who’ve written about these situations say that it is when we start to make choices about we will manage the situation and ourselves that’s different that we start to make the learnings. Many would probably say it’s when we “take responsibility” in effect. We start to apply our will to what’s happening. Determination gets involved. It’s like we decide we’re going to deal with things differently. This too can be a “false dawn” and we can slide back, but if the process is repeated and we are able once again to re-focus, we find the inner strength and will to move forward.

What that is varies massively but I would say that this is where the benefit can truly come, when we find our own way forward, our own coping mechanism, and our own ideas about what we can do, and start to implement them. What has so often struck me is that there’s some very important personal insight involved, about how we operate as persons, how we think and feel, our patterns and attitudes, how we do things, something that needs to change or be done differently. If we make this learning, which is all about self-awareness, we are somehow stronger and wiser for it, perhaps even a breakthrough that can be life-changing and life-enhancing.

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How much do you genuinely believe you create your own reality?

If we were really honest, we would many of us probably say we struggle with the idea that we create our reality. We would probably attribute at least some responsibility to others or events. Many in the news industry would be out of a job if a big number gave up on this way of thinking.

Perceiving ourselves to be at the effect of people or situations, to be the victim, is a classic ego characteristic. “Who I am… ” is one who finds things happens to them, or is done to by others. The positive side of course can be that good things can happen to you (or me) too, but we’re more inclined to notice the victim orientation because we won’t like it and think or feel others do it to us or events or circumstances work to our disadvantage. There’s no or a limited sense of our contributing to it.

One of the classic treatises on this subject is that of Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he suggests that we may not be responsible for how we got to be in a certain situation but we are responsible for how we deal with it. He was referring to how the few survivors of Jewish inmates of Auschwitz handled the trauma of incarceration. He noticed that those that took responsibility tended to survive. Others would go on to say that we are 100% responsible for our lives, that we create our own reality. You’ll find this for example in the Law of Attraction material, in that how we think and feel affects what we draw to us, in other words create.

This can be a very hard one for many people to accept, since it flies in the face of their experience and their beliefs about themselves, other people and life. Some of us can get very invested in being a victim, almost to the point that it defines who they are. “I am how I am…” because of what happened to him or her. It can be etched on their faces, expressed in their words and acted out in their behaviour. Others get it partially, and work with personal responsibility in parts of their lives, but not in others. Or, for some, the personal responsibility model is one they believe in – until something big comes along, and then they flip back into victimhood.

The power of responsibility can be seen when, after a period of blaming others or life for what’s going on, we finally begin to let go of the victim drama and start to accept that we have a part to play, that maybe somewhere we are contributing to this and then think out ways of responding differently and to take control of the process from our side.

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Taking responsibility for how you think, feel and act

In an earlier posting this week I referred to the need to take ownership for our own part in things not working out. This can be a difficult shift to make but it is so often a crucial one. And we need to keep doing it.

The understanding of personal responsibility or accountability is frequently stated by many people, but it isn’t one that is easily practised. So often it goes against our experience, based on our current paradigm of perception. We think, based on past experience that things often happen “to us”, that they are the result of actions by others or circumstances that “occur”. However, according to the understanding of the function of empowered perception, what occurs is a result of our thoughts, how we perceive things and what we put out. An example is frequently noticing the difference in how you feel, what you think, how you act and how you see the world when you are having a good day and feeling good, as opposed to a bad one. There’s the saying, “You got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning”, to imply that you started off on the wrong foot that day and it continued thus.

Another aspect of responsibility is that we are in process, that how we feel and how we act is governed by our state of mind. We literally respond to our own process, what’s going on inside. Hence Fritz Perls used to use the word as “response-ability”, our ability to respond to our own process.

The point is that with any situation or event or behaviour that occurs that isn’t serving us or not what we want, it is well worth pausing and thinking about what we ourselves could take responsibility for and change or do something about. This is particularly powerful when it comes to challenging and changing how we feel, think and act, when challenging our own beliefs and being aware of and working to let go or change our state. In the quantum paradigm, when multiple options exist in the moment, we choose another approach and the feelings and thoughts that go with it, and the world gradually re-configures as we intend.

But we need to persevere, to practice it, since the universe will initially challenge us, test us, to see if we mean it. Also it takes a while, at least 30 days, to change old habits. So we generally need to work at it.

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When it doesn’t seem to be working

Part of the challenge of dealing with things that don’t seem to be working out in our lives is being aware of our part in it. When we feel helpless, at the victim of events, such as with the current economic and political impasse that seems to be going on that I referred to in the last posting, it seems like we are at the effect of “it”. Part of the clue lies in the words, “It isn’t working”.

I mean here not a precise bit of machinery and how it works, but more broadly what is occurring in our life. The clue is in the word “it”. What we do is disconnect ourselves from “it” and instead put “it” out there as separate from us ourselves. We disown “it” as “not me”. Objectively that may be the case, if you live in the Newtonian paradigm of cause and effect. However, if you think for a moment about multiple possibilities inherent in every moment of Now, there is probably a multitude of things that can be done. But the key shift is to take ownership of the “it” as part of me, which I can influence, on the basis that we are all connected, all One.

What is so interesting is that if we alter how we think about what seems to be happening, the perspective shifts too. If for example you start to feel good about you and about what you can do, rather than fearful, you might find what seems possible to you has changed too, and you can see all sorts of ways forward that are under your control. Suddenly the horizon is much broader, and the landscape filled with all sorts of different ideas and people that can help you and work with you. It is you that changed, not “it”.

In the process you would need to shift your feeling state, let go of for example the fear, and enter your centred state of mind, pure calm, pure peace. From That space, you can then open up these new horizons. It’s about being accountable for your state, and shifting it.

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More about owning the beast within

It is a very likely a challenging idea that other people’s anger, hatred and violence are also things that at some level are part of us. It can feel very unsettling to be invited to own for oneself what seems to belong to another. “Surely,” you might think, “it is their stuff.” While that might be true, what they have to teach us has great potential for our own liberation.

For example we might think we are “nice” people, but certain others are definitely not OK. We might firstly present this idea of ourselves to the world at large, but conceal our own inner anger. We might alternatively believe this of ourselves, that we are “nice”, and disown our rage and hurt within. However, we might also keep meeting nasty people in the world.

One classic example of this is the very spiritual person who complains of the evil in the world. If we see evil in the world, at some level it is also mirroring something back to us that we might benefit by looking at.

This is a very important example of where raised self-awareness is very important. Such enhanced awareness can reveal things about ourselves that we miss. Others might observe it in us, but we don’t. This can be very common, and one I frequently find when working with people in organisations. Here where people work together closely, such phenomena can get very clear. Institutions are another example.

The idea that other people serve as mirrors, in effect reflecting back to us parts of ourselves is one many people I think find hard to accept, or at least feel very uncomfortable about. It’s that discomfort however that’s a crucial key in recognising our shadow at work. The concept of the shadow is that what we don’t accept about ourselves, what we disown, occurs in our environment. Thus it is uncomfortable when presented to us in some way. It is also a clue that we need to attend to it.

Yet when we acknowledge our own beast, we can then have a better idea what to work on, and we can then potentially heal it. And when we do this, we then heal others, because the disowned beast is rampant in the world. We’re busy mirroring it to each other all the time. Once we can authentically give our love to others, a love we feel inside as Who we really are, others in turn can be helped to change. It is part of the process of cause and effect. But while we project anger and rage to others they in turn feed it back to us.

So, if we feel anger about the butcher of Srebrenica, it is also worth reminding ourselves, at the same time, of what that person might remind us of in us.

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Why take responsibility?

What is the point of taking responsibility? So might many a reluctant teenager respond to such an implicit demand of a parent. But it’s a good question.

The idea that we are each responsible for our own lives flies in the face of our experience, whereby historically others called the shots in our lives, like parents did! When we feel hurt by the actions of another, for example, it can feel like the other person caused it. But, as pointed out in the last posting, it is us who feel the feelings. It is us who are reacting, re-enacting old memories, often from childhood, habitually ingrained in the consciousness. Others might react differently to the same event or behaviour. Thus Fritz Perls said the word as “response-ability”, our ability to respond to our own processing.

So taking responsibility can be more truthful. It can reflect what is actually going on.

Another point is that it works, it’s a pragmatic response. Or it can be said to be useful. Taking ownership puts you in the driving seat of your life. You are the one who is responsible for how you think, feel and act. You then have choices and you can choose to respond differently. Also it has the great benefit of starting the process of letting go of the unhelpful negative emotions that are getting in the way of a fulfilled life.

But the reluctant teenager (or an adult) won’t get that. Why not? Well, he or she would have to give up on a drama that they are heavily invested in. And also an adult too. Becoming aware that there is something going on that is not working is a major shift to make.

As has been argued a lot in these pages, it is the most powerful, creative and life-changing shift one can make.

If you want to.

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Are you the owner of your ship?

Do you take ownership in every area of your life? Or do you attribute responsibility for things “happening” to others or circumstances in one or more area?

I’ve been busy over the last few days coaching leaders in a particular place where it’s become very clear that certain people (I’m being deliberately vague and non-specific here) avoid taking responsibility. When challenged, for example one person might hide behind being ill or having a medical condition. The behaviour that leaders want to improve pre-dates the illness, but the illness has become the excuse. When we explored it, it became clear that all along the individual avoids responsibility. The manager also agreed that they found themselves being in parent mode with regard to this person, who of course was in child mode, where illness became a way of manipulating others and diverting people from what needed to change.

There’s an important developmental clue here. If you find yourself blaming others for something, or feeling at the effect of something “done” by others or circumstances, it is an important question to ask oneself: what could I take responsibility for, be accountable to myself for, in this situation? Put it another way, what is this situation and how I’m responding teaching me about how I manage my state, my thoughts and my feelings; what in me do I need to address?

Do a quick self-check. When do you, for example, feel “hard done by”, badly treated, disregarded, undervalued, unappreciated, or exploited? Do you catch yourself sighing and wishing things would be different? How much are you going along with things which you’d like to be different? And are you at cause or at effect in one or more areas of your life?

There is an important follow-on concept from this thinking, that you are also the creator of your destiny? In other words, you are 100% responsible for what occurs. This can be even more challenging for people, and I guess it would be your choice how much you wanted to work with that. According to the Law of Attraction, what you think you draw to you. In others what you think about, gets bigger in your life. What you focus on, becomes “real”. Thus is the power of perception. Fascinating. Scary!

So if you avoid taking responsibility, according to this approach, you are busily creating what occurs but denying yourself any chance to change it.

If you take responsibility, accept that you are master of your destiny, and manage your thoughts and feelings (feelings are also very creative), you can shift your thinking (and feeling and behaviour) and create differently.

Yes, it’s tough (but it needn’t be – that’s also down to us) and has its challenges.

For starters, as readers of this blog for a long time will know, spot your thoughts and drop those that don’t serve you. And keep doing this. And when you forget (the ego is very powerful – it’s got great skills in selective amnesia), then when you remember, you re-member, and re-connect with who you are, and start again with your purpose.

Thus can we make changes in our lives.

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When people don’t show up

Someone whom I was looking forward to meeting today just called and cancelled. What I thought would be a good afternoon just went up in smoke. Disappointed expectations.

What happens for you when people don’t do what you wanted or expected? Do you feel let down, angry, disappointed – or cynical?

Think about all those times when people didn’t do what you hoped or expected or show up in the way you thought they would. A girlfriend or boyfriend dumped you. A work-colleague let you down badly over some support you were expecting. A friend persistently fails to show up in the way you would like. A parent didn’t come to read you your bed-time story even though he or she had promised to.

Would you even have a long-term memory of a let-down? Such memories affect us even now. I can remember a “game” me and my friends played as children. It was called “chucking you out.” Every now and again one of us would get chucked out of the house we were playing together in. How horrible children can be to one another!

How horrible can adults be to one another too!

So, have you got the feeling of it yet?

From a personal development perspective, this is all about disappointed expectations. Having expectations about another’s behaviour and judging them accordingly. At times the pain of it can be great, which is why it is hard to let go of. To use self-awareness is to learn to spot when this is occurring. Who knows what was going on for that person that they didn’t show up? Maybe my friend had something else urgent that came up (this is true in this case). What we are left with is our feelings. Again, from a personal development perspective, it is to take responsibility for the feelings and not let them run us, and then let go of the upset. And let go of blame and resentment.

Learning how to become aware in this way, to spot what’s happening and to take responsibility for the reaction (it’s a “re-action” – a repeat of an old reaction) takes us time and practice. But you need the awareness in the first place.