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How to Take Responsibility For Your Actions (& Why it’s so Important!)


Life can be stressful and unpredictable, and sometimes it is easier to shy away from taking responsibility for our actions. That’s because accepting responsibility for our actions is often hard. It is common to avoid responsibility for short-term relief from negative emotions, but the long-term consequences can be significant.

Though it is no easy feat, taking responsibility for your actions can be empowering and have significant positive impacts on your life. To name a few benefits, it can improve your relationships, enhance your ability to learn, and lead to you feeling more in control of your life.

In this article, I will share what it means to take responsibility for your actions, why it is crucial to do so, and some helpful tips to execute.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

What does it mean to take responsibility for your actions?

Taking responsibility for your actions means you recognize the areas of your life that you can control and make positive changes to. It also means accepting and moving past the things you cannot control, without placing blame or excuses. Sometimes when we make a mistake, it can be difficult to own up to it and take actionable steps to resolve it. Our first reaction may be to deflect blame onto others or make excuses for the situation.

Taking responsibility for your actions empowers you to have the agency to influence your life. You are not just reacting to situations, rather you get to choose how to respond to them.

When you take responsibility for your actions you first acknowledge the issue, whether it is a mistake you made or something in your life you would like to change.

Then, you recognize what role you play in the situation, including what aspects are within your control, as well as the things you cannot change. Lastly, you implement an action plan to resolve the issue and limit the chances of it happening again in the future.  

Why is it important to take responsibility for your actions?

Taking responsibility for your actions has many benefits, even though it may be hard to do so. Here are 4 of the biggest benefits you’ll get from taking responsibility of your own actions:

1. It improves your mental health

Studies show that “Developing personal responsibility positively contributes to one’s well-being, self-esteem, and psychological health by empowering individuals to take ownership over behaviors and actions”.

When you take responsibility for your actions you feel a sense of control, rather than feeling like a victim of circumstance.

Taking responsibility for your actions involves taking an active role in problem-solving, rather than waiting or hoping situations will resolve on their own. When it comes to mental health and wellness, it is evident that there will be environmental factors that play a significant role that are beyond our control.

However, there will also be factors that you can change.

For example, say you are struggling with anxiety and want to take responsibility to improve your mental health. You can seek professional support such as therapy or consult with your general practitioner. You can explore what coping strategies work for you, such as breathing, meditation, exercise, caring for a pet, or spending time with loved ones. Alternatively, you can also try to develop a better understanding of your triggers.

All of these things are within your control and will likely lead to improved symptoms over time.

2. It strengthens your relationships

Think about your own personal relationships. If you have a friend who does not take responsibility for their actions, places blame on others, and is constantly coming up with excuses for their actions, is this someone you would want to surround yourself with? The likely answer is no. You may view this individual as unreliable, untrustworthy, and immature.

Taking responsibility for your actions plays a key role in relationships. When you do this, you demonstrate to your partner, friend, or family member that you are mature and willing to be honest and vulnerable.

This in turn establishes an environment where the other individual feels safe to be vulnerable and authentic, leading to relationships characterized by trust, openness, and transparency.

3. It increases your ability to learn

The relationship between personal responsibility and learning ability has been studied extensively. Research shows that being responsible for one’s own learning is essential for academic, personal, and professional growth and success. Taking responsibility in the context of study and learning means that the student recognizes that they play an active role in their learning and that their actions directly affect their peers. 

The ability to be a strong learner means going beyond what is provided to you and passively receiving the knowledge that is taught. Rather, a strong learner takes responsibility for their learning by having a vested interest and putting effort and engagement into their studies.

4. You’ll gain a higher internal locus of control

Internal locus of control is a psychological term that means that a person believes they have a sense of control in their life, rather than their life being controlled by external factors.

If you have a higher internal locus of control, you are more likely to attribute your success (and failures) as being a result of your own actions. If you have a higher external locus of control, you may believe that your life is not within your control, and any success or failure you experience is attributed to luck or fate.

For example, let’s say there is a big exam coming up at school. An individual with a higher internal locus of control may believe that the exam results will reflect the amount of studying and preparation done, therefore they will study extra harder. On the other hand, an individual with a higher external locus of control may believe that studying is a waste of time, as the result of the exam is not within their control and is solely based on the bias of the teacher. Who do you think will be more successful in this situation?

People with an internal locus of control take responsibility for their actions as they recognize the aspects of their life that they can influence, and act accordingly. Studies show that individuals with a greater internal locus of control have higher self-confidence and are more resistant to stress.

5 tips for taking responsibility for your actions

So as it turns out, there are many reasons to take responsibility for your actions. But how do you actually do so? Here are 5 tips that will help you take responsibility.

1. Stop blaming other people

Blame is a defense mechanism. It is easier to blame others when things go wrong, or when a mistake is made rather than taking full responsibility for your actions. Just because it is easier does not mean that it is right, or that it will benefit you in the long term.

In the moment, shifting the blame may alleviate some stress and negative emotions. However, it will not resolve the issue and will likely leave you feeling guilty and emotionally drained.

 It is not fair to yourself, nor is it fair to the person being wrongly blamed. Additionally, when you blame others you risk losing valuable friendships, relationships, or jobs. People may lose trust and respect for you, leaving you to feel lonely.

In the moment it can be scary to accept responsibility and take actionable steps towards change. Reminding yourself that it is the right thing to do, and that it will benefit you in the long term may help you to resist playing the ‘blame game’ and take responsibility for your actions.

2. Stop making excuses

Sometimes we make excuses to rationalize why we didn’t take responsibility for our actions or to avoid situations that are difficult or uncomfortable. Making excuses is like taking the easy way out. Rather than admitting fault or mistakes, we make excuses to rationalize actions, even if they may be wrong. 

For example, perhaps you were not able to finish a school assignment by the deadline. Instead of blaming the teacher for making the deadline too soon, consider the factors in your control. You could have started the assignment early enough to complete it on time, or sought out support, whether it is from a peer or teacher to assist you in completing the task.

It can be tempting to make excuses to justify our behavior, however, it is not productive, and will not benefit you in the long term. 

3. Accept negative emotions

It is inevitable that you will experience negative emotions in your life. Taking responsibility for your actions can bring up feelings of discomfort, fear, and shame. These emotions can be difficult to cope with, but it is important to accept them in order to move forward

Practicing mindfulness can help you to sit with negative emotions rather than trying to run away from them. Avoiding negative emotions and discomfort only perpetuates it in the long term and makes it more difficult to take responsibility for our actions and move forward.

Try some of these tips to implement mindfulness during times when negative emotions are present.

4. Act, don’t react

When mistakes or uncomfortable situations happen, it is common for our first instinct to be defensiveness. As mentioned earlier, sometimes it is easier to deflect blame, make excuses, or run away from negative emotions. When we react to situations without thinking it through, it is likely that the response will be defensive, without resolving the issue.

It is important to take a step back and act on the situation in a way that is calm and impactful. It can be difficult to have a calm perspective during the heat of the moment, but there are some things you can do to bring yourself to a calm place, so you can move forward:

Once you are in a state where you are acting and not reacting, you are better able to make informed and rational decisions in order to rectify the situation.

5. Practice self-compassion

Like all humans we make mistakes, go through difficult times, and sometimes act in ways we later wish we hadn’t. Everyone experiences this and no one is perfect! Though it is important to take responsibility for our actions and make things right, it is equally as important to be kind to yourself.

For example, say you reacted badly and said hurtful things to a close friend during an argument, and now you’re beating yourself up about it. You may be ruminating over the conversation, thinking about the things you said, or should have said, and telling yourself that you are a bad person who doesn’t deserve friendship.

These negative thoughts and feelings are natural and valid, but they do not help the situation, and they do not leave room for self-compassion.

Imagine a friend came to you with the same situation. What would you tell them? You would probably show them compassion and say something like “That sounds like a difficult situation, and I can see that you are not happy with how you responded. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and it will get better. What do you think you can do to fix the situation?”

Taking an approach like this allows you to forgive yourself, and show yourself kindness, while still holding yourself accountable and taking responsibility for your actions.

Wrapping up

Taking responsibility for your actions is rarely easy, but it is worth it. The benefits of taking responsibility outweigh the discomfort that comes with it. Mistakes are human, tough situations are unavoidable, and there will always be factors outside of our control. It is how we respond to them that is important.

Do you find it hard to take responsibility for your own actions? Or do you feel like a victim of circumstance more often than not? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Jessie Faber portrait

Jessie Faber

Writer

Writer, athlete, social worker, and professional thrift shopper. Born in Canada, but currently living my dream playing professional soccer in Greece. Passionate about mental health advocacy, sewing, singing, and playing guitar.


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