Three Words That Will Change Your Life

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Talk about a model prisoner…

In 1985, Fleet Maull began serving a 14-year sentence for drug trafficking. During his incarceration, he completed a Ph.D. in Psychology, authored a well-received book, became an ordained priest, founded a prison hospice program and launched the Prison Dharma Network, a non-profit organization that supports prisoner rehabilitation through contemplative spirituality.

Today Maull works as a peace activist and personal effectiveness coach, lecturing at leading universities, in corporate boardrooms, in high-risk areas like Rwanda and the Middle East, and in what he calls “the forgotten world” inside our jails and prisons.

Maull has plenty of wisdom and experience to share. But he sums up his core message in a single phrase: Radical Responsibility.

Maull believes we create everything that’s happening in our lives, good and bad. It’s only when we accept complete responsibility that we take the giant step from childhood to adulthood. Self-responsibility is the key to personal effectiveness in every sphere of life.

Yet many choose to embrace the psychology of helplessness and victimhood, preferring to explain all their struggles in terms of the actions of others.

Like you, I meet many middle-aged men and women who are still grumbling and complaining about earlier unhappy experiences, who are still blaming their problems on other people or “the breaks.” They’re angry with their parents, fuming at an old boss, still simmering over their ex-spouse. They’re trapped in the past and can’t get free.

Yet the great enemy of success and happiness is negative emotions. Fear, self-pity, envy, jealousy and anger hold us back, tie us down and suck the joy out of life.

Studies show that there are four root causes of these emotions. Once you identify them, you can begin to banish them:

  • Justification. You can be negative only as long as you convince yourself that you are entitled to be angry. Unhappy individuals will always be found explaining and elaborating on the profound unfairness of their situation.
  • Rationalization. Rationalization is self-deception, an attempt to create a plausible explanation for a socially unacceptable act. (As in, “If I turn this in six weeks late, no one will care anyway.”)
  • Blaming. There is no quality more closely associated with unhappiness than the habit of blaming others for our difficulties.
  • Poor Self-Esteem. Low self-esteem is generally characterized by a hypersensitivity to the opinions of others. No one wants to lose the respect of others, but conscientious people don’t need to fret about what other people think.

Management consultant Brian Tracy points out that there’s a simple antidote to these factors that create negative emotions. You need only say three words: I am responsible.

Whether your problem is joblessness, addiction, overspending, obesity, or a damaged personal relationship, you move closer to a solution the moment you say, “I am responsible.”

It’s impossible to say these words and still feel angry. The very act of taking responsibility short-circuits and cancels out negative emotions.

As Tracy says, “Every time you blame someone else or make excuses, you give your power away. You feel weakened and diminished… Without the acceptance of complete personal responsibility, no progress is possible. On the other hand, once you accept total responsibility for your life, there are no limits to what you can be, do and have.”

Yet many would rather train for the Boston Marathon in three feet of snow than say these words. Why?

Psychologists say human beings have a natural propensity to accumulate pride and shun regret. Whether we recognize it or not, we tend to take responsibility for the positive developments in our lives and attribute unfavorable developments to others or circumstances.

This is not to say there aren’t times when our lives are significantly influenced by outside forces. Maybe you’re a great worker who lost her job due to a corporate downsizing or the poor economy.

Maybe your parents really were poor role models. But victims don’t create change. It’s only when you choose to focus on what you can do and how you should act that you gain power.

Businesses and other organizations today are looking for people who are willing and able to think, who are self-directing and self-managing, who respond to problems proactively rather than merely waiting for someone else’s solutions.

A study done in New York a few years ago found that people who ranked in the top 3% in every field had a special attitude that set them apart from average performers in their industries. It was this: They chose to view themselves as self-employed throughout their careers, no matter who signed their paychecks.

These are people who set goals, make plans, establish measures and get results.

Radical responsibility changes everything. It means you own your thoughts, impulses, feelings and actions. You are accountable for the consequences they bring and the impact they have on others.

This is not a burden, incidentally. It’s a privilege and an honor to take ownership of your actions. It creates freedom and control. It gives meaning to life.

Self-reliance is the great source of personal power. We create ourselves, shape our identity and determine the course of our lives by what we are willing to take responsibility for.

Want to change your life and solve your problems, starting today?

Say three simple words:

I am responsible.

When did you decide to take personal responsibility and how did that change your life?

[Ed Note: Alex Green is the author of excellent books like, The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters, and Beyond Wealth, that show you how to lead a “rich” life during trying economic times.]
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  • Edward L. Speagle

    Great article. So true!

  • Those three words are tough.

    I remember reading them from Brian Tracy’s book, ‘Goals!’. I do believe these words are words we need to say to ourselves each day so we know it’s on us. But when you have family, friends, work and whatnot, sometimes I just want to pass the buck. It’s easier to say than act on such words.

    I enjoyed reading this article and appreciate the message. Thanks. 🙂

  • Excellent advice! A couple of other points to ponder with similar origins: ~If it is to be, it is up to me. ~We are where we are in life because of the choices we’ve made.

  • So true. I designed a lifestyle around this perspective. It was the only thing that was able to pull me out of where I’d been trapped. Life got better, I evolved, and new problems arose in areas that had never been present in my life before.The added positives brought with them new negatives.

    So, I’ve had to renew my interest in what I’d been preaching all along. I learned there are magnitudes of responsibility, I suppose you could say. The original perspective – “be responsible” – never changed. It’s simple that way. But the need to employ it evolves right along with the success its earlier adoption brings.

    The irony of life, huh?

  • Harriet

    Excellent and true, I recall 20yrs ago when I resettled in my native Uganda, with no job and people shunned criticized me for leaving a lucrative expert pay to resettle with no job. My moto was “omunakukaama ye landiiza yekka”, it is in my native Luganda language but this is about a creeping crop, that grows and keeps expanding its territories by itself, no one seems to take care of it and yet it attains heights. I have over years attained heights to the envy of my old critics. Fast forward, today as I work on “creeping higher” because this is my goal, I am responsible and no matter where my pay check comes from, I am self employed, no matter the barriers, “the alleged economic crisis”……….I am responsible 4 my results ………..Great inspiration and wake up call

  • Sandy

    The start of all change starts with I am responsible.Wow! Slow incremental
    actions garner tremendous energy

  • Very powerful article. Taking control of your life in a must. Going to apply this info to my life starting today.

  • Wow!…..what a nice experience….thanks 4 sharing

  • Ben Ugoji

    Thanks Alex. Great reminder. I am responsible. The is a powerful knowledge but making it actionable in every area of our lives leads to real freedom and control. Aketer all Walter LIppman sums it up:
    “A useful definition of liberty is obtained by seeking the principle of liberty in the main business of human life, that is to say, in the process by which men can educate his responses and learn to control their environment.”
    Therefore if we want to make progress in life we should develop the skill of self introspection in all areas of our lives. Knowing that experience plus response equals outcome.
    These ideas has been summed up by Ted Nicholas, the great copywriter and author beautifully:
    “I can make my life anything i want it to be.”

  • Jitin

    Thanks Craig and Alex. Another excellent piece. It is seldom that anything coming from Alex Green is less than a marvelous write!

  • Glenn

    Superb! I was hospitalized with accelerated hypertension and acute renal failure. I almost died. I’m an alcoholic and was blaming others for why I drank. I got sober (still am- 2 years) and took responsibility for my life. I studied and learned that everything I am has been created by me. Others may influence me, but only if I allow it. I had to change the way I think. Never blame others for who you are or what you have. It’s been said many timess, “Change your mind and change your life.” I am responsible.

  • Marion Lynn Connell

    My first venture into true Self reliance may have come when I moved to New York right out of High School and got a job. Then I decided to go into nursing, which, after working for a year, I had the money to pay for myself. Basically it’s been that way ever since. It seems everytime I began to settle into going along with the main stream, followinig the patterns of what my parents thought to be the way of life, something would happen and I would be off to a new place or new pattern of life. Guess that’s why I haven’t really retired, but started another new pattern of life.

  • Priya

    Great post. Thank you. My live is changing as I’m taking responsibility for it. I like the idea of being self employed.

  • Right on! I try to teach this principle all the time to clients, and I take it on personally every day too. Sure, sometimes shitty things happen, but what you do in that moment decides the outcome. Do you fall in a heap and bleat and whinge about how it’s not fair and not your fault, or do you move ahead and say, ‘I’ll show you; I’m going to do the best I can with what I have now’? This is such an important attitude for life. I’ll be sharing on my page! Thanks.

  • Shankar

    If you are a married man, you already know who is responsible for your marriage and all its ups and downs. In other words, you are responsible.

  • te3ece

    In 1982, with the help of some good people, I was able to take responsibility for my life. I stopped blaming other people, and could see that I had brought about the results I had up until then.
    One of the direct results of this is that I was able to arrest my alcoholism, and get on with my life: I got qualified, had a career, acquired a family… Life is still not perfect, but I know who’s to blame… 🙂

    • ttcert

      Congrats on the changes you’ve made. Very impressive!

  • JoeSchoo

    I used to blame others for what problems back then. In a way, the rational was if I complain a lot, others will feel my pain and help me towards the right direction.

    In a way, it did work since I’ve been then told, “You can do it! You change yourself!” That was a nice of saying, “Take responsibility!”

    • ttcert

      Nice Joe, well said!

  • Mark

    The people I met and began to associate with changed when I took responsibility.

  • Joey

    Besides blaming our parents, most adults I see these days love to blame the president for their problems on a society level.

    If only Americans stop blaming politics/Obama, we would be better off. Too many adults I see love to become partisan and blame the other political party. I missed the old days of reading political debates online (15+ years old) – now it’s just adults doing political bickering/namecalling. Regardless of who’s president or what politicians tell us, we take reponsbility for our daily actions.

    • Thanks Joey, appreciate your insights.

  • Ann

    Wow ! This is truly an eye opener. Im entering my final exams and all this while when I felt I was not able to study I blamed others for it. I even assumed that god no longer liked me and that is why he was not helping me to fulfill my dreams. But after reading this article I realised that the reason for my lack of concentration was always me. I procrastined because I chose to.I always looked for external motivation on the Internet. I failed to understand that I was responsible and the future is the result of my present. Thanks to this article ,I will now work to bring success for myself because I AM RESPONSIBLE.

    • Yes, stay strong, Ann!