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Who's in the Driving Seat?

I've been struck recently by how many victims there seem to be in the world.


The post-Covid, post-Ukraine economy is reeling, interest rates are rising, people are feeling the financial pinch, so what do they do? They whine and complain, they look for someone to blame and they expect someone - the government, say - to rescue them and to fix their debt problems for them. But who was it that made the decision to borrow that huge amount of money in the first place? Did someone come along and force these people to take on their enormous loans, knowing full well that as surely as night follows day interest rates - and therefore repayments - would inevitably rise at some point? Did they believe that they would be magically exempt from the time-honoured ebb and flow in the economy?


A bunch of football players are currently suing the Australian Football League over neurological injuries sustained during their playing careers. Everyone knows that "Aussie Rules" is a rough game, yet that doesn't stop these guys from playing a game that involves charging headlong into each other, using their heads as battering rams as though they have a skull with the constitution of an anvil. It's hardly surprising that this behaviour causes injury, and I don't see anyone forcing these guys to go out on the field and do it. It's their own choice to be out there. Did they believe that they, their cranium and its contents would be magically exempt from the laws of physics?


These are a couple of extreme examples, but there are plenty of less obvious ones; people who stay stuck in miserable, unsatisfactory lives or who slave away in soul-destroying, dead-end jobs year after year, believing that they have no choice but who still secretly - and sometimes not so secretly - wait for someone or something to rescue them.


Of course no one can plan for every eventuality in life. A great deal of what happens is beyond our control no matter how prescient we are, but one thing is always within our control: our attitude to life.


Why do so many people struggle to take responsibility for their own actions, their own choices, their own lives?


Taking responsibility for your own life means recognising that you are the primary agent in shaping your experiences, actions, and outcomes. It involves acknowledging that you have control over your thoughts, choices and behaviours, and accepting the consequences that arise from them.


Taking responsibility means acknowledging that you might make mistakes and face failures along the way. Some individuals fear failure and prefer to avoid taking risks or making decisions that could potentially lead to undesirable outcomes. Their fear can prevent them from taking responsibility and instead, they may look for external factors or individuals to blame. Also, fear of failure is an example of FOPO: fear of other people's opinions. If you're so afraid to fail that you avoid taking action then you won't fail, and then no one will see that you have failed and so you won't be judged for it. That logic is specious, though; why wouldn't others judge you for your inaction?


People with an external locus of control tend to believe that their lives are primarily influenced by external circumstances or forces beyond their control. They may perceive themselves as victims of fate or luck, leading to a sense of powerlessness and a lack of motivation to take responsibility for their actions or choices. This is a kind of magical thinking; some benevolent deity perhaps is looking out for you and helping you while some malevolent force is trying to harm you, and both of them can at times control your thoughts and actions.


Learned helplessness occurs when individuals have faced repeated negative experiences or failures, which have conditioned them to believe that their efforts will not yield positive results. As a result, they may become passive, stop taking initiative, and relinquish responsibility for their lives. Often this kind of helplessness is learned with the assistance of others. If someone is always there to rescue you from the consequences of your mistakes then you'll soon expect them to always be there, so then you don't need to take any responsibility because they'll take responsibility for you.


Some individuals may lack self-awareness or have limited insight into their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Without this awareness, they may struggle to understand how their choices and actions influence their lives, making it difficult for them to take responsibility. I find it astonishing how little self-awareness most people seem to have. They blunder through their day completely oblivious to where they are and what they are doing. Often they have their nose pressed to the screen of their mobile phone, which is a bit of a worry particularly when they are driving a car.


It can be tempting for people to shift blame onto others or external circumstances rather than accepting responsibility for their own lives. By blaming others, they can avoid facing their own shortcomings or mistakes, which can provide temporary relief from feelings of guilt or inadequacy. "The devil made me do it." Or "they ought to do something," whoever "they" might be. So you're having trouble paying your mortgage? Well obviously it's the bank that's to blame, they shouldn't be so greedy and they shouldn't have loaned you so much money in the first place, they should have known it was more than you could afford. And so on, and on.


Low self-esteem or a lack of confidence can hinder individuals from taking responsibility for their lives. They may doubt their abilities or feel unworthy of success, leading to a passive approach and a reluctance to take ownership of their choices and actions. This is a real show-stopper for very many people. Some try to "fake it until they make it," with varying degrees of success.


Some individuals may find comfort or attention in adopting a victim mentality. By perceiving themselves as victims, they can elicit sympathy, support, or external validation from others. This can create a pattern of avoiding responsibility and perpetuating a cycle of helplessness. After a while, being a victim becomes part of this person's identity and they could no more let it go than they could saw off an arm or a leg.


Taking responsibility for your life is a transformative process that requires conscious effort and self-reflection. It isn't easy, particularly as you take your first steps, but the benefits make the effort worthwhile.


You can begin by reflecting on your life, goals, values, strengths, and weaknesses. Develop a deep understanding of yourself and your hopes and fears, dreams and desires. This self-awareness will provide a foundation for making conscious choices and taking responsibility.


Acknowledge that you are in control of your choices and actions. Recognise that every decision you make, big or small, has an impact on your life. Take ownership of the outcomes, both positive and negative, that arise from your decisions. You are in charge of your life. You are the expert in what you want, and what you need, to live your best life.


Avoid blaming others or external circumstances for the outcomes in your life. Instead, focus on what you can control and influence. Accept that you have the power to respond to situations and make choices that align with your goals and values. You can't control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you choose to feel about it and how you respond to it.


Define clear short-term and long-term goals. This clarity will help you direct your actions and make decisions that are in line with your aspirations. Break down your goals into actionable steps and create a plan to achieve them. Hint: write your plan down, and keep it somewhere you'll often see it. The world's most beautiful plan will achieve nothing at all if it stays gathering dust on a shelf.


Adopt a proactive mindset and take initiative in shaping your life. Be proactive in seeking opportunities, taking calculated risks, and making decisions that move you closer to your goals. Avoid waiting for things to happen and take charge of your own growth and progress. You made a plan, now get out there and execute it. And don't forget to regularly review your progress and adapt your plan as circumstances change.


Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth and learning. When things don't go as planned, reflect on what went wrong, identify lessons learned, and make adjustments for the future. Use setbacks as stepping stones toward success rather than allowing them to discourage you. The only true failure is the failure to learn from your mistakes. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that do not work." - Thomas Edison


Hold yourself accountable for your actions and behaviours. Be honest with yourself and admit when you make mistakes. Instead of dwelling on blame or guilt, focus on how you can rectify the situation, learn from it, and make better choices moving forward. Better yet, find an accountability partner - someone who will ask you, "did you do that?" Just knowing that you're going to be asked that question can be enough to help you to overcome procrastination.


Surround yourself with supportive individuals who encourage personal responsibility and growth and can support and guide you. Seek guidance from mentors, coaches, or therapists who can provide insights, feedback, and strategies to help you navigate challenges and stay accountable. You will find a Life Coach helpful in the early stages when you're learning about yourself, developing your plan and starting to take responsibility for your life. Then, as you gain more confidence, a mentor will help to keep you on track.


Life is full of ups and downs. Cultivate resilience by developing the ability to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to change. Embrace challenges as opportunities for personal growth and view obstacles as temporary hurdles to overcome. "There are no problems around here, only solutions."


Taking responsibility for your life includes prioritizing self-care and well-being. Take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. Set boundaries, manage stress, and engage in activities that recharge and rejuvenate you. Learn how to say no.


None of this is to say that we must all be in full control of our thoughts, feelings, actions and outcomes 100% of the time. As a wise person long ago observed, shit happens. When it does, having someone to whom we can turn for help can make all the difference between getting back up and tackling our problems or staying stuck in life's ordure. Seeking help is a proactive effort: it allows us to retain a sense of control even when our world is going haywire around us. Having that sense of control is what makes the difference between being a proactive problem-solver and being a helpless victim.


Taking responsibility for your life is an ongoing journey. It requires commitment, self-reflection, and a willingness to learn and grow. Above all it requires a positive, growth-oriented mindset. Celebrate your successes, learn from your failures, and continue taking steps forward towards a life aligned with your values and aspirations.

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