Who’s in charge of your life?
That might sound like a strange question. But bear with me here. How often have you said something like:
- I’d start my own business if only my partner was more supportive.
- It’s my uncle’s fault that I smoke.
- Well, I wouldn’t drink so much if it wasn’t for my friends.
- My boss really stresses me out.
- I can’t quit my job to travel the world … what would people think?
- I have to lose weight so that I can look more attractive.
In each of these cases, there’s a “should” or a “can’t” that’s been dictated by someone other than you. Perhaps it’s a family member, your peer group, or society as a whole. And many of us are prone to ditching responsibility in this way. I know that I, for one, find it much easier to blame my problems on someone else than to admit that they’re down to me!
Here are three ways to wrest back control:
Take 100% Responsibility
Several of the personal development writers who I read – Jack Canfield and Steve Pavlina amongst them – emphasize how important it is to take full responsibility for your life.
Yes, of course other people have an effect on us. Perhaps it’s your partner’s fault that your joint credit card is maxed out, or maybe your grandma fed you too much candy as a child and that’s why you have a mouthful of fillings. But in every case, you have a responsibility for what you’re doing about it now.
What situations in your life are you refusing to take responsibility for? Are you blaming your boss or colleagues for making you stressed? Are you blaming your kids or housemates for not clearing up around the house? You’ve got two choices: either you learn to accept the current status quo, or you take full responsibility for making it change. (That doesn’t mean kow-towing to the boss or picking up after the kids – it means being brave and telling people what you want them to do.)
Yes, responsibility sometimes means admitting our part in screwing things up. But it’s also empowering: when you’re responsible for something, you can change it.
We get so many messages about how things should be done. The media tells us how we should look (by presenting fake, airbrushed photos) – and what we should wear, eat, do, buy… On top of that, our friends and family often tell us, explicitly or implicitly, that we should behave like them.
What would you do if there were no expectations on you? Where are you letting other people dictate your choices and preferences? When have you gone with someone else’s expectations for you – at the cost of your own happiness? (Think about kids whose parents push them into medical school when they’d rather study fine art, or adults who stay in high-paying jobs which they hate because society says that’s what to do.)
Now, sometimes we have to be pragmatic. Perhaps you’d love to spend Christmas with just your partner and kids – rather than visiting the in-laws. However, the cost of doing so (upsetting your mother-in-law) just isn’t worth it. It’s okay to meet expectations from others – but, surprisingly, you may find that you feel a lot happier about it when you’ve faced up to the fact that it really is your choice to do so.
Stand Up for What You Want
Many of us find it genuinely hard to say what we want. We end up stalling even on very simple decisions, like where to go for dinner. Often, our intentions are laudable: we’re trying to keep others happy. However, this can sometimes mean suppressing our own desires and feeling bitter about it.
There’s nothing wrong in standing up for what you want. The only time this becomes selfish is if you refuse to listen to other people’s wants too. Get into the habit of telling your spouse, or mom, or kids, what you would like to do. Again, sometimes you’ll have to be pragmatic and compromise – but at least you’ve stated your preference.
If you feel as though you’ve no idea what you really want – just for yourself – then simply pick something. Ask yourself what you’d choose if you did have a preference. Or just flip a coin! The point is that you make your own decisions – rather than letting others make them for you.
Do you feel as though other people are dictating the terms on which you live your life? Who – and how? Share your thoughts on this in the comments below.
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