Taking Responsibility is the key to greater freedom
Responsibility can be a tough bedfellow. Today in a couple of separate encounters, one with a 14-year-old girl and the other with a 40-year-old man, I heard how they had recently experienced difficult times in their lives. What both had in common was they blamed others for their plight. The common theme was ”If only x had done y then z, and I would be ok”.
I watched this dynamic without judgement. I too had taken such a position for a very long time. Also, I felt a little saddened because I realised nothing could be changed permanently until they realised there was another way of seeing their situation now and in the future.
On both occasions, I attempted to suggest that maybe there was another way of viewing their respective situations. Not to make them wrong, but to show them a way out of their agony. Both firmly rejected my suggestions, because often as human beings we would rather be right than happy.
The Neuroscience of Taking Responsibility
The neuroscience of responsibility-taking underlines the critical relationship between our brain function and personal accountability. When an individual accepts responsibility for their actions, decisions, or circumstances, several key regions of the brain are actively engaged. Notably, the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning centre responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, and self-regulation, plays an integral role. Research suggests that the more an individual practices responsibility-taking, the more neural connections are formed in the prefrontal cortex, thereby strengthening this executive function over time (Aron et al., 2004).
Simultaneously, accepting responsibility engages our emotional centres, primarily the amygdala, which helps to process emotional reactions, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which aids in understanding and evaluating our own and others’ emotions. An individual who routinely takes responsibility may be better equipped to manage emotional responses effectively, leading to improved emotional intelligence and resilience (Davidson, Jackson, and Kalin, 2000).
Conversely, when individuals consistently shirk responsibility, these brain regions may not be as robustly developed or activated. Such behaviour can result in an external locus of control, where a person consistently attributes their experiences and outcomes to external factors rather than their own actions. Not taking responsibility can also increase stress and anxiety levels, as it perpetuates a sense of helplessness and lack of control. This constant stress can further impact brain health, as chronic stress has been associated with negative changes in the hippocampus, a region critical for learning and memory (McEwen, 2007).
An illustration of the difference between accepting or avoiding responsibility follows. A student who takes responsibility for their study habits and academic performance (an internal locus of control) may be more likely to improve over time, while a student who blames external factors like the teacher or the testing format (an external locus of control) may not experience the same level of improvement. These attitudes and the resultant behaviours not only shape academic outcomes but also impact neural development and emotional regulation.
Thus, the neuroscience of taking responsibility serves as a compelling reason to cultivate personal accountability. Taking responsibility for one’s actions and experiences isn’t merely a moral virtue but a critical factor in brain health and emotional resilience.
Sometimes you only see the light when you experience the darkness
A number of years ago, I personally experienced hard times. It was a depressing period in my life; the future looked bleak indeed. I knew things had to change. Also, I didn’t know it then, but I came to realise what had begun as a monumental disaster, turned out to be the biggest gift life could have handed me. I realised that one of the biggest opportunities was the power within to bounce back.
As I pondered on what had gone so wrong, I blamed everyone and everything. The truth was some external and some internal factors had led me to that low point and blaming or focusing on external factors was getting me nowhere fast.
My first “light bulb” moment happened when I began to take total responsibility for my experience. I couldn’t control everything in my world. What I did have power over was my response to what life threw at me. Focusing on whose fault it was and wanting to point the finger of blame was deflecting from the energy needed, for example feeling grateful for the positives in my life, to move beyond the situation.
Secondly, I began to pay attention to my intuition. I overrode my intuition pretty much of the time. The rot began early in life, at times when I wanted to be like my peers; I wanted my relationships to be harmonious; I didn’t want to rock the boat with my parents. After many times overriding my own internal truth, I realised my own best friend was inside me.
Acceptance releases the energy used for blame in finding a solution
Accepting my situation, I began what I thought would be a slow and torturous route out of the fix I found myself in. On the contrary, it was the most enlightening and exciting of journeys. It wasn’t easy, but it was transformational. I went from being broke, dispirited and in despair, to a place where I was financially secure, optimistic and at peace with myself. The experience was like replacing a house of straw with a house of bricks with solid foundations.
Taking Total Responsibility
Developed a vision
I set goals for my working life, I set figures for my income, how I would feel about my work and how good I would be at it. I achieved them almost 2 years ahead of the target.
Set out a detailed plan
I needed certain skills and experience. Then articulated the detail of “how” in my plan. I achieved all milestones and was offered the job I wanted before I had met the outcomes in the plan.
Engaged my team
I needed a support network around me. My beloved network included my family as well as my professional colleagues and friends. I let the right people know things had changed, and I got them on board to help me.
Focused on my successes and goals
I didn’t waste time thinking about the reality of the situation I found myself in. I faced up to it, identified the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be and concentrated on closing the gap; not the past. In the present moment, I chose to be grateful for what I had achieved and the help and opportunities which came my way.
Let go of unhelpful doubts, thoughts and beliefs
I got in touch with the power of my mind. Doubt and negativity create resistance to achieving what you want.
I have used those steps many times when leading teams at work as well as creating my life outside of work. Repetition should create mastery, yet I still struggle at times, but at least I now take total responsibility, so if things don’t work out, I know I have the resources inside to solve the situation I find myself in.
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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.
I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.