How do you approach a situation in which you haven’t achieved the results you desired?
Some people’s natural gut reaction is to look outward, seeking someone or something to blame. The typical end result of doing so is a feeling of powerlessness to change whatever the undesired outcome was … because we did all we could, it was someone else’s fault, or circumstances just seemed to conspire against us again.
There is another way to look at it.
Other people’s natural gut reaction is to look inward, seeking something they could have done differently along the way that might have led to a different outcome. The typical end result of thinking this way is a feeling of power, of ownership, because they know that if they can learn a lesson from what happened, and be better next time, they have a chance to compel a different outcome.
It’s pretty obvious which reaction is better. Give me a feeling of optimism and power over pessimism and powerlessness any day.
Which one of these reactions describes how you typically respond?
If you’re like me, both probably describe you at different times and in different situations. We’re all human. And looking outward for blame when an undesired outcome occurs is human nature, even if we wish we could always handle situations the other way.
So if the look-outward-and-blame mindset is your default response, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s unnecessary, and won’t do you any good anyway.
But also, and this is vitally important, don’t simply blame your human nature either. Don’t toss up your hands and admit defeat because, well, “it’s just how you’re wired.”
Do you notice the irony of such a response?
Thinking like this would be self-perpetuating the look-outward-and-blame mindset you’re not proud of in the first place!
This is actually a great opportunity to make an immediate change for the better, right here in this moment.
Instead of finding comfort in placing the blame on something you don’t control — human nature, your default emotional reaction, circumstances, etc. — try this simple formula instead:
Accept blame, then take ownership.
Here’s how that would look in this situation:
Say this yourself …
I’ve noticed that whenever something doesn’t go as I want it to, or how I plan for it to, that my natural tendency is to look outward and place blame on someone or something else. I recognize this now. But I haven’t been so quick to recognize it in the past, especially in the moment when there is still a chance to do something about it before thoughts become words and actions.
By gaining this understanding of my own natural tendencies, I will be more equipped to catch future thoughts before they turn into words and actions, and stop this cycle from continuing. By catching the thoughts, I can be intentional about shifting them into something more positive, which will manifest in words and actions I can be proud of and that actually move me forward in a positive way.
Do you see what you did there?
You accepted blame without excoriating yourself: ” … I haven’t been so quick to recognize it in the past, especially in the moment when there is still a chance to do something about it.”
And you took ownership of what will happen in the future: ” … By catching the thoughts, I can intentional about shifting them into something more positive … ”
Accept blame, take ownership.
Accepting blame is your humility shining through. Your are being humble in realizing that you could have done something better. Why blame others — who you don’t control — when you can accept responsibility yourself, and then control what happens next?
And taking ownership is your pride shining through. You are recognizing that a humble realization of a mistake or shortcoming isn’t a negative statement about you as a person. It’s actually a sign of strength and a simple recognition of reality. And this gives you control over what happens next. You can take what you learned by accepting the blame to make your next thought, decision, and action a better one.
That’s how you use primility to drive you to a better next decision and a better next action.
In what area of your life do you often find yourself falling short of the outcomes you desire?
Peel back the layers of the onion. When it comes to this area of your life, are you consistently accepting responsibility, or does your natural tendency for blame shift more outward than inward?
If you find that you aren’t accepting blame, and are therefore withholding from yourself the opportunity to take ownership, try doing it differently next time.
But don’t wait for the next undesired outcome to practice.
Say the statement above to yourself while you’re here. Take a mental rep. You can always practice being better in a future moment by taking a positive preparation step in this one.
The lesson, as always …
Be better now.
A hat tip for this post goes to episode #157 of The Model Health Show, which I listened to yesterday on my walk.
Host Shawn Stevenson’s guest Eric Thomas described how he used this same model — accepting blame and taking ownership — to rise above a difficult upbringing in inner-city Detroit.
Eric had legitimate reasons to blame others for an unenviable early lot in life — rough neighborhood, absent father, etc. But he learned to not blame others and to not blame fate. Instead, he resolved to look inward and accept responsibility for his own life, his own choices, his own circumstances. Because he did, Eric was able to take ownership of his life and become very successful.
That’s a lesson we can all learn from.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Moyan Brenn