Overcoming Obstacles

How to take charge of your life despite difficult circumstances

In today's pop culture, a look at popular board games gives interesting insight about human nature.  Monopoly has a "Get out of Jail Free" card. Yahtzee has the "Chance" category for when the roll of the dice isn't what you need.  Even Scrabble allows a player to pass their turn if they can't combine letters to form a coherent English word.  Interestingly, the creators of the board game "Life" didn't give players an opportunity to sit out.  This game requires players to make the best of whatever is handed down, whether it's many mouths to feed, water damage to your home, or your uncle leaves you a skunk farm and you have to pay $20,000 to get rid of it.  The game of Life is similar to the real thing:  excuses don't work.

Taking personal responsibility is a life lesson that can reap big rewards for those who choose to learn it.  "When people realize that their personal happiness is completely up to them, it changes their life," says Dale Archer, MD, psychiatrist and president of the Institute for Neuropsychiatry.  "However, when people choose to ignore it, they continue to make excuses, blame others for their unhappiness and tend to become negative and self-defeating.  The cause and effect of personal responsibility has major ramifications whether it is embraced or ignored."

The nitty-gritty of taking personal responsibility for your life, Archer explains, is to realize that others do not have the power to control how you respond to situations.  "Circumstances change, bad things happen, difficult decisions must be made.  These things are part of life and happen to everyone.  The difference is how people react."

Statistics on the topic of personal responsibility show that people who take responsibility for their happiness and destiny are happier and feel more fulfilled than those who don't. The results indicated that when participants said they accept responsibility for their current circumstances, they also described themselves as in control, successful, and content.

At the other end of the spectrum is irresponsibility, or failure to accept responsibility.  "Every person is somewhere in between," explains Archer. "With every decision they make, people are either moving toward a higher level of responsibility or irresponsibility."  Some experts believe a good definition of insanity is total irresponsibility, to the extreme point of needing to be institutionalized so as not to cause harm to themselves or others.  People who choose to be irresponsible invite anger, hostility, fear and resentment.  By burying their head in the past and blaming today's circumstances on past behavior, they choose to remain in a negative state of mind, rather than accepting the past and doing what they can to improve their present situation.

There are many famous people who made a successful life for themselves despite less-than-perfect beginnings.  Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Albert Einstein, Beethoven and Thomas Edison made the list of those who succeeded in spite of difficult circumstances. But, it's not just famous people who serve as good examples of taking personal responsibility.  If you take a look around you, you probably know several ordinary people who have chosen to accept difficult circumstances and play the hand they are dealt.

Achieving this "mental makeover" is best done by realizing it will take time to overcome negative tendencies.  Archer offers these four suggestions for getting started:

  • Understand that changing the way you think is an ongoing process. Each day look for opportunities to incorporate this new way of thinking. Make a conscious decision to examine the choices you make and reaffirm that you are in control.
  • No one can make you think anything. No matter what happens to you, you make the choice of how you react and how you allow any circumstance affect you.
  • Excuses are for losers. We all have hundreds of excuses we could allow to hinder us. You can either accept what happens in life and move on, or allow life's obstacles bury you.
  • Let go of bitterness, blame, mistrust, anger and insecurity.

A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.  Choose wisely.