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How to take responsibility for your life: 21 essential tips

Taking responsibility for your life isn’t easy. 

It fact, it often feels impossible. If you have a bad run of luck, it’s hard to see how you can really take control of your own happiness and success.

It’s very tempting to believe that you can’t do anything to improve your life. That’s the safe way to live. It might not be much fun, but it is comfortable. 

But, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, you can be the master of your own destiny.

If you choose not to acknowledge that, then time will pass and your life will continue as it is now, with you as a passive observer in your own existence.

If you decide to recognize that you can make a real difference to the path your life takes, and to take responsibility for choosing that path, then you will find success.

There will still be obstacles, there will still be unexpected turns. Luck will still play it’s part.

But you will see your life change and you will grow as a person.

You’ll find you can do things you would never have imagined and make connections you would never have dreamed of.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to take responsibility for your life.

What to do.

What not to do.

(And most important of all) how to empower yourself to live a rewarding, productive and fulfilling life.

Let’s go…

1) Stop blaming other people

The most important step to taking responsibility for your life is to stop blaming others.

Why?

Because if you’re not taking responsibility for your life, it’s almost certain that you’re blaming other people or situations for your misfortunes.

Whether it’s negative relationships, a bad childhood, socio-economic disadvantages, or other hardships that inevitably come with life, it’s always something other than yourself that’s at fault.

Now don’t get me wrong: Life is unfair. Some people have it worse than others. And in some cases, you are the victim.

But even if that’s true, what does blaming get you?

The victim card? An illusory advantage of preaching victimhood? Justification for life’s unsatisfactory conditions?

In reality, blaming only results in bitterness, resentment, and powerlessness.

The people who you target with blame probably don’t care about how you feel, or they have no idea anyway.

The bottom line is this:

Those feelings and thoughts may be justified, but it won’t help you become successful or happy.

Letting go of blame doesn’t justify other people’s unfair actions. It doesn’t ignore life’s hardships.

But the truth is this:

Your life is not about them. It’s about you.

You need to stop blaming so you can reclaim your freedom and power that is yours.

No one can take away your ability to take action and make a better life for yourself.

It’s easy and convenient to blame others, but it does nothing to improve your life in the long run.

All it does is cost you the authority of being in charge of your own life.

“An important decision I made was to resist playing the Blame Game. The day I realized that I am in charge of how I will approach problems in my life, that things will turn out better or worse because of me and nobody else, that was the day I knew I would be a happier and healthier person. And that was the day I knew I could truly build a life that matters.” – Steve Goodier

2) Stop making excuses

Making excuses for your choices in life, or excuses about what you feel you have achieved – and what you have not – fuels cognitive bias.

When you make excuses, you don’t give yourself an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

After all, no failure or mishap is your fault. It’s always something else.

When there’s no personal accountability, there’s no way to grow. You’ll be stuck in the same place complaining and dwelling on negativity without ever moving forward.

When you take responsibility for your life and stop making excuses, you silence the negativity.

You realize that what happens outside yourself doesn’t matter.

There’s only one thing that matters, and that’s your actions.

“One day I realized that everything that I get out of life, is exclusively a result of my actions. That is the day I became a man.” – Nav-Vii

(If you’d like to learn how to stop making excuses in life and start taking responsibility, check out Ideapod’s free salon: The hidden trap of “improving yourself”, and what to do instead. It breaks down how to stop making excuses so you can start taking action.)

3) Ask yourself how other people impact you

If you feel like the victim in your own life, you need to stop and think about how you let other people impact your outlook on life.

For example, if someone makes a snide remark about you, logic would dictate that it’s a reflection of their own self-worth.

But in many cases, we think illogically about these things and feel like we are being attacked.

In fact, research by a Wake Forest University psychology professor found that what you say about others says a lot about you.

“Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality”, says Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest and lead author of the study.

“A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively”.

So if you take these results to heart, there is literally no point in taking things personally.

What people say about you clearly says more about themselves than anything to do with you.

Spiritual guru Osho says that it’s crucial to start looking inside yourself, rather than being disturbed about anything anybody says about you.

“Nobody can say anything about you. Whatsoever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky because you are still clinging to a false center. That false center depends on others, so you are always looking at what people are saying about you. And you are always following other people, you are always trying to satisfy them. You are always trying to be respectable, you are always trying to decorate your ego. This is suicidal. Rather than being disturbed by what others say, you should start looking inside yourself…”

4) Set goals and work towards them

Setting goals is fundamental to making changes in your life.

Setting goals allows you take control. With no goals, you have nothing to work towards. You don’t know where you’re going or how to get there.

It’s really hard to take real responsibility for yourself or your life without the structure that goal-setting gives you. 

Many people resist setting goals because they’re afraid that they won’t achieve them. Or they’ll set them, but then not do the work needed to achieve them for the same reason.

It’s easy to think of a goal, but often very difficult to do what you need to do to make it happen.

People who know how to take responsibility know that they need not just to take responsibility for achieving goals, but for their potential failure to achieve them.

They know that it is OK to fail. They know that through failure comes growth.

Successful people fail, often multiple times, before they succeed. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, for example, failed at their early attempts in business. 

Setting a goal isn’t just about achieving that goal. It’s about setting an intention for success.

If you don’t achieve the goal you set out to achieve, that’s OK. Learn from it and set another, and another, and another, until you find your thing.

So, how can actually go about setting goals?

study from the Dominican University of California showed people who wrote down their goals achieved more than those who didn’t.

Setting goals allows you to take control of where your life is heading.

Here are 3 golden rules for setting goals (so you achieve them):

1) Set SMART goals.

You’ve probably heard of this acronym before. It’s popular because it works. Here’s what it means:

Specific: Your goals must be clear and well-defined.

Measurable: Label precise amounts and dates. For example, if you want to reduce expenses, what amount do you want to reduce them to?

Attainable: Your goals have to be achievable. If they’re too difficult, you’ll lose motivation.

Relevant: Your goals should be aligned with where you want to get to and what you want to do.

Time-bound: Set yourself a deadline for your goals. Deadlines force you to get things done, and not procrastinate.

2) Set your goals in writing

Don’t just rely on your brain to remember your goals. Physically write down each goal, no matter how small it is. Putting a line through your goal will give you the motivation to keep going.

3) Make an action plan.

You’re not going to achieve your big goals in a day. You need to write out individual steps to get there. Cross them off as you complete them to give you more motivation.

5) Love yourself

If you’re struggling to take responsibility for yourself and your actions, then I’m willing to bet that you don’t value yourself, either.

Why?

Because people who have self-esteem problems generally don’t take responsibility for their lives.

Instead, other people are blamed, and a victim mentality is created. Self-esteem won’t be boosted until you wise up and take responsibility.

Responsibility empowers you to take action to improve yourself and help others.

And self-esteem goes both ways. If you’re relying on external validation like praise from other people to fuel your self-esteem, then you’re giving away power to others.

Instead, start building stability within. Value yourself and who you are.

When you love yourself, there’s no other option but to take responsibility.

After all, it’s your reality, and the only way to make the most of it is to take responsibility for your actions.

(If you’re looking more specific and in-depth information on how to practice self-love, check our guide to loving yourself here)

6) What does your day look like?

A crucial way to take responsibility for your life is with your daily habits.

Are you improving your life? Are you growing? Are your actions aligned with your goals?

If you don’t look after yourself and your daily you, then it’s likely that you’re not.

Are you taking care of your body, your mind, and your needs?

Here are all the ways that you could be taking responsibility for your mind and body:

  • Sleeping properly
  • Eating healthy
  • Giving yourself time and space to understand your spirituality
  • Exercising regularly
  • Thanking yourself and those around you
  • Playing when you need it
  • Avoiding vices and toxic influences
  • Reflecting and meditating

Taking responsibility and loving yourself is more than just a state of mind – it’s about actions and habits that you do every single day.

You have to take responsibility for yourself, from the beginning of your day to the end.

7) Plan for and anticipate problems

Part of taking responsibility for your life is knowing how to plan for and anticipate problems. Taking responsibility means recognizing that there will always be problems.

It’s tempting to believe that if you can just get a new job, or find a new partner, or move to a new house, then all your problems will be solved and nothing will go wrong again. 

That’s how it always seems to work in the movies, right? But real life isn’t like that.

And while we all know that, deep down, it’s easy to focus so much on the benefits of something we want to change that we forget that change isn’t all about benefits. 

When you take responsibility, you learn to reframe your thinking to focus on growth.

You don’t just look to see what is going to be most beneficial to you, but what will help you deal with whatever life throws at you.

Successful people are realistic optimists. That means they know that things can go wrong, they know how to cope when they do, but they never lose sight of their goals.

Having some ideas, even just in the back of your mind, for what you’ll do if things don’t go to plan makes it more likely that you’ll succeed. 

8) Take responsibility for your relationships

It’s easy to get swept up in the idea of romance. It’s easy to believe that ‘perfect love’ doesn’t need to be worked at. But this just isn’t true. 

Of course, if a relationship is right, you shouldn’t feel as if it’s a constant battle to make it work.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to take some responsibility for keeping your relationship healthy and successful. 

The same applies to friendships.

While your oldest and closest friends might well be people you can see just occasionally and feel as if you’ve never been apart, it takes some degree of conscious effort to make and maintain other friendships.

And even with your oldest friends, you’ll find you get more out if you put more in.

With anyone you want to create, maintain or strengthen a close bond with, think about:

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  • How to make time to spend together just the two of you (this includes friends). Time with kids or other friends around is great, but it’s not the same as spending time one to one. 
  • Do things for them just because you know they’d like it and you want to. They don’t have to be big gestures. Just things like making someone their favourite cake, just because you want to and you had a spare afternoon, can be really powerful.
  • Be the person that remembers stuff. Birthdays, anniversaries, the day their mum died. Whatever it is that is important to them.
  • Be there when it matters. It’s hard to deal with difficult things alone. Even if you’re short on time, a card or a bunch of flowers can be enough to show someone they’re not alone. Many people back away from taking responsibility when times are tough as they don’t know what to say. If you’re the one that shows up when no-one else does, you’ll never be lonely.

9) Accepting negative emotions as part of life

This is tough for most people to accept.

After all, no one wants to experience negative emotions.

But if you want to start taking responsibility for yourself, you need to take responsibility for your emotions as well.

And the truth is this:

Nobody can be positive all the time. We all have a dark side. Even Buddha said, “suffering is inevitable”.

If you ignore the darker part of life, then it will come back to bite you even harder later on.

Taking responsibility means accepting your emotions. It’s about being honest with you are.

According to a spiritual guru, acceptance is a big part of becoming mature:

“Listen to your being. It is continuously giving you hints; it is a still, small voice. It does not shout at you, that is true. And if you are a little silent you will start feeling your way. Be the person you are. Never try to be another, and you will become mature. Maturity is accepting the responsibility of being oneself, whatsoever the cost. Risking all to be oneself, that’s what maturity is all about.”

10) Stop chasing happiness with outside attachments

This is something that isn’t easy to realize.

After all, many of us may think that happiness means obtaining a shiny new iPhone or getting a higher promotion at work for more money. It’s what society tells us every day! Advertising is everywhere.

But we need to realize that happiness only exists inside ourselves.

Outside attachments give us temporary joy – but when the feeling of excitement and joy is over, we go back to the cycle of wanting that high again.

An extreme example highlighting the problems with this is a drug addict. They’re happy when they’re taking drugs, but miserable and angry when they’re not. It’s a cycle that no one wants to be lost in.

True happiness can only come from within.

It’s time to take power back and realize that we create happiness and inner peace inside ourselves.

“Don’t let society fool you into believing that if you don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend then you’re destined for a life of misery. The Dalai Lama has been single for the last 80 years and he is one of the happiest people on earth. Stop searching for happiness in places outside of yourself, and start finding it where it has always been: within you.” – Miya Yamanouchi

11) Do what you’ll say you’ll do

There couldn’t be a better phrase for taking responsibility for your life than to do what you’ll say you’ll do.

Part of getting your act together and taking responsibility for your life means being trustworthy and living your life with integrity.

I mean, how do you feel when someone says they’ll do something and they fail to do it? In my eyes, they lose instant credibility.

Don’t do the same and lose credibility with yourself.

The bottom line is this: You can’t take responsibility if you won’t even do what you’ll say you’ll do.

So, the question is: How can you make sure to follow up with actions on what you say:

Follow these four principles:

1) Never agree to or promise anything unless you are 100% sure you can do it. Treat “yes” as a contract.

2) Have a schedule: Every time you say “yes” to someone, or even yourself, put it in a calendar.

3) Don’t make excuses: Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. If you’re forced to break a commitment, don’t make excuses. Own it, and try to make things right in the future.

4) Be honest: The truth isn’t always easy to say, but if you’re not rude about it, it will help everyone out in the long run. Be impeccable with your word means you’re honest with yourself and with others. You’ll become that guy or girl that people can rely on.

12) Make the lives of those around you better

When you take responsibility for your own happiness and success, you tend to be in a better position to support others.

You’re on a learning journey in your own life, and that means you naturally become the person other people respect and look to as a role model.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of time mentoring people. But as your mindset shifts and you learn and grow, you naturally share your knowledge and skills with other people.

This benefits them, and it benefits you. You will learn from them as much as they learn from you.

13) Stop complaining

Nobody enjoys hanging around a complainer.

And by complaining, you lack the ability to accept the present moment and take action.

Your wasting precious energy on complaining about a situation when you could be taking action.

If you can’t take action, what’s the point in complaining?

Taking responsibility is all about taking action for your own life. Complaining is the antithesis of that.

“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.” – Eckhart Tolle

(To learn more about meditation techniques and Buddhist wisdom, check out my eBook on the no-nonsense guide to using Buddhism and eastern philosophy for a better life here)

14) Focus on taking action

This is probably the most critical part of taking responsibility for your life.

We all have goals and ambitions, but without action, they won’t be achieved.

And what good is someone who talks about doing things but never does it?

Without taking action, it’s impossible to take responsibility.

Even if it’s small steps, as long as you’re doing the work and moving forward, your life will improve.

Remember, taking action starts with your habits. Taking little steps every day results in a big step over an extended period.

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” ―Arnold Glasow

15) Hang out with people who don’t bring you down

A huge part of who you become is who you spend most of your time with.

Here’s a great quote from Tim Ferriss:

“But you are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.”

It’s your responsibility to choose people that will add to your life. People that encourage you to grow.

If you continually hang around toxic people who are always complaining and blaming, you’ll eventually do the same.

Choose to spend time with people who are mature, responsible and want to live a productive life.

Not only is hanging out with the right people crucial for your mindset, but it may also be a massive predictor for your happiness as well.

According to a 75-year Harvard study, our closest relationships could be the number one influence on our overall happiness in life.

16) Always seek to learn

When you take responsibility for your life you also take responsibility for your own learning and development. 

It’s not necessarily about formal learning.

Even if you have graduated from college with flying colors, you still need to keep on learning if you’re going to be successful.

But many of us just stop learning when we leave formal education. Once we no longer have someone there to guide us, and once we no longer have the pressure of exams, we often just stop. 

You can take responsibility for your own growth and learning.

Look for opportunities to learn everywhere you go and with everything you do.

Adopt a growth mindset, where you assume that you will be able to continue to learn and develop throughout your life. 

You can’t progress unless you can learn…but you don’t have to do an MBA. Follow your passions. If you want to learn macrame or bookbinding, do it.

You’ll gain much more than just a new skill. You’ll strengthen your mind, create new neural pathways and find yourself thinking in new ways. 

17) Don’t back down from your career goals

When it comes to take responsibility, it’s big career goals that are often the thing that people most want to achieve. And they can be the hardest to achieve too. 

But, unless you’re lucky enough to win the lottery or inherit a fortune, it’s those career goals that will help you make everything else happen.

It’s not just about money – though that’s part of it. Having the money you need to travel, buy a home or just do more with your weekends is important.

But there’s also the sense of achievement and purpose you get from having done something significant. 

But people rarely have successful careers if they’re not ready to take responsibility for their own progression.

You might be full of talent and ideas, but if you can’t take responsibility for making use of them, you won’t have the success you dream of. 

It is true that some people get promoted and find success who aren’t particularly talented or responsible.

But those people generally end up getting found out in the end. If you want real, sustainable, long-term success, take responsibility and:

  • Learn everything you can. Successful people are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn something new. 
  • Listen to people around you. If you’re a manager or running a business, don’t dismiss the people who work under you. 
  • Speak up. When you’re in a meeting, or even just on social media, make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to be authentic and to talk about your ideas. They’ll get you noticed.
  • Network. Keep it online if you prefer. Stick to in-person if you don’t. Find what it is that works for you and keep on doing it.
  • Make plans. Take notes. Strategize. Don’t just leave your success to chance. Take active steps in everything you do to make things happen.You can travel more

18) Travel or experience new things you’ve always wanted to try

Traveling to new places and doing more exciting things is pretty high on most people’s life wishlist.

Maybe you find yourself gazing at people’s Instagram pages and marveling at all the places they’ve been and the things they’ve done.

You wish you could do that too, but there’s always a reason why you can’t. 

If doing more with your life is important to you, there’s nearly always a way. But daydreaming won’t get you there. You need a plan. 

Try making a bucket list of places you’d like to go. Then think about how you could make that happen, and what will stop you making it happen.

It doesn’t have to be about a big backpacking trip (though it could be). If you’re more of a luxury hotel kind of person, then focus on short breaks or big days out. 

If you’ve got young kids, maybe you could move cities or countries for a year? If you’ve got older kids, maybe you could take them away for the summer break.

If you’re short on cash, maybe you could work your way around the world. 

Take responsibility for achieving your dreams by breaking them down into smaller steps.

19) Be healthy

When you take responsibility for your life, you realize that maintaining your health and wellbeing are vital to having the life you want. 

Taking responsibility for your health means that sometimes, the best thing to do is to stay in, soak in the tub, read a book and have a long night’s sleep. 

It’s about making hard choices over when to prioritize self-care. 

It doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a big night out or that you can’t ever drink alcohol or eat chocolate and pizza.

You can do all those things. It can be important to do them. But it’s not responsible to do them constantly. 

Taking responsibility for your wellbeing looks like…

  • Recognizing that you can’t be at your best if you regularly don’t get enough sleep.
  • Making time for exercise, even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Getting outdoors every day. 
  • Making time for meditation, or at least some calm and stillness, every day. 
  • Eating healthily most of the time, but knowing when the time is right to indulge. 
  • Having a balance of time with your friends and family, time alone and time with your partner. 

20) Most importantly, accept yourself

People who don’t take responsibility for themselves usually have an issue with self-esteem and self-acceptance. 

If you don’t accept yourself fully, then it’s difficult to visualize yourself being successful. If you can’t visualize yourself being successful, you don’t take responsibility for making it happen, because you believe you’ll fail. 

But learning to accept yourself is another process that you can choose, or not, to take responsibility for.

If you do it, you’ll be more likely to be in a place where you can keep on taking responsibility for yourself and your life.

You’ll also find the peace and inner calm that you might have struggled to find before. 

To accept yourself, you can:

  • Accept that there are some things you won’t be able to do. Many of us had lots of big dreams as children. As we get older, it’s inevitable that we won’t achieve all of them. If you can accept this, you’re more likely to achieve other dreams. If you can’t accept it, you’ll struggle to move past your perceived ‘failures’. 
  • Recognize what you’re good at. Not everyone’s good at everything. But we all have talents. What are yours? Give yourself praise where it’s due. If you get into the habit of this, you’ll find it easier and easier. 

21) Be fearless

Taking responsibility for your life means being in a place where you’re doing things all the time. You’re active and engaged with the world. You’re setting goals and getting things done. 

When you hit your groove, you end up feeling pretty damn good about yourself, who you are and where you’re going. 

You know you might not achieve a certain goal at a certain time, and that’s OK. You know that whatever happens, you have the skills, drive and means to succeed. 

That’s an amazing feeling of power and fearlessness.

In Conclusion

Taking responsibility for your life is crucial if you want to get your act together.

The good news is, we’re all capable of taking responsibility and living the best life we possibly can.

The trick is to stop blaming other people and to focus on what we can control: our actions.

Once you start focusing on your daily habits and you do what you’ll say you’ll do, you’ll be well on your way to living the life you’ve always dreamed of.

But don’t get me wrong. Taking responsibility for your life can be a tough thing to do.

It requires mental toughness and determination. The more comfortable, simpler option is to attribute both failure and success to luck. 

But when you do that, you miss out on opportunities for growth and progression in all areas of your life. 

Taking responsibility can mean that you’re able to set and achieve your goals, and have a plan to manage when things don’t go to plan.

It can help you develop your close relationships and build a network. It can help you learn more, develop your career and achieve your travel dreams.

And it can lead you to a place of deep self-acceptance and fearless living.

Taking responsibility is a powerful thing to do. It’s an essential part of living a life of fulfilment.

(To dive deep into taking responsibility to bring about positive change in your life, check out our best-selling eBook on why taking responsibility is the key to being the best you here)

A Highly Practical Guide to Key Buddhist Teachings

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Check it out here.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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