AUTHOR’S NOTE: Language can be a pain in the ass, and as I read and re-read this article, I feel as though some things may have been lost in translation. As such, I consider this to be a “living” document and will revisit this as I find a clearer way to articulate it. Any feedback is always welcome
I’m a big fan of Viktor E. Frankl. In fact, if you haven’t read his classic work Man’s Search For Meaning, close your browser and do do that.
I’m not kidding.
Frankl was a Viennese Psychiatrist who ended up in a Nazi Concentration Camp during WWII. I cannot possibly do the story justice here, but the short version is that, through all the indignities he faced, he discovered that he had one possession that the Nazis could NOT take away from him:
The power to CHOOSE how he would react to his circumstances.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
– Viktor E. Frankl
He could respond to life by exercising his ability to respond. He could be…”Response-Able”.
As Frankl discovered, when life throws us a beating, we often find ourselves in a place, between the stimulus and the response, where we can make a conscious choice. Brian Grasso refers to this as “Owning the Space”, and it is fucking POWERFUL. It is the ability to find ourselves in a situation, analyze what is going on, and make a conscious choice as to how we will react.
This ability to choose is a direct result of human beings having a “self”. Indeed, there are other animals that exhibit rudimentary levels of “self” (i.e. Chimpanzees recognizing themselves in a mirror, as opposed to thinking it is just another chimp) but we have, by far, the most developed. As I talked about in a Facebook LIVE post some time ago, this is a good thing! Having a sense of self allows us to plan, think about thinking, and…CHANGE.
At the Macro Level, most people ARE responsible.
I was reminded this about a week ago when I read a dreadful T-Nation article. In it, the author basically blamed the entire obesity epidemic on the fact that people refuse to take responsibility for their health and fitness. The irony here is that if people weren’t at least taking some kind of responsibility for their weight, they wouldn’t be on a website like T-Nation looking for answers to their problems, in the first place.
In practice, I find it very rare that a person doesn’t take outward responsibility for things. It is simply too difficult to brush this off without looking delusional or immature. For example, it is kind of difficult to blatantly brush off responsibility for a work project not getting done on time.
Outwardly, we are very good at maintaining composure. Oftentimes, professionalism requires this. In these instances, we may APPEAR to be responding, but are we?
Where we fall short is at the Micro Level
To use the above example, someone may take outward responsibility for an incomplete project while simultaneously blaming people, things, and events around them (This is a VERY loose example but you see where I am going with this).
I once called a client at an inconvenient time for them. They responded by exclaiming that I had “ruined their morning”. This is a classic example of failing to take responsibility at a micro level. A person that is truly responsible would understand that I did not have the power to ruin their day, but rather they could CHOOSE to let me ruin their day.
Of they could choose not to.
Sometimes this is evident in the language we use. Do any of these sound familiar?
- “I wasn’t going to have a beer but Rob bought me one.”
- “The guy hogging the rack made my whole squat workout miserable.”
- “I was fine with my diet compliance until my wife made me eat a donut.”
Listen, I’m no angel. I have been guilty of the same things throughout my life. I spent years blaming my mother for some of the twists my life took. In the end, regardless of the circumstances, I still had a choice in every situation. It was on me to decide and, sadly, I wasted years of my life by choosing to blame her for the various reactions that spewed out of me.
Don’t do this.
Admittedly, this is something that is easier said and done, and requires a lot of awareness and introspection. Here are some points to help you:
Tips and Application
- Start Journaling – Journal, diary, notebook…look, I don’t care what you call it, but get one and start doing it. Oftentimes, the linguistics sneak up on us, and we don’ even realize the inner dialogue we are having. By journaling thoughts, this can give us objective information. With enough journaling, we can begin to see patterns in our thoughts and feelings.
- Commit to taking responsibility – I don’t care how you do this. You can quietly vow it to yourself, or you can plaster it all over your Facebook wall. Whatever works for you is fine, but at some point you need to acknowledge that you are in control of your responses and commit to taking action and personal responsibility (see what I did there?)
- Be aware of your language – THIS INCLUDES INNER DIALOGUE. You may find it helpful to set a phone alarm to go off at intervals so you can take a few moments, throughout the day, to be aware of your current circumstances and any language associated with them
- Check Congruence – If you ARE shirking responsibility. Fix and reframe that shit. ASAP.
Of course, in practice this is a lot more involved, but the above steps will give you something to start with. So go for it: starting now, be aware of your responses. Are you demonstrating you are able to respond, or are you putting the responsibility on others? This is your life.
Think about it.