Want to see an immediate improvement in just about any life challenge or situation you face? First, ask what you can do to improve your situation before pointing the finger at others. Yes, that seemingly simple suggestion has tremendous value if you are looking to take your game to the next level — but looking inward isn’t always easy, and can be intimidating, scary, and frustrating. It is for those reasons that most people in life first point outward at the cause of their shortcomings rather than look in the mirror, as blaming others allows for denial and temporary comfort when compared to holding oneself accountable.
What it gets us when we blame others
Listen to the people around you on any given day and you will likely hear all kinds of reasons why things aren’t going well — just this week I heard the following quotes at my office:
- “I’m not starting because the coach won’t give me a chance.”
- “I’m struggling in that class because the professor is an idiot.”
- “I can’t get a job because nobody is hiring.”
While it is possible that the statements above may be true (at least in part), how do you possibly improve upon those situations when framing the problems in ways that exclusively blame others? Why try to catch the coach’s attention by working hard when you already think the coach doesn’t care? Why study more for a class if you think the professor’s personality is ultimately going to hold you back? And why go out looking for a job if you already know in your mind that securing a job these days is impossible to do?
Now, what would happen if we re-framed the same situations as above so that the first step in problem solving was to engage in self-inquiry? For example:
- “Earning a starting position on this team is tough, and this coach can be a bear at times. Still, if I outwork my teammates and get better everyday, chances are I’ll eventually get a fair look.”
- “My grade in this class right now isn’t very good, but it’s primarily because I haven’t attended many classes, nor have I really taken the time to study for the tests. Regardless of the professor’s personality, I control my own destiny, and to date I haven’t been doing a great job.”
- “Getting a job might be tough right now, but it’s also true that my resume hasn’t been updated in years, and I haven’t investigated what resources are out there to help with networking. The reality is people get hired everyday, and I have just as good a chance as anyone if I stay after it.”
A quick comparison between assessments provides some invaluable takeaways. First, when we point outward and blame others we are leaving our future success entirely up to fate — contrast that mindset with the second list where the onus for change is placed squarely on the individual. Secondly, blaming the outside world for every misfortune turns us into pessimistic, depressed, hopeless people — compare that to the second list where clear improvement steps are outlined for future goals.
Locus of control
The theory of locus of control is worth examining here — the idea is that what you believe influences and controls your life outcomes plays an important role in what happens in your life. for example, if you feel helpless to your likelihood for future success (as in the first set of statements above), you probably won’t even try to improve your condition (an external locus of control). On the other hand if you assume control and responsibility for experiences in your life (an internal locus of control), you will assertively act upon life situations, set goals, gain confidence from your success, and continue on in your life thinking this way (similar to the second set of statements above). Yes, making this one, simple decision regarding influence can lead to dramatically different results.
Control and stress
An additional benefit that taking personal responsibility provides is the sense of control, and control has a very important and powerful impact on stress. Specifically, when we feel in control of life situations, we generally experience less stress (this is called an inverse relationship). With less stress, we are able to better cull our human resources, galvanize our resiliency, and develop the motivation needed for success. Conversely, when we feel like we don’t have much control in life the exact opposite occurs — we feel helpless, pessimistic, and rarely try to improve situations.
While it might be a tough habit to break, it really does make sense to refrain from immediately pointing blame to others when it comes to your own frustrations and life shortcomings. The great news is that when people decide to first look at themselves when problem solving, they almost immediately feel empowered, and often the result is greater mental toughness, optimism, and excitement for future change.