Unlocking the Door

A few years ago, my life looked very different. My levels of overwork, over-responsibility and resentment were at an all-time high. Friends and family saw a busy working mom juggling life and all its demands, but the truth is I rarely felt like I was doing anything very well—working mother, wife, sister, or daughter. The overachieving personality that had gotten me so far was relentless and wreaking havoc on my wellbeing, as I went from my kids to my marriage to my in-laws and clients care-taking, people-pleasing and approval seeking. I was exhausted down to my core. What I didn’t know is that I was always holding the key to my freedom—and so are you.

Opening to a New Level

It wasn’t until I learned an essential truth about human freedom that things changed for the better. Fundamentally, there is only one thing keeping you in a state of dis-ease of any kind.

You simply haven’t realized yet
that you are not a victim
of the events or situation
that you’re in.

Imagine yourself peering out of a window observing the weather. It’s raining. If you need to wash your car, you might think, Hooray, now I don’t have to deal with the carwash today! If you have big weekend plans and wanted a clean car you might think, Dammit I wanted to get my car washed today. Notice that in either case the rain hasn’t changed. The rain is not the cause of your mood. The only thing that has changed is what you think about the fact that it’s raining.

The same is true for any situation in your life. When we’re young, we are simply not taught the skills necessary to access all of the unlimited power inside of each of us to improve, enhance and redirect our lives. As a result, how we feel about our lives is often left to the whim of the weather, the morning commute, the news, other people’s moods, spilled coffee, and flight delays. We become more drained and less happy, more overwhelmed and less satisfied. Shifting back into our power happens by learning how to practice a new level of personal responsibility.

Now, the first time I heard that, I thought how can other people pissing me off or things going wrong in my day be my responsibility? But here’s what I learned:  practicing personal responsibility has absolutely nothing to do with something being your fault.

Rather, it is about your freedom.

The single most liberating thing you can do for yourself in any situation is to take personal responsibility.

For many years I ran a public relations firm. If a client called with a complaint, I might get stressed or angry that a mistake had happened, afraid that the client would cut the contract, or anything in between. The same was true in my marriage. If my husband was in a bad mood I would try to cheer him up and fix it. If it didn’t get better after a while, I might become exasperated and irritated myself. It took years to learn that rather than putting my clients, my partner or anyone else in charge of whether or not I felt good, I could take greater responsibility for my own experience. We all have ability to respond in lots of ways. Ideally, we choose responses that the best for our health and wellbeing.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

Personal responsibility acknowledges you as the observer of all the events of your life. It involves being aware of your thoughts and actively choosing ones that make you feel stronger, happier and better. It’s about recognizing who you really are, and the source of your real power.

For example, two people are looking out of a high-rise window at the road below. It’s high traffic time. Down on the road, the driver of a black sedan screeches to a stop mere moments before plowing into the rear of a grey SUV. One onlooker thinks, Nice reflexes—that driver hit the breaks in the nick of time!  This person is likely to feel a little relieved, maybe even hopeful that a disaster was narrowly averted. The other person seeing the same event thinks, OMG—seriously?! No one knows how to drive around here! Both reactions tell us something about how the person relates to the world around them, and both will have an impact on how they experience life.

When you get this truth—that you are the antidote to everything that you want to change in your life—a major shift happens. You really get that it’s not your boss, your partner, and your neighbor, it’s not your in-laws, and it’s not your job. In fact, not only are you not at the mercy of anything, you are the source! Your happiness comes from you, your being less exhausted comes from you, your success comes from you, feeling less depressed and overwhelmed comes from you, your growth and your healing comes from you.

And it doesn’t happen at some future point, either. How many times have you promised yourself it will be better “when” and “if” you aren’t so busy. You can’t wait for the busyness to stop–you must stop the busyness, says happiness researcher and bestselling author, Robert Holden, Ph.D.

When you stop looking outside yourself for the solution to any of your problems and start taking personal responsibility to respond to ways that serve you, you will feel a giant boost in your energy. That’s your cue that you are now back in your rightful position: in the driver’s seat of your life.

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