Thursday, June 6, 2013

Power and Responsibility

It took me a long time to understand the power of what I want to talk about, today, and that's the amazing power of choice. See, for a long time I gave “lip service” to the idea that each of us, especially me, had the ability to make the choices that determine where we wind up in life without really understanding just how powerful that ability is. Oh, I talked a good fight, but when it came down to the nitty gritty I'd try to have it both ways. I'd want to choose...and I'd want to avoid being responsible and accountable for my decisions and their results. I was uncomfortable with that degree of responsibility. As a result, I'd sometimes make ineffective decisions (that is, decisions that didn't move me in the direction I wanted to go) and then want to blame the results on factors or things outside of myself. What I didn't understand were two very basic and simple truths:

  • First, freedom, real freedom, comes from embracing responsibility and accountability and
  • Second, it is the ability to choose that makes responsibility and accountability so powerful

For a long time I wandered around, looking pretty successful, but not really living the life I wanted and deserved. I'd like to think I'm unique in this regard, but I know I'm not. Almost every day I meet people who try to be free by avoiding responsibility and accountability. As a result, they spend their lives as slaves to other people and their own bad habits. They don't understand how their choices have gotten them to where they are right now, or how better choices can change that dramatically.

There's this old good news/bad news joke about our ability to make decisions. God is talking with Adam...

God: I've got some good news and some bad news for you, Adam.
Adam: Well, what's the good news?
God: You have free will.
Adam: Okay. Ah, what's the bad news?
God: You have free will.

That's really the way it is. The ability to make decisions, the ability to choose, is what sets us apart from animals. Jim Rohn often asked his audiences the question “Why does a goose fly south in the winter?” The very simple answer that people often missed is “Because he's a goose.” Simple, right? “Driven by instinct and the genetic code” a goose doesn't get to decide if he's going to fly south in the winter or not. It's what geese do in winter. On the other hand, none of us are geese. We can and do choose what we do. Think about it. Everything we do is a choice. The statement “I did (insert the action of your choice), but I didn't really have a choice.” That's not true. There is always a choice. Now, the other side of this is that there are consequences to my choices. Still, there is always a choice.

So, we all get to choose. We get to choose what we believe, we get to choose how we feel, we get to choose what we think and we get to choose what we do. Once I realize that I get to choose these things I have some decisions to make.

  • What will I choose to believe?
  • What will I choose to think?
  • How will I choose to feel?
  • What will I choose to do?

None of these are independent of the others. That means that as I change one, that change tends to affect the others. You may notice that when I made the bullet list I changed the order a little. That's because I am convinced that what I choose to believe and think underlies all my other choices. Often, we try to change our lives by simply focusing on what we do. “If I change what I do, things will be different” is how the thought goes. Well, maybe so, but probably not. The problem is that it's hard to change what I do if I don't change the thoughts, ideas, beliefs and feelings that drive the behavior I'm trying to change. In fact, if I don't change my beliefs, thinking and feelings first, it's almost a guarantee I'll fail in my efforts to change my behavior. Which brings me back to choice. I have to choose to replace the beliefs, thoughts and feelings that are producing ineffective choices about what I do with those that will help me make effective choices. Now, I can refuse to choose, but others noted long ago that refusing to choose is a choice.

Okay, fine. I have to choose. Choice is power. Yada, yada... Is that it?

No, it's not. To really experience, in a positive way, the power of choice I have to accept absolute and total responsibility for every choice I've made. This isn't a thing to which I can just respond with an “okay, sure.” Think about it. Wherever I am in my life, however I'm living, whatever my circumstances are, it's all because of decisions I have made. It's all my responsibility. My job, career or business? My responsibility. My relationships? My responsibility. My marriage, family, friendships, finances, spiritual life, education, health (with a few exceptions), where I live, what I drive, how I dress, what's in my refrigerator, the condition of my car...all my responsibility. I made one or more decisions that resulted in each of these being the way they are. No one made me choose the way I did. I exercised free will (remember the joke?) and made choices. They may have been good choices, they may have been bad choices. They may have even been the best choices given the circumstances under which they were made. They were still my choices. Until I accept that it's my freely made choices that got me to where I am, I will never be free. Until I accept complete responsibility for all my choices I will remain a slave to other people and my own habits.

Blaming others for my life may be appealing, but it gives away my power to change things by changing myself. It does that by saying that others have controlled the only thing in this universe over which I have any control at all. I can't control other people, try though I might. I can't control the environment, the marketplace, the economy or politics or social institutions. All I can control is me. The only real hope I have of living the life I want, whatever that life is, is to insist on controlling the one thing I can control. Why on earth would I want to give away that power? So I can avoid the very responsibility that can set me free? So I can dodge the accountability that will help me do what I need to do?

Why am I spending so much time talking about this stuff? After all, it's not like there haven't been people talking about the same things for literally thousands of years. It's simple, really. I didn't really start to learn these things in a significant and life changing way until I was in my mid-forties. That means I was around for four decades before I started to really learn these things. I literally spent decades living life without really understanding what was going on! How much different would my life have been if I had understood? Once I started learning and making changes in myself, my life started to change. Now, I would never go back to my old life of not knowing and not understanding. I will never again give up the only power I have. And I will not simply sit idly by and watch other people spend their lives in “quiet desperation” when I have some ability, however small, to offer an alternative.

So, what about you? Are you ready to accept responsibility and accountability for your life and your decisions? Are you ready to change what must be changed for you to have the life you want and deserve? If you are, stick with me. It's going to be interesting.

Change your mind...change your life.

Stay tuned...

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