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Choose Your Own Adventure: A Tale of Personal Responsibility

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displeased stressed female car driver
  1. You’re running late to work, and the car in front of you is driving under the speed limit. You… A.Wait for a break in traffic and, using your signal, safely change lanes and pass the slower driver.

A.)Wait for a break in traffic and, using your signal, safely change lanes and pass the slower driver.

B.)Tail the slow car, calling them names and getting frustrated. Finally you swerve around them, cutting them off.

  1. After cutting them off, you speed to work. Once you get there, the parking lot is completely full. You…

A.)Go to a nearby parking garage where you know there’s free parking available and take the extra walk as a good way to get some exercise.

B.)Angrily circle the lot, blaming the slow driver for making you lose your parking space. You end up parking in a different lot that you don’t have a permit for.

  1. You get through your workday and, exhausted, make your way back to your car only to find a bright green ticket envelope under your wiper blade. You…

A.) Take the ticket off of your car and make a note to pay it online when you get home, realizing that you are responsible for parking where you shouldn’t have.

B.) Curse loudly, saying that the cop who gave you the ticket clearly has it out for you, and angrily drive home.

Life, much like the scenario above, is a Choose Your Own Adventure game on the grandest scale. But, often, we think of our days more like Chutes and Ladders, letting external factors, such as the dice in the game, determine whether we fall down the chute or climb the ladder.

If you were in this situation, how would you choose to end your day? If you’re following the Chutes pattern above, then you’ll most likely continue being angry and blaming others for your bad day.

When you allow others to control the outcome of your life, you lack personal responsibility. You become the victim of every circumstance and blame others for upsetting you. If you find yourself getting into this pattern, it may be time to drop the dice and start choosing a better path.

Although people and situations can be difficult, your attitude and emotional response are always by choice. Once you’ve gotten caught in the cycle of blaming the stimulus, such as the slow driver in the first question, it’s hard to not see them as the problem. You have to change your thinking, and realizing that there is a step in between the stimulus and your bad day will help. Instead of situations playing out as a stimulus impacting your emotions directly, your interpretation of the stimulus is what separates the two.

Stimulus » Emotion

Stimulus » Interpretation » Emotion

If this is the case, then the stimulus, or the slow driver, is not what caused you to be late and lose your parking space. Rather, it was your interpretation that the driver was going too slow, causing your frustration, which made you tail him and drive recklessly.

This is a common example of the difference between internal locus of control versus external locus. An individual with external locus of control believes that they do not have control over what happens to them because it is directly impacted by outside factors. On the other hand, someone with internal locus of control does believe that they have control over their own life. Those who struggle with anxiety often have external loci and think that if they could only control their own life, then they won’t be anxious. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, because no one can have total control over others. Control is merely an illusion, and if we only have peace when we feel like we’re in control, finding that peace will become a lifelong struggle.

If you find yourself blaming others or think you rely on external locus of control, there are ways to help end the cycle. Be aware of how you talk to yourself. If you’re always thinking, “that person made me mad,” try changing your inner dialogue to “I choose to be in control of my emotions.”

Gratitude is the key to choosing better outcomes for yourself. If you can be happy for what you have every day, then it is easier to create a more positive inner dialogue. Instead of waking up and saying, “this is going to be a terrible day,” wake up with gratitude and acknowledge that you are in charge of having better thoughts and reactions.

Regardless of what happens to you today, remember that no one can rob you of your joy. By not taking personal responsibility, we give up our joy and peace, allowing others to take it from us. Instead of just searching for happiness based on others, focus on being thankful for you what have, and joy and peace will come to you.

If you need help taking on more personal responsibility in your own life, counselors at Stenzel Clinical are here to help. Contact us today to set up an appointment.

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