Stop Complaining and Take Responsibility for Your Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What do you do when life just doesn’t go your way? Do you blame other people and external circumstances, or do you suck it up and take responsibility for your life?

Blaming the external circumstances for your misfortunes is easy, and while they may have indeed contributed to your plight, complaining won’t help you fix it. To achieve success, it’s better to believe that you’re completely responsible for your quality of life and have the power to improve it.

In this article, you’ll learn how to change your behavior, stop complaining, and take responsibility for your life.

Event + Response = Outcome

If you accept that your life circumstances are in your control, then you operate with this formula:

Event + Response = Outcome

  • Event: Something that happens in your life
  • Response: How you choose to respond to the event
  • Outcome: The result of how you choose to respond to the event

Your Response to an Event affects the Outcome of that situation. If you’re frequently dealing with the same event but don’t like the outcome you’re getting, you have two possible responses:

  1. Blame the event for your outcome. You can blame any number of things for your troubles, from the economy to racism to gender bias. For example, maybe you’re constantly late for work and blame traffic. Though challenges exist, they aren’t the only reason you’re getting a bad outcome. For every person who hasn’t succeeded under a given set of circumstances, someone else has. So, external circumstances can’t be the only thing limiting your life. 
  2. Adjust your response until you get the outcome you’d like. This is the best course of action. External factors may be out of your control, but you can change how you respond to them in order to get the outcome you need. We often have a set of responses that we draw on in different situations, but these don’t always align with our purpose, values, or dreams. For example, if you hate your job, you may blame your boss. But you accepted that job and chose to stay in it, even if it’s keeping you from doing work you’re more passionate about. Instead of blaming your boss, get what you need to make the job worthwhile, or make a change. For example, ask to not be expected to work weekends, or ask for a raise that’s long overdue.

Choosing to adjust your response means that you refuse to complain about your circumstances. Generally, complaining is a sign that you have realized you want a different outcome, but you aren’t motivated to make the changes in yourself or your life to achieve it. We often complain to people who have no control over the situation. For example, maybe you’re unhappy with your partner, but instead of having a conversation with them about what you need from them, you complain to a coworker and don’t do anything differently.

If you need help to stop complaining, create a complaining/blaming jar. Every time you complain or blame someone for your circumstances, put $2 into the jar. 

Ways to Change Your Behavior

There are three ways to change your behavior and take responsibility for your life:

1. Look for signs that your behavior isn’t going to yield the outcome you want. These warning signs might include:

  • Intuition and instinct
  • Personal observations
  • Observations from those around you

But it’s easy to let these warning signs go unheeded because doing so would make you feel uncomfortable or you don’t want to change. Change is often scary because it involves risks, such as:

  • Judgment or disapproval from family and friends for your choices.
  • Spending time, effort, and money on something, only to have it not work out or fail.

Face your fears about change and choose behaviors that’ll yield your desired outcome. You don’t always have to pick the most extreme solution. For example, if you’re unhappy with your job, you don’t have to quit—you might be able to have a conversation with your boss about what isn’t going well and discuss what needs to change for you to feel fulfilled going forward.

2. Proactively seek feedback. Seeking feedback from those around you might allow you to understand how your behavior is unhelpful and what you might do differently. Though taking criticism is difficult, it’s important to work through your fears and make a change. 

3. Ask yourself questions to guide your changes:

  • What am I doing that is allowing this outcome to happen?
  • What should I do more of? 
  • What should I do less of?

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, maybe eating excessive sugar is sabotaging your efforts. Consider cutting back on it and increasing your exercise to achieve your goal. 

Going for the Glory: Raj Bhavsar’s Story

Raj Bhavsar knew he wanted to compete as a gymnast in the Olympics. Through high school and college, he racked up wins in tournaments. But when it came time to try out for the Olympics, he placed only as an alternate—he’d join Team USA at the 2004 Athens games, but he’d only compete if one of his teammates dropped out. 

Bhavsar decided he still wanted a shot at the Olympics as a competing athlete, not just an alternate. He loved the sport enough to keep practicing, but his performance suffered because he was less focused on winning. After a poor performance at nationals, he read The Success Principles, which taught him to take responsibility for his life rather than feeling at the whim of the world. He learned that it’s normal for successful people to experience negative feelings and fear, but they work through them to achieve their goals. He needed to change his attitude to improve his performance and make the team. He qualified as an alternate for the 2008 games, and after gymnast Paul Hamm dropped out, Bhavsar competed and helped lead his team to a bronze medal.

Stop Complaining and Take Responsibility for Your Life

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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