Am I Responsible, Or Am I To Blame?

One of the things that I have struggled with most through my life, and one that a great many others do as well, is with the concept of responsibility. And one of the biggest changes came about when I started to actually understand and come to get my head around it.

So, what actually is “responsibility”? What does it look like and mean? Well, according to the dictionary the definition is:

  1. The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control of someone.
  2. The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
  3. The opportunity or ability to act independently and take decisions without authorization.

What this basically comes down to is a matter of control. You can only have responsibility where you personally have control. If you personally do not have control, you do not have responsibility.

For example, as a parent you are responsible for ensuring that you children are safe, healthy and educated. You have control over what food is in the house for them to eat, you set the rules for behaviour, you ensure that they see any health experts (doctors, opticians, etc) when needed, you decide where and what you child learns (school vs. home-schooled, religious beliefs, self-growth). But you are not responsible for what your child then does with the food, knowledge and opportunities that you provide. To put it another way, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink (and if the horse then dies of dehydration, it’s on the horse, not you).

Unfortunately far too many people only think of responsibility from a blame point of view, or they assign responsibility incorrectly. When people say “You are responsible for your children’s behaviour” what they often mean is “You are to blame for your children’s actions”, which just isn’t true. The only person that ultimately controls your children’s behaviour is them. You teach them how to act, but they make the final decision whether to do what they have been taught. And we often do it to ourselves as well. We have people that refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, words or thoughts. Bullies that make hateful comments online and then claim it’s all a joke or that their victim should learn to take “just chill out”; people that hold the belief that if you put yourself in the spotlight then you should expect to receive grief or abuse. “Natural victims” who blame all of their ills on the rest of the world but never stop and look at their own actions. Abusers that play their mind games and make the victim think that it’s all their fault that they get abused. “He loves me, I just make him angry sometimes”.

And then there are those that go the other way; they take responsibility for the actions of others, even though it isn’t their place. Parents that take the blame for their children’s actions and feel guilty for their misdeeds. Friends and family that indulge the bad habits or vices of others, either making excuses for them to actively encouraging the bad behaviours.

Unfortunately, those that don’t take responsibility for themselves and their actions are doomed to never grow and become the best version of themselves that they can. They will always wait for someone else to do it for them, or tell them what to do. Those that take on responsibility that is not their own will also struggle to grow; they are more focused on someone else’s life than they are on their own, and you must be present in yourself to be able to grow.

So why do so many people have a problem with responsibility? Basically, low self-esteem and self-worth. Those that don’t take responsibility for themselves are trying to avoid themselves; they don’t feel that they are good enough and rather than work on themselves to become good enough, they try (intentionally or unintentionally) to bring others down to what they perceive to be their level. And those that take responsibility for others instead try to distract themselves from themselves by trying to help build up others, hoping (again, intentionally or otherwise) to make themselves better indirectly. “If I can make this other person better, then maybe I’ll get better too.” Kind of a self-help-by-proxy.

But what the big problem with both approaches is that they just don’t work. The first approach is like having a battered old car and instead of restoring it you just go around with a hammer battering everyone else’s car. The second is helping to restore someone else’s car with parts from your own then wondering why (a) your Ford components don’t fix their Vauxhall car and (b) your own car is now even more battered and dysfunctional.

For myself, I have spent far too long either taking on responsibility that wasn’t my own or trying to dodge my own responsibility. On a personal level, this hampered my efforts as a parent. Far too often I was left feeling guilty when any of the kids acted out (having a temper tantrum in public, playing too loudly and waking up others that were still sleeping, and other childish or child-like behaviours), especially for repeat offences. I was wrongly claiming responsibility for their actions, when in actual fact I had met my responsibilities. I had made them aware that misbehaving was wrong, but then punished everyone when it happened- they got told off, and then I spent the next however-long blaming myself. And it wasn’t just in my personal life. Professionally I have always avoided positions of responsibility, so that I wouldn’t have to take the blame for someone else’s mistakes or lack of ability.

The turning point for me came last year. After a lifetime of self-sabotage and misplaced responsibility, I finally realised where I was going wrong. I opened myself up to the fact that the only person I can actually take responsibility for is myself. I don’t control the thoughts or actions of anyone else. If someone else makes a mistake, it isn’t my mistake and I’m not to blame. If I explain something well but the other person chooses not to listen and then makes a mistake, they are responsible for their mistake, not me. If something happens totally beyond my control, it isn’t my fault. Since realising and accepting this, my stress levels have dropped dramatically. When my daughter has a temper tantrum on the school run, I no longer have to fight to keep my temper in check, because I am able to accept that it is not my fault that she is choosing to be silly. When I am playing a TCG and I lose a game due to a misplay, I accept that I made a mistake, take it as a learning experience, and resolve to play better next time instead of railing against either luck or bad cards.

The feeling once you accept responsibility for the things that you have control over and release responsibility for those that you don’t control is an amazing one and can make all of the difference between a happy and fulfilling life and a miserable existence. I think that Reinhold Niebuhr said this best in his Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Good luck to you all, and happy responsible-ing!

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First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to say a big HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you out there; I hope you all had a great festive season and are looking forward to a great 2018.

And with that, I want to turn my attention to that great tradition of New Years Resolutions. In theory it is a great idea and many people have managed to make great strides as a result of their resolutions. BUT. They are the exception rather than the rule. Most people go off half-cocked, make grand and sweeping resolutions, then drop them half-way through January and spend the rest of the year feeling bad about it. Either that, or they just don’t bother, convinced that they will fail before even starting. And I know that I’m including myself in there- the last time I tried making resolutions they didn’t even last a whole day, and most years I was too convinced I would fail. Even last year- my most positive year to that point- I didn’t make any resolutions. I knew I wanted to make several positive changes (and indeed I have made some progress!), but I was still plagued with self-doubt and loathe to make any resolutions that I might fail.

This year, however, I’m changing this. I am going to make New Years Resolutions. Not only that, but I am going to actually make them stick!

I very firmly believe that everyone has the potential to set and follow through on resolutions. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you approach it right you can manage anything. Now before you all start shaking your heads and dismissing me, I want you to hear me out.

So what is this right way? Well, firstly, you need to make sure that you are picking the right resolutions. If you have no actual investment or interest, your odds of success are far smaller. Yourself or someone close has a health scare? You are more likely to be invested in a resolution to diet or exercise. Unhappy with your work prospects? You are more likely to be invested in training and gaining new qualifications. Fed up with just seeing new places on TV or bored with the day-to-day? You are more likely to be invested in getting out there and broadening you horizons; maybe starting a new hobby or traveling more. For myself, there are a handful of areas that I would like to work on. I would like to work on myself in general as a person. I would like to work on myself as a husband. I would like to work on myself as a dad. I would like to work on myself as a blogger. And I would like to work on myself as a card gamer (both paper and digital). For this bit, you can be as narrow or broad as you like.

Once you know what’s important to you and what areas you want to work on, then you can begin to actually home in on your specific resolutions and how to achieve them. Picking one from my list above, how can I become a better blogger? The first and most obvious answer is post more consistently. After all, you aren’t a blogger until you blog. Another way to improve is get your blog seen by more people; if people don’t read the blog, where was the point of blogging? And the final way to improve is to get constructive feedback- the only way to know what actually works is to ask others. So, my first resolution is: To become a better blogger by posting more consistently, making my work more visible, and getting feedback from other bloggers.

The next step once you have set your resolutions is to make a plan. What steps do you need to take to achieve this goal and what sort of time frame you are looking at? Some things will be continuous (I’m going to exercise more), some will be a one-and-done (I’m going to quit smoking), and others will be a work-towards (start your own business). If you are going to exercise more, are you going to do it by yourself or are you going to get help? If you are getting help, are you just going to ask a friend or partner, or are you going to pay to join a gym and get professional help? Is there any supplies or equipment that you need to get before you can start? What other resources can you tap to help you? Do you need to set aside specific time, or is it something that can be slotted in anywhere with ease? All of these are considerations when you are putting your plan into place. And don’t forget to actually write this all down! Nothing can kill a resolution quicker than forgetting a small but important detail. Plus the act of writing the plan has several other benefits, from locking it into your brain more firmly to giving you something tangible to look at should you find yourself wavering.

And that, essentially, is it. Figure what matters to you, pick your resolutions, and make a plan to get there. Almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? And that’s one of the things that trips people up- they believe that it must require some insanely complicated system or that you have to suffer and struggle.

So there we have it; the deep dark secret to succeeding with your New Years Resolutions. Now I’m off to go and write up my own plan for the year. Good luck to those of you making your own resolutions and feel free to let me know how that works out for you.

Thanks for reading!

500 Word Challenge

Okay, so here’s the thing. I want to be a blogger. I have the blogs. I have a good grasp of the English language and a creative mind. Despite having a wife and six kids I do actually have the time (I know, I know, shocking isn’t it…). But so far, I’m still not actually doing the blogging. Mostly it’s because of the usual performance anxiety that I personally struggle with- will my writing be any good? Will people actually want to read it? Am I posting something that makes me look stupid? Who am I to be posting about any of this stuff anyway?? And so I procrastinate, stare at a blank screen or flop around uselessly lamenting about not posting. But regardless of that, between the two blogs I have a total of twenty two posts (including this one) published since 11th May this year; that works out as an average of four a month. That is NOT acceptable to me.

So, what am I going to do about it? I’m so glad that you asked. I am going to post more frequently and more consistently. I am going to make damn sure that I am posting something at least once a day. And not just a few sentences, but a minimum of 500 words. I have had a quick look into it and apparently 1000 words an hour is not unreasonable for a writer, and that’s just one hours writing. For those that write for four or five hours a day, that’s a lot of words. I’m not expecting anywhere near that of myself to start with. Just the 500, either here or on Towers of Steel. After all, you learn and grow more from doing a little everyday than doing a big thing once, and I do want to learn, grow, and improve as a writer in general and specifically as a blogger.

But that is not all- oh no. I also need to work on all of the other skills required to be a successful blogger. I must be a manager, running my brand(s) and making sure that I am setting (and meeting) my deadlines. I must be an editor and proofreader, ensuring that what goes out is properly formatted and spelled. I must be a PR man, ensuring that people are aware of my work and bringing the readers in. I need to be the graphics department, sourcing any images or artwork. So, quite a few skills to work on (and preferably master).

So there you have it- five hundred words posted, minimum, every day. Can I manage it? I certainly think so. Can I manage five hundred quality words per day? A touch trickier, but I’m still definitely still confident. Five hundred quality words that others want to read? Now there’s the challenge.

But it’s a challenge that I look forward to, and I hope to have as many of you as possible along the way as well.

Anyway, thank you for reading (to those that stuck it out) and I hope to see you all soon!

The Best Laid Plans

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”

Robert Burns, “To a Mouse

Just as true today as it was when it was first written back in 1786, the line is better known by its more contemporary translation “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Military wisdom has a similar adage “No plan survives contact with the enemy” (a corruption of a quote originally attributed to the German strategist Helmuth von Moltke in the 19th Century).

At their core, both quotes acknowledge the impossibility of making the perfect plan, especially if other people are involved. Mistakes, misunderstandings, and even sheer dumb luck can all cause you to veer from your plans.

BUT. And this is a very big BUT. Plans going awry is not always a bad thing. It is not a failure. It is not proof of any shortcomings on your (or indeed anyone elses’) part. Sir Alexander Fleming was working to discover a cure for diseases. but it was only after he threw some failed experiments away that he found his answer. While working on radar-related research Perry Spencer happened to discover the microwave oven. And whilst not every mistake or change in plans will lead to the next big discovery, they can still allow you to make discoveries about yourself, lead to good learning opportunities, or act as a springboard to a different idea or venture.

Point in case: This article that you are reading was not what I had originally planned for today. I actually had a really cool idea that I wanted to try. Unfortunately events conspired to prevent me doing it in time, so I have had to postpone it until a slightly later date. But that in itself actually inspired me to write this article instead. All’s well, as they say…

So the next time your well laid plans fall apart, don’t despair, don’t bemoan your luck, don’t curse others, and definitely don’t think that it is a failure or bad thing on your part; just look for the unexpected and exciting new opportunities and run with them.

Until next time, good luck and enjoy your mistakes!

Self-Harm- An Important Thought

I just want to start todays’ article with a bit of a disclaimer. Most of what I write about is promoting positive behaviours and making positive suggestions; you get what you focus on, so for both my readership and myself positive messages are the way to go. This weeks is not about a positive subject, but it is an important enough topic that I feel the need to weigh in on it. The most important point to take from today is if you see anything familiar in either yourself or another, please please get professional help.

One of the biggest problems with self-harm is the fact that so few people actually understand what even constitutes self-harm. People cutting themselves is probably the best known example of self-harming. If you stop and think for longer than two seconds it is obvious that suicide is self-harm taken to an extreme. Drug and alcohol abuse fit the criteria too. But again, this is an extreme and very visible end.

What far fewer people think about are the other end of the spectrum. Not everyone self-destructs in a loud or obvious way; some do it in a lower-key almost sneakier way. As an example here, take myself. For a lot longer than I have cared to think about I have struggled with self-destructive and self-harm issues. Only occasionally has it gotten to the point of extreme levels, but even while seemingly well-balanced or happy there was that little cancer in the back of the mind. Usually not even obvious to myself. And very rarely was it big.

Another aspect of my self-worth problems revolve around keeping myself to myself and sharing very little with others. For most of my life I’ve not wanted to put people out or cause them (what to me is) unneccessary work; if I have a problem, I should sort it myself.

I was a smoker for roughly 21 years. I tried to quit a couple of times with GP help but the best that I really managed was to slow down; once the programs finished it was back to business as usual. Then I came to the very sobering realisation that I wasn’t smoking because of nicotine addiction. I was actually using smoking as a way of self-harming. Let’s face it, very few things in this world are as widely professed to be lethal (except possibly drink driving) and a BAD THING. We are told that people who smoke are seriously hurting themselves every time they have a cigarette. But it is still an acceptable sight. Smokers have an addiction, and they are getting more and more limited where they can indulge their dirty little friend. But no one looks twice, and certainly no one looks any deeper than that. I realised I was self-harming instead mid December last year. I finished my last pouch of tobacco roughly 36 hours later, have not touched another cigarette since, and have not felt any craving or withdrawal symptoms.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that every smoker is a self-harmer, nor will this revelation help them all. Nicotine addiction is a thing, and a very nasty one at that. But I wasn’t addicted to nicotine, I was a self-harmer, and it was reaching this conclusion that allowed me to quit. And that isn’t the only way in which I have quietly self-harmed over the years. I have punched walls when no one was looking, destroyed personal property, deliberately pushed people away, and many other seemingly irrelevant acts. Yes, you don’t even have to actually physically harm yourself to self-harm. Hurting yourself financially, socially or even sabotaging favourite pastimes or hobbies- all of it can be used as methods to self-harm. Anything that diminishes you or who you are, anything that causes any kind of pain can give you that sense of satisfaction that comes from punishing yourself.

None of these things is, from the outside, that big a deal and certainly none of it was revealed to anyone. The kind of stuff that, if you mentioned it to the average person they would likely dismiss it as silly or irrelevant.

And that is the biggest thing to take away from today. Even small, quiet self-harming is self-harming. It may seem innocuous, it may seem silly, it may even seem unimportant. It is still a big warning sign that you need help. It is never irrelevant.

So there you have it. Like I said at the start, if you think that you may have any issues with self-harm then please speak to a professional, or at least to friends or family. Don’t keep it to yourself. And if you think that you may see someone else who is struggling with self-harm, please help them. Offer a non-judgmental ear to listen, don’t dismiss it, and take it very seriously. They may just be having a bad day, but at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it really could be life or death.

Thank you for reading, and keep safe.

Keep Your Chin Up

Many of us are on our own voyage of self-discovery and self-fulfillment; we want to be the best us that we can be. And sometimes this goes swimmingly. We have days where all our cards come up, everything is smelling of roses, and everything that we touch turns to gold. Those days make life worth living.

But then there are the other days. The days when everything just seems to fall apart at the seams and nothing goes right. The days when, instead of moving forward with your life you suddenly find yourself slipping back several years to a not so good you. Everything seems so much more of an uphill struggle and all you want to do is just crawl back under a rock. Regardless of where we start or where we want to go, there will be days like this.

And I know that these days are hard. Everything seems pointless, enthusiasm goes out the window and it feels like everyone else is at best ignoring you or at worst are trying to actively undo all of your hard work. To everyone suffering one of those days, all I can say is this- DON’T GIVE IN.

No matter how tempting it may be to quit, don’t. If need be, stop what you are doing and write off the attempt (or day, or week, or whatever). Then START AGAIN. Learn from any mistakes, address any unhelpful thoughts or people, change anything that needs changing, then JUST GO FOR IT.

To quote the late. great Roy Castle “Dedication’s all you need.”

Good luck, keep going, keep your chin up, and keep giving it your best.

A Magical Mystery Post

Welcome one and all to this, my latest post. I’m afraid that this post may be a little more disjointed today, but I don’t actually have a topic to write about. I spent a lot of yesterday wracking my brains for a topic to expound on, but sadly nothing came to me. In the end, I’ve just had to resort to just firing up WordPress and letting my fingers kind of just run free and hope that what I type makes sense.

I have to say, this is probably the hardest post so far. With the others I’ve at least had a vague idea where I was going but this is a complete mystery to me. In honesty, I’m only posting this because I want to be a writer and/or blogger and I can’t do that unless I, you know write and stuff. It is at least another post and some more words put in a coherent narrative.

How about this:

Thank you to all those that have read my posts so far. I’m mostly running this blog for myself, but it is still nice to be noticed and appreciated.

And to myself- Also thank you for actually making the positive changes that have allowed you (me?) to start writing this blog and want to start the gaming blog that goes live tomorrow. Never hurts to thank yourself for the good things that you’ve done, even if the pronouns do get a little messy. 😳

Oh, wow. I’m an. Emoticon user now as well. Who would have thunk it, eh…?

Well, this doesn’t need to be a big post, but it does need to be a post, so I’m going to call it there. Hopefully Wednesdays post will be a little more planned. Until then, stay strong, stay happy and (to quote the pig) “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

Looking For The Diamond In The Rough

We live in a world of 7 1/2 billion people. That is a very large number of people. And all of them are unique- no two are the same combination of thoughts, emotions and experiences. Needless to say, with all of the differences between us you will not get along with everybody.

But this is fine- if we all liked and wanted the same things then the world would be a very boring place. In fact, the discord between different people has moved society forward, along with knowledge, art, science, and the entirety of human evolution.

However, there are some people who feel just too toxic. They don’t provoke discord, they incite out-and-out fear and hate. These people appear to the outside to be broken and all they do is drag others down to their level instead of working to elevate others. Now, common wisdom is that if someone is a negative influence on you, you should remove them from your life, and I agree that is indeed the ideal. In life you get what you focus on; if you focus on the good, happy and healthy then that is what your life will be filled with. However, a negative focus takes your life the other way. Not good.

So what do we do about the people that we can’t avoid or remove? For example, many of us live in a democracy. If the majority vote for a particular person or party, you might wind up with individuals in power that you disagree with. You might land the dream job but your direct supervisor could be the spawn of Satan. You have a rare condition and the only specialist is an unapproachable and aggressive jerk. What you need to do in this situation is shift your perspective. I’m not saying that you have to compromise your beliefs or jeopardise your own happiness or sanity. I’m not saying that you have to be friends or even like them. Just choose to look for the positive in every person, no matter how small.

For example, there is a certain political figure who has caused many people world-wide to exclaim on an almost daily basis about the many extreme cases of arrogance, stupidity, insanity and criminality (I am one of those people). I live in a different nation and STILL he causes many outraged cries of “What the actual f____?!” It reached the point that I had to resort to blocking him on social media (less concerned by him seeing me, more concerned by me seeing him) so that I could stay positive and happy. I even had to unfollow some otherwise interesting people to avoid getting triggered.

And certainly from the average perspective he is not a nice person. I won’t go into a complete list of his negative traits, bad practices and habits or anything else, but I’m sure I don’t really need to. But what is rarely raised are his better qualities. He clearly loves his family and their successes. He is very driven to succeed himself, having run successful big businesses for a very long time.

And the same can apply to anyone. Literally every person, no matter how unpleasant, insane or even just plain evil has one or more positive traits that you can point to and say “Yes, but at least there was this…”, even if this is “He loved his cat” or “He was always punctual”.

So there you have it. The next time you have to speak to someone unpleasant just remember- you aren’t talking to “the guy that you don’t like”, you’re talking to “the guy who loves his cat”. You’ll be all the better for it. Until next time, take care and be positive!

Don’t Dream It, Be It

Good morning and welcome to another small burst of positive goodness.

Today I would like to talk to you all about something very profound, deep and massively important. Possibly even the most important lesson that you will ever learn. A lesson that I have read many times in many different places but didn’t fully actually realize until quite recently. And that lesson is this.

 

ONLY YOUR ACTIONS TRULY MATTER.

 

I’ll just pause while that sinks in. Yep, it doesn’t matter what you learn. It doesn’t matter what you feel. It doesn’t matter what you intentions or thoughts are. Literally all that matters is what you do. You could be thinking the world’s most profound thoughts and understand the very fabric of nature, but if you do nothing with that knowledge and understanding then what purpose does it serve?

As a personal example, I have spent many years reading articles in magazines and online and spent extremely large sums of cash to get into Magic:the Gathering and various other trading card games. Ever since I first discovered TCGs back in 1997 I have considered myself a card gamer. I was obsessed with card games (especially M:tG), and loved nothing more than reading about the different games and strategies. But in all honesty I wasn’t actually much of a player, and continuing the same way will guarantee that I never become much of a player, casual or otherwise. I let social anxiety stop me from seeking other players out, and on the few times I played anything against a real person instead of against myself I only ever let myself play games where I felt I stood a better chance of winning. If there was the opportunity for failing, I avoided it like the plague.

In more recent years I have discovered the joys of online TCGs, particularly the F2P games such as Hearthstone, Solforge and Eternal. And the fact that I can play them without coming face-to-face with my opponents did help a little. Hells, it almost feels like just playing against the computer. And it was good for a while, I started to be able to actually put some of the lessons that I had learnt into practice. But even online I still struggled with my fear of failure and for some time now I have played more single-player games against the AIs instead. But what I want is to get better, and the only way to do that is to actually play against real people. I need to actually do it, not just read about it.

So for me now, the challenge is to actually go out there and do, not just read and think. I need to attend more events (and I have actually taken my first step in that regard- I attended one of the prerelease events for Hour of Devastation last weekend. Thanks to all at Game On!). I need to actually play more games of Solforge and Eternal against real people and not just keep playing against the AI (where I rarely fail and therefore never actually learn or improve).

Obviously, this article isn’t just about gaming, and the principles apply in all areas of real life. It doesn’t matter how many degrees and qualifications you gain, you won’t see any benefit unless you then use the information. It doesn’t matter how many chat up lines you learn if you never go to bars and use them. And you’ll never become the person that you want to be, no matter how many self-help books and articles you read, without actually making the changes you want.

So, all that remains today is to say learn that stuff, think those thoughts, feel those feelings. Then go out and do the actions and make that difference; no one else can do it for you. Good luck and take care!