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Who's in Charge? You're in Charge.

Often our brain's get important things backwards. For example, it is common for us to take charge of the things that are not ours to own and to ignore the things that are.

It's all about what's easy vs. what's hard. It's easy to tell other people what to do. There's no risk to us personally and little effort is required. It's also easy to do what people tell us. We don't have to spend effort making a decision and if it doesn't go well, we have someone to blame.

If you think you are currently an expert being in charge of yourself, do a quick scan of how often you please, placate, perform, look for approval or validation. Or how often do you feel anxious, worried, guilty, doubtful, avoidant, or afraid. Stress is a sign that we are letting fear be in charge, rather than our conscious being. And it makes sense.

First, realize our brains like easy, and taking full responsibility for ourselves, for our life, for our choices is hard. To avoid taking responsibility, our brains like to throw all kinds of negative emotions at us to stop us from going there.

Let's say you want to take responsibility for part of your life and maybe you don't like where you are - like your relationships or finances. To create change, you're going to need to do things you haven't done before, to face things you haven't faced before, to learn, stumble, and grow.

To a brain that loves to avoid risk, that sounds scary! So it says, "hey let's feel shame, guilt, doubt, helplessness, overwhelm to encourage you to take a different path." You've had those thoughts? I'm not good enough or smart enough. Other people can do this but I can't. I'll never figure it out. It's too hard. I'm too old/young/etc.

None of these feelings are "true." You aren't helpless. There's nothing to feel shame, guilt or doubt about. It's a strategy designed by your brain to avoid risk which is inherent in living a self-fullfilled life.

But that's where you come in. You are not your brain. You have a brain, but ultimately you are in charge if you want to be. It takes effort and some bravery. But before we jump into how, let's talk about why bother?

But that's where you come in. You are not your brain. You have a brain, but ultimately you are in charge if you want to be. It takes effort and some bravery. But before we jump into how, let's talk about why bother?

Why Bother Taking Responsibility for Ourselves

When we don't take charge of ourselves, everything and everyone has more agency, more say in our lives than we do. Not only are we not guiding the ship to where we want it to go, but we end up feeling so many negative emotions in the process. First we might feel small, or lack confidence for not being true to ourselves. Or we might hate ourselves because we are "useless" or don't even know what we want in life. Then we might feel conflicted about which piece of advice to take. Who has the "right" answer, because we can't trust ourselves? Then we feel worried and guilty about who we are upsetting or displeasing if we don't do what they say, etc. etc.

When we avoid taking full responsibility for ourselves, we doubt who we are to the core - and why wouldn't we? When we put everyone in charge, it means no one is in charge and how well is that likely to work out?

The downside to not taking charge is high, but the upside is also high if we do take charge. If we can get over the slight discomfort of making our own decisions, even when we are not sure what the right choice is (hint: there is no one right choice) confidence grows. Knowing who we are and what we want grows. Considering advice as input rather than feeling obligated to act on it grows. Our voice inside our head grows. And our stress, worry, doubt, shame, and ability to be manipulated and controlled by others goes dramatically down.

How to Start

First let me caveat this that most of coaching is spent in this space. It can take weeks to move someone through the awareness and acceptance they need to fully own their choices. Below are some highlights of what the coaching process covers but it may lack the depth and process you need to make significant progress.

To start, if your brain has been good at deflecting responsibility thus far, give yourself some grace. It takes awareness that you could choose differently and some willingness to get uncomfortable before things get better. Being hard on yourself is not useful and it's more of the brain's strategy to keep you stuck. Remember that. We are going against our instincts. That's the name of this game. So let's go in with the mindset that our brains should be questions - especially when they are negative.

Next, meet reality where it is at. So many of our troubles are about wanting people and situations to be different than they are. Every time you say "should" or "shouldn't" it's like you are arguing with the reality gods that you know better. This is where you need to put down the sword. Reality is. Some people are mean. Some situations are unjust. We may not like it, but we have to deal with it as it is. Although we may not control it, we do control how we respond to it. Focus on what you own, not on what you don't.

Address your fear. What are you afraid of? What makes you uncomfortable here? What do you think might happen? What do you think you are and are not allowed to be or do in this situation? Then ask how true is it? How true are these beliefs? That this thing is going to happen? That you won't be able to handle it? That you need permission or validation to decide? Remember to challenge your thoughts. Sure, going in the face of fear might be uncomfortable, but a willingness to be uncomfortable is part of taking charge.

Once you've decided that you want to take action, check your defensiveness. Taking any kind of self-decided action is a great start, but if you can do it without the me vs. you, "I'm going into battle" mindset, it will go better. This tip is more about generating awareness. How are you feeling when you act? Are you as objective and levelheaded as you could be, or are you under stress?

Defensiveness says we have fear and need to protect ourselves. We are making the other person, the other situation bad or wrong. Is it really bad or wrong? Is it really, really bad or wrong (listen to your intuition, not your threat-sensing brain)? How could we meet it with less fear? Could we give someone the benefit of the doubt? Could we clarify a possible misunderstanding? Where might we not be seeing this objectively? (Remember, challenge your brain when thoughts are negative)

In the end, give yourself what you need to make your own decisions, then if they do or don't turn out the way you want, decide again what you want to do about it. Outcomes are pieces of data. Nothing more. They have no bearing on who you are, the degree of your success, that value of your life. Remember, if you doubt, it's the brain feeling fear and its stories are false narratives designed to avoid threat. Feel the discomfort, objectively look at the situation, and keep owning your choices.


The goal with coaching is to see a situation as objectively as possible - without the catabolic (stressful) emotion that the brain generates when it's trying to guide us away from risk - so that we can make the best choices for ourselves. Coaches do this with awareness. Awareness that you can take charge of your life and there are tremendous benefits. Awareness that it may not be natural for us to embrace what we control vs. what we don't. Awareness about how the brain complicates things and our ability to overcome it if we are willing to have grace, not buy into the feelings of fear, find the objective viewpoint, then despite some moments of uncomfortableness make our own choices again and again and again.

Trust the process and have fun with it! Learning to take ownership of our lives isn't do or die. Perfection isn't the goal. Only progress. Remember grace and self-kindness. When you fall back into old patterns, notice, then make a choice about what to do about it. Or don't! That's a choice too, and you are hereby given permission to decide for yourself.

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