Yoga Means Taking Responsibility for Your Actions—and Your Life
Article At A Glance
Taking responsibility for our actions is key to living an easeful life. But this doesn’t simply mean being on time and paying our bills. It also means taking responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and self-image. It means being aware of how we project onto others. This 3-step mindful check-in can help us learn about how our thoughts can influence our actions.
We are the only ones responsible for what goes on in our lives. We can make excuses and blame others, but we are responsible to and for ourselves. – Iyanla Vanzant
Iyanla Vanzant’s quote echoes and reinforces this one from Ram Dass, “I can do nothing for you but work on myself. You can do nothing for me but work on yourself.” Working on yourself requires taking responsibility for your actions and for your life. Taking responsibility involves conscious actions such as following through on commitments and promises and accepting praise or accountability for the outcomes of those actions.
We tend to think of responsibility as showing up for work on time, performing our jobs well, taking care of our families, paying bills and taxes, and voting. All these responsibilities have consequences. If we do our jobs well, we may get a promotion or a raise. If we take care of our families, we hope our homes will be happy. We believe we are responsible citizens if we pay our bills and taxes and vote.
Yoga Values: Taking Responsibility for Our Actions—Inside and Out
That said, the responsibilities mentioned above are tasks and duties with an external focus we take on to meet our personal and civic responsibilities. If we take to heart the quotes of Iyanla Vanzant and Ram Dass, we will also take responsibility for the internal landscape of our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and self-image. Both sets of responsibilities are interrelated.
How we deal with our internal landscape reflects directly on how we are dealing with our external actions. We can’t focus on one without affecting the other, and the recommended way to take responsibility for both begins with self-awareness. When we are self-aware, we see, understand, and accept ourselves as we are, warts and all. Then we can take responsibility for how our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and self-image are expressed in our actions.
Here’s how it works. Taking responsibility will ebb and flow, shift and change depending on your situation and state of mind. You’ll take one step forward, two steps back and then inch forward again. It’s a process. It requires attention and effort. It will take time, but the juice will be worth the squeeze.
What Stands in the Way of Taking Responsibility?
What often stands in the way of your ability to take responsibility for how your mental landscape impacts your reactions and responses to life is projection. Simply put, projection is a mental process where you assign to others what is in your own mind. When you experience a strong emotional reaction or response to another person—either attraction or repulsion—projection is likely at play.
Yoga Values and Responsibility: Helpful vs. Unhelpful Projections
Positive and helpful projections mean you are consciously aware of and accept within yourself a quality like compassion or empathy and recognize it in someone else’s speech and actions. In this way, both parties are more likely to feel seen, heard, and understood. When your experience with projection is positive and helpful, you are most likely responding to something that deeply aligns with your thinking, feeling, and beliefs.
Unhelpful projections can result if you are unaware of conflicting, self-critical, and self-sabotaging thoughts, feelings, and actions. For example, if you are overly self-critical, any feedback from others might be seen as them being critical of you. Without reflection, you may jump to the conclusion that the person is “out to get me” and ”it’s not me; it’s you.” It may also be the case that someone who criticizes or dismisses you might be projecting their own conflicted issues with self-criticism and self-sabotage. When you are able to gain clarity on this, you can break the cycle keeping you trapped on the hamster wheel of unhelpful projection.
Here is a mindfulness technique to help you tackle this work responsibly.
The 3-Step Mindful Check-In for Taking Responsibility for Your Actions—Inner and Outer
Step 1: Check In with Your Body
Do a quick scan of your body from your toes to your head, looking for sensations and the play of opposites such as comfort/discomfort, tightness/openness, warmth/coolness, etc. Do this for 1 to 3 minutes.
Step 2: Check In with Your Breath
Do a quick scan of your breath and all of its four parts: inhalation, the slight pause before exhalation begins, the exhalation, and the slight pause before the next inhalation begins. Do this for 1 to 3 minutes.
Now comes the tough part.
Step 3: Check In with Your Mind
Once you understand what you are thinking, while you are thinking, you make better choices about how to address the thoughts, images, and feelings you witness.
- Are your thoughts, images or feelings fixed on one thing or many things?
- Do they flow, stagnate or dead end?
- Notice if your thoughts, images and feelings are centered on the past, the future or do they rest in the present.
- Can you label what you are observing as helpful or not helpful?
- Are you judging, planning, anticipating, ruminating, analyzing or resting in the present?
- Notice that you have the ability to observe the mind without becoming entangled in what you find in the mind space.
- Can you trace what you find to a core belief or past experience?
- As you feel ready, wiggle, or stretch in any way your body wants to move.
- If you choose take a few minutes and journal what you observed
Do this for 1 to 3 minutes or longer if you feel comfortable. When you employ mindfulness to uncover, acknowledge and understand your thoughts, beliefs, and habits, you will be able to embody responsibility for your internal landscape as well as the external actions that follow.