Taking personal responsibility is the foundation of reducing our stress. When we practice true personal responsibility, our entire outlook on life changes. And our results change too: when we focus on taking personal responsibility, we achieve far more. We no longer put energy into complaining and feeling stressed out about what we can’t control; instead, we focus on what we can control: ourselves. Our focus shifts from what is external to what is internal: our thoughts, actions, and behaviors.

When we take responsibility for ourselves, we become accountable not just for the work that we do, but for the decisions we make, the way we treat others, the way we spend our time, and the way we prioritize our lives. Every aspect of our lives reflects the choices we’ve made and how we’ve responded to our life experiences.

When we stop blaming external circumstances and recognize our power to make different choices, we have achieved true personal responsibility. It’s a simple concept but very challenging to live.

One of our biggest sources of stress is that we give our power away to people and situations that are beyond our control. We think that external events and individuals make us feel a certain way rather than recognizing that we choose to feel that way. When my mom first got sick, all I could focus on was how upset I was. But choosing to be upset and distraught didn’t help me. It just increased my stress. So, I made different choices. I moved to action: I looked at what I could control, and I focused on that. I asked friends for help, and I reached out to the Alzheimer’s society. I started to take better care of myself so I was more capable of managing my stress. I focused on what I was grateful for. Yes, I was still heartbroken, but I made different choices about how to respond to that heartbreak. I shifted my internal world to be better able to respond to my external stressors.

When we blame external circumstances or other people for our stress, we give our power away.

We point to something outside of us and say, That’s the cause of my stress and I can do nothing about it . Almost all of us do this as a natural first reaction to a stressor. How many times have you pointed at your coworkers or your boss or your kids or your workload and thought, You’re making me so stressed out ? When I catch myself thinking those totally natural, but utterly useless thoughts, I switch my focus back to myself and think about healthy ways I can respond to my stressors. Then I’m taking personal responsibility.

Many of us can also blame ourselves for the situation we are in or the stressors we have. When I get super stressed out, the first thing I do is get mad at myself—why did I take on so much work, why am I not managing my time better? The next thing I do is blame my husband or my kids (but only in my mind because some wise part of me knows it’s not really their fault). My train of thought flies along like this: How could he be on this business trip when I have two sick kids and a huge deadline looming? Why are the kids having meltdowns every seven minutes; it’s their fault I don’t get any writing done!