Habit to Happiness #4 – "Own Your Role"

For the past several weeks, I’ve been writing a blog series with several tools that can have a huge impact on increasing success in any area of your life. These tools are what I call Habits to Happiness.

Laying the foundation

The reason for all this happiness stuff is because, believe it or not, happiness is the foundation that determines all levels of success. Often times when we think of how to increase our success or achieve our goals, we think about the skills we need to develop or the information and knowledge we need to acquire.

A few years ago, when the real estate market was picking up, I thought I might want to put my house on the market. So I asked my realtor to come over, take a look at my house, and tell me how much he thought I could get for it. As we walked through, he didn’t have a lot to say about my lovely brick fireplace, the built-in bookcases that run from floor-to-ceiling, my 2,000 square-feet of perennial gardens OR my fabulous 1,400-gallon koi pond built solely by the hands of yours truly.

But when we came to the dark, damp basement, he seemed pleased as punch. He looked around at the concrete walls, the cold, concrete floor and the exposed ceiling.

Then, he looked at me and enthusiastically remarked, “this house has good bones!” Come again? It has good what? He went on to explain that it’s the foundation and the structure that give the house its value. Of course, I certainly need a kitchen, a bathroom and a place to conk out at night. But if the house didn’t have a strong foundation, the rest wouldn’t matter. No matter how beautiful my fireplace, book cases or master bedroom, they would all be a heap of rubble without a strong foundation.

For this reason, when I work with clients on leadership, career change or professional development, we don’t start on resume-building. Although a good resume is needed, it’s not going to do much good if it isn’t resting on a strong foundation.

And that foundation is mindset.

This blog series has focused on habits that you can develop to strengthen your foundation and grow your mindset so that you can achieve your goals and reach unprecedented levels of success in areas of your life where you feel stuck.

So here I am again, ready to give you another habit that will raise the temperature on your happiness mindset thermostat.

That sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? I mean, who doesn’t want more happiness? That’s like saying, “who doesn’t want more Christmas presents?” Some of these Habits to Happiness have felt pretty good, like the Habit to Happiness of Expectance. Expectance is waking up each morning and expecting great things to happen. Now, how fun is that?!

Well I’ve saved the best habit for last. OK, truth be told, I saved it for last because I figured once you read it, you just might decide to slam your laptop shut or swipe your browser into oblivion.

This habit is a little less “Christmas present,” and a little more, well, ”time to clean the house.” Let’s just say, it’s not as much fun.

But it IS perhaps the most freeing Habit to Happiness as well as the most empowering action you can take to directly impact your life.

Now that I’ve built up the suspense:

Habit to Happiness #4 is “Own Your Role.”

What would you say, if I told you that you can take ownership of virtually everything that happens in your life? I say “virtually” because inevitably someone is going to challenge me on the 1% such as losing a loved one or being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

I’m not talking about that 1%. I’m talking about the other 99% of circumstances and events in your life. I’m going to encourage you to look at a painful circumstance in your life right now and ask yourself, “what role am I playing in this situation.”

I know, I know, ouch.

And when I say “I know,” believe me, I know!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, all of these habits to happiness have become part of my way of living somewhat by accident. I wasn’t so much searching for keys to success and happiness, as I was trying to stop a run-away train that was headed toward a mountain cliff.

After years of self-medicating with alcohol to try to drown out chronic depression, I wound up a member of the exclusive club of Alcoholics Anonymous.

As I worked my way through the 12 steps of AA with my saint of a sponsor, we came upon what was sure to be my favorite step – Number 4. I jumped on this like a fly on a horse’s hind end, because the first instruction I received was “make a list of all the people who have ever wronged you.”

Now the fourth step is actually to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory” of one’s self. But all I saw was that I got to make a list of everyone who had wronged me, which sounded pretty fantastic to me.

Finally, someone was going to listen to my poor, sad story and how life had cruelly knocked me to the ground and kicked me around.

But little did I know, this was just the beginning. Because the next part of the project, as my sponsor explained, was to “add a column, and for every name and circumstance in which you’ve been wronged, write down the role that you played in the situation.”


Well as it turned out, this did become my favorite step because this exercise turned out to be the single most powerful and life-changing effort that I have ever undertaken.


Because, here’s the beauty: I learned that if I can acknowledge and accept that I play a role in virtually every circumstance in my life, that means I have choices. If I made choices that contributed to every problem I ever had, that means I have a say in making different choices that bring me better jobs, better relationships, and more financial success.

It’s easy to be the victim and think things are out of our control. Any time you blame someone or complain about a situation, you are placing yourself in the role of the victim. And we all know that there’s no victory in victim. There’s only defeat. Being a victim implies that we’re stuck with what we have, and that there’s zero possibility to impact a change.

But if you can own your role, you become empowered and life becomes infused with possibilities.

Owning your role is not only a good idea, it’s a huge key to success.

For example, years ago I owned a business that didn’t go exactly as planned, and I ended up in debt. For a long time, I couldn’t shake feelings of defeat and frustration over the experience. “Why did this happen to me,” I asked over and over. But I wasn’t really asking that question honestly.

Eventually I did look closely and own my role. I took on too much overhead. I left a great-paying job with no savings to serve as a safety net. I didn’t have a strong, proven business model for what I was trying to do. I owned my role.

And once I owned my role, new possibilities showed up in my life, including a new business opportunity that allowed me to do work that brings me more fulfillment and sense of purpose than I could’ve imagined.

Try this exercise

Practicing this Habit to Happiness is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage. It takes self-confidence. If you’re not sure where or how to start, take out a sheet of paper and make three columns. In the first column, make a list of three things that you feel are keeping you stuck in any area of your life.

In the second column, identify the role you play in the current state of events.

Finally, in the third column, write down three things that you will do differently to create the outcome of your choosing.

You will find that this is one of the quickest ways to develop self-confidence and a sense of empowerment for your life. Even more, you will see new doors open.

For more ways to grow your mindset and increase happiness, download my “Grow Your Control Worksheet.

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