Dr. Paul on the key to taking ownership of your words and actions

Exercise integrity: Don’t offer excuses if you make an error. Apologize if you’ve made a misstep.

A sense of ownership, attention to detail and follow through can be in short supply in today’s age. Consumer products are built for quick obsolescence. We sometimes look back at the craftsmanship of the early 20th century with nostalgia and longing. A collective sigh can be heard — “They just don’t make things like they used to.” Sound familiar?

So, what does ownership mean?

An “owner” takes responsibility for their actions, for the product or service they deliver, and for their interactions with others — whether they be customers, friends or family. They’re able to acknowledge their mistakes, whatever the cause, and they seek to make things right to the best of their abilities.

They don’t offer excuses if they make an error. They’re able to apologize if they make a misstep. Their words, intentions and actions are aligned and consistent. This is the real meaning of integrity. It’s a high bar to reach. It requires being honest with yourself in order to be honest with others.

How can we nurture integrity and ownership in our words and actions?

Acknowledge your mistakes. It can be painfully difficult to admit a mistake — either an error in judgement or an oversight.

We must admit to ourselves that we messed up. This can be a most difficult step. Humans have black belts in self-deception. We are experts at telling ourselves a story in order to obtain something we desire or cover up something we did wrong — then believe it’s true. This human trait blinds us to our faults.

Take responsibility for your actions. Don’t make excuses. Take a deep breath and acknowledge your slip-up. Apologize for its potential impact on others. But don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake. We don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile.

Consider how to make it right. Mark Twain, the famous American writer, noted: “You are never wrong to do the right thing.” A simple apology is sometimes not enough. Action is required.

Ask yourself: What can I learn from this experience? Just as we learn from our successes in life, we learn from our failures too. Missteps and errors in judgement can teach us how to become the person we want to be. How can we do better the next time?

Be generous with yourself. One goal of adult life is to become the person you hope to be. This is an incremental, day-by-day undertaking that requires looking at yourself squarely. But it also benefits from cultivating a spirit of generosity toward yourself.

We are all in the same boat. We can be students of our own lives, learning and growing together.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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