This morning my dog, Rocky, pooped inside my room. I gave him a soft spank before he ran away, that way he’d think twice before leaving unwelcome gifts in my room. The punishment felt warranted.
My mom, however, standing nearby as the event unfolded, yelled at me for it.
“Shouldn’t you be mad at the dog?” I said, pointing at the poop.
“If you don’t take him out, what do you expect?” she said.
I expected someone else to take him out, I admitted. Yet there I was punishing Rocky, a pup incapable of opening a door, for not walking himself outside.
What I realized, at poor Rocky’s expense (yes, I’ve apologized to him), is how non-instinctive it is to consider one’s role in undesirable outcomes. Admittedly, we react to everyday misfortunes like we do when pets poop in our room. All upset, the last person we think to blame is ourselves. Your friend lied, so he lost your trust. Your partner cheated, so you ended the relationship. Someone did not act as you expected, so you got upset and acted accordingly.
But did you also consider the role you played? Maybe you were too judgmental. Maybe you didn’t show enough affection. Maybe you didn’t do your part.
Self blame wouldn’t make the other person’s actions any less wrong. But it would allow you to see the role you played. Rather than hold grudges, you can learn from your mistakes. Rather then complain, you can do your part to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
How often do you ask, Why does this keep happening to me? without making sure your actions are aligned with the desired outcome? As Derek Sivers writes in Everything Is My Fault, “they’re just delivering the punch-line to the joke you set up.” But when you decide that everything is your fault, “now you’re the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you’re in control and there’s nothing to complain about.”
I’m going to try and exercise the same approach from here on, EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT. Join me, instead of asking, Why’d this dog pop in my room? pause, breathe, save the spank, and ask, What’d I do to cause this?