You burned last night’s casserole; you berate yourself for being such a lousy cook.
You didn’t make it to the gym this week; it’s your boss’s fault for giving you that extra project.
You got a low score on the GMAT; your tutor should have prepared you better.
Assigning blame — either to someone else or to yourself — is a common pattern for many people. Often a knee-jerk reaction whenever something goes awry, blame can be a convenient way to sidestep fear, frustration and even anger.
However, it isn’t productive — or healthy. When you point the finger at someone else, you remove any sense of personal responsibility for a situation or for your response to it. Blaming yourself can take you on downward spiral of self-doubt, self-criticism and self-pity. What can you do instead?
5 Ways to Stop the Blame Game
1. Take a step back — Peeling away your emotional reaction to a situation allows you to analyze it from a rational perspective. Look at the facts. An objective view can help you identify what went wrong — and why.
If you’re quick to assume that you weren’t able to finish your first half-marathon because “you’re a pathetic loser” or “your selfish sister kept you on the phone till all hours the night before with her dating drama,” you miss out on gaining valuable insights that could help you complete your next attempt at a similar run.
2. Alter your expectations — Unrealistic expectations are a breeding ground for disappointment. Hiring a personal trainer in the hopes of losing 20 pounds in a month may lead to misplaced blame if you are unsuccessful in achieving that goal.
Expecting that someone else can carry your burden or do the work for you sets them up as a victim of your blame. When you enlist the help of another person, understand the boundary between their role and your responsibility. Likewise, establish realistic expectations for yourself, easing up on perfectionistic tendencies.
3. Adjust your strategy — If you get a warning from your boss for showing up late to your second team meeting in a month, you might be inclined to blame her for being hard on you — or yourself for missing the train (again). A tweak in your morning schedule could prevent a repeat event.
Consider creating a new habit to wake up 30 minutes earlier in order to alleviate your morning rush. Do you snap at your partner for not doing the dishes, accusing him of “being lazy”? Perhaps you need to be more specific in your request when you ask him to “help around the house,” eliminating room for interpretation of the word ‘help.’
4. Quiet the critic — Blaming carries an automatically negative judgment, whether aimed at another person or yourself. To quiet your inner critic, ask yourself if you would ever speak to your best friend in such a harsh manner. Resist the urge to label (“I’m such a failure” or “She’s so demanding”) and, instead, practice kindness and compassion.
5. Take control — Rather than relying on someone else to read your mind, solve your problems or do your job for you, accept responsibility. Accountability is the most critical factor in achieving true success in your career, relationships and life.