Chris Brown is back in the news this month following his arrest for suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after a woman accused him of threatening her with a gun in his San Fernando Valley home. Anthony Weiner made national headlines early in the month as well, for engaging in inappropriate communications with a woman outside of his marriage.
If neither of these stories sounds unique to you, there is a reason: it isn’t the first time that either of these public figures have been in the limelight for engaging in the same behaviors.
These are, of course, extreme examples–– but even if you aren’t assaulting women or causing political scandals in your spare time, chances are you are making some of the same mistakes as the headline-grabbing individuals who never seem to learn from their mistakes.
Breaking a pattern of behavior can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. By taking a look at the habitual self-sabotage of some infamous figures, you can learn how to truly own up to your actions and avoid repeating them in the future. By doing so, you can learn to move ahead instead of following the same cyclical path.
Brown, Weiner and Lohan: Birds Of A Feather
Brown has a long history of violence, including his infamous assault of then-girlfriend Rhianna in 2009, a felony assault in Washington D.C. 2013 and a police investigation earlier this year following reports that he punched a woman in the face in Las Vegas. Anthony Weiner is also one to fall into old pattern, since this latest scandal is the third of its kind–– in 2011 there were multiple inappropriate pictures of him that came to light and led to his resignation from Congress, and a similar series of events in 2013 derailed his New York City mayoral run.
Another household name springs to mind when thinking about a successful, well-known person who just can’t seem to learn from their past mistakes. Brown and Weiner are likely to be remembered alongside Lindsay Lohan, who also has a long history with tabloid fame and legal trouble, notably including: five trips to rehab, 20 court appearances, four probation violations and six months sentenced to prison.
As extreme as these examples may be, they make it easy to see one of the core hindrances we all face in life: the fear and challenge of truly taking responsibility for one’s actions and the tendency to endlessly repeat the same mistakes and unhealthy patterns.
The Meaning Of Responsibility
During Weiner’s first scandal in 2011, he announced during a press conference that he was accepting “full responsibility” for what transpired. Lohan tweeted a similar message a year earlier, claiming she was “taking responsibility” for her actions and was prepared to face the consequences. During a 2015 interview, Brown joined the club and went on the record to say the same thing: “I take full responsibility for my actions and things I’ve done in the past.”
The problem with a word like ‘responsibility’ is that it is extremely easy to say during a press conference or to issue in a public statement, but very hard to actually carry out.
Outside the realm of celebrity life, a tendency to avoid taking responsibility is present everywhere. Especially in the business and thought leadership worlds, the notion of taking real responsibility ––that is, full responsibility for everything in or outside of our domain, regardless of the consequences–– is scary. Nobody wants to be the one that the finger is pointed at if things go wrong.
Blame is a natural reaction.
Passing the buck, blaming anything other than ourselves for the things that make us uncomfortable or could come back to haunt us later, is a learned fear-based behavior. Through society, we have been conditioned into these reactions, to try and swerve around the bumps in the road on the way to success. This happens in every area of life, from the workplace to weight loss efforts.
‘Responsibility’ as a word carries with it a negative connotation of shame and being ostracized. It is the type of verbiage that sounds powerful…but if it isn’t put into action, it ultimately means nothing.
Things are always going to stand in the way of your future success, and life will always supply curveballs that need to be dealt with. That won’t ever change.
What can change is your approach.
By avoiding what we see as a consequence or following through on the knee-jerk instinct to protect ourselves by pointing the finger in another direction, we set ourselves up for the same behavior. Whether this is a pattern of self-destructive behavior or even a pattern of being taken advantage of by others, the end result is the same: you’ll be stuck in it.
What I call Radical Responsibility, taking ownership of everything in your domain, both that which you can see you had a hand in and those things that just seem to show up on their own, is too often seen as a burden or even some kind of unhealthy self-blame and not recognized nearly enough for what it truly is: the way to personal power. Not only will doing so help you go where you want to go, but it will keep you from going where you don’t.
Once a deeply-ingrained pattern of behavior is established, it will play itself out endlessly until it’s dealt with. If we aren’t approaching our problems with radical responsibility, they are never going to change; you will continually be at the risk of dealing with the same old intrusions instead of forging a path forward. By avoiding responsibility in order to avoid facing blame when things go wrong, you are also stripping yourself of being able to pat yourself on the back when things go right. Taking ownership will allow you to focus your energy where it needs to go and keep yourself on track for the things you want to accomplish.
As Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If there is anything constructive to be learned from Chris Brown, Anthony Weiner and Lindsay Lohan it’s this: taking responsibility for your actions and owning the circumstances you face day in and day out is about more than just saying the words, it’s an entirely new way of life.
Until you truly take full ownership for the patterns you’ve fallen into and the things about your life and self you want to change, and approach these changes from a leadership position with yourself, nothing is going to change.
Fleet Maull is an author, consultant, trainer and executive coach. He facilitates deep transformation for individuals and organizations through mindfulness-based leadership training and Radical Responsibility consulting and coaching programs. Learn more at fleetmaull.com.