People tend to externalize when they encounter problems—to look beyond themselves and find fault with others when things go wrong. Society’s mantra is “There’s plenty of blame to go around!” You can hear it echo in the reactions to the election. But when we choose to hold ourselves accountable, we’re more likely to be happier and successful in work and in our relationships.
Life is filled with traps that let people avoid personal accountability. It’s easy to make excuses, play the victim, feel a sense of entitlement or procrastinate. Taking ownership for your actions and reactions lets you avoid anger, cynicism, envy and frustration and instead focus on positive emotions and healthy living. Our daily energy is finite, so why waste one iota on negative thinking that leads to unproductive behaviors?
Research has shown that when employees feel accountable for their work, they are more likely to contribute to solving problems and achieving organizational goals. Believing that if others would change, everything would be better—and then trying to force them to do so—drives people apart. The fastest way to enhance relationships is to remove the blame that breaks them down. Whether it’s selling more products, building stronger connections or making political change, owning up and taking responsibility can help us move forward.
This appears in the November 28, 2016 issue of TIME.