Do you take responsibility for your actions?

Different actions and behaviours can be used as a form of escapism; from gambling to reading, smoking to running, over-eating to zoning out watching the telly. Some of these behaviours are more damaging than others, both in terms of personal health as well as being costly to society in healthcare costs, days off work etc.

Our culture has become a fiercely competitive one where fulfilment can mean being ‘successful’. Orr (2014) suggests that individuals who become overwhelmed by the fear that they cannot compete in such a competitive world may be more prone to addiction (drugs, gambling, alcohol, over-eating etc.).

In an increasingly stressful world, can we really be held responsible for the results of escaping it?

Diseases that are as a result of individual lifestyles have become a major priority for developed countries. A study suggests (Brown, 2012) that in these countries there is a growing emphasis being placed on peoples lifestyle choices, but does this mean there should there also be an emphasis placed on the role of personal responsibility? In their consideration of personal responsibility, Brown uses a ‘model of freedom’ (Pettit, 2001) that places the individuals ‘fitness to be responsible’ at the forefront of its definition.

Pettit’s’ (2001) definition of freedom includes 3 aspects. Firstly that the person experiences freedom of action, secondly they feel a sense of identification with the action, and thirdly whether or not the individuals social position renders them vulnerable to pressure from other more powerful forces. In this way it is suggested that external influences may sometimes interfere with an individual’s freedom.

If someone isn’t truly free, are they entirely responsible? And when do genuinely uncontrollable external influences, become personal justifications?

Taylor, Webb and Sheeran (2013) propose 6 ways of justifying indulgence. By telling themselves;

  • that they are deserving of the indulgence
  • that they are curious
  • that it is an exception to the norm
  • that it can be compensated for at a later time
  • simply that the temptation is there and available
  • that it is irresistible.

They found that the presence of any of these justifications increased the amount of food consumed, and they had a greater influence on individuals who had strong intentions to limit indulgence.

It follows then that when we have a strong inclination to restrain from doing something, we may be more likely to do it anyway if we can find a way to justify it to ourselves, creating conflict. It has also be suggested that the greater the conflict the less successful we are in attaining our goals (Boudreaux and Ozer, 2012), although in this study, the goals that were not achieved were not the ones where there was conflict. It was found here that individuals who did experience conflict were more inclined to think things over, were more hesitant as well as experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression than those who had reached their individual goals. These people were found to experience more life satisfaction, and were more content generally.

So it would seem that from the evidence discussed here, there may be more to unhealthy/risky behaviours than purely personal responsibility. Although it is a major aspect of our behaviour and something that should be taken into account, there may also be other aspects that can contribute to the outcome of our intentions for goal achievement, like environmental issues or our own state of mind.

Why is this important?

Having some understanding about the processes and influences involved in any attempt at achieving our goals can help to avoid any slip-ups, and improve our chances of success. It may also mean that we can also be a little kinder to ourselves if/when we do relapse.