Thought Experiment: What If Everything Was Your Fault?

03/20/2015 04:53 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2015

When life gets difficult, it's easy to find all the reasons, outside your control, that made it that way. You're doing the best you can, right? When things get hard, it's not your fault. Is it?

Maybe it really isn't, but have you ever wondered how things might change if you blamed yourself anyway? What if you took responsibility for things that really were outside your control? Would things get easier or would it make them worse?

Image courtesy of Laura Taylor

Victim Or Champion? Your Choice

Last year, I was in a car accident that caused me a lot of pain and the treatment required to fix it meant missing a lot of work and slowing down on projects that were important to me.

I was bitter at first. Bitter at the driver who wasn't paying attention and rear-ended me. Bitter at the rehab facility that wanted me to come to appointments in the middle of the day, taking me out of my work flow. Bitter at the insurance company that was dragging their feet to make a fair settlement.

I felt like a victim with no control--life was coming at me and my schedule was being dictated by everyone but me.

It wasn't my fault I was in an accident. But maybe it was my fault things afterwards were going the way they were [1].

One day, after getting frustrated with the scheduling department for not offering an appointment time that would fit my day, I said, "I'm sorry, I can't come at any of those times." Then, I waited for the woman at the other end to say "sorry" and hang up. Instead, she answered, "Alright, let's try on another day? Can you give me a time you can come in?"

In the midst of my personal pity party, that was a lightbulb moment. The reason things weren't going my way is because I wasn't taking responsibility for making sure they did. It wasn't my fault I was in a wreck, but it was my fault I wasn't asking for what I needed.

So, I changed my tune. When I wasn't offered the appointment times I needed, I'd ask myself, "How can I change the way I'm communicating to get what I need?" When the insurance company offered me an unfair settlement, I asked myself, "Where did I mess up in communicating what I need from them?"

How Questioning Yourself Leads To Better Outcomes

Those questions, of course, lead to answers. And those answers lead to changes in my behavior. Each time I needed something I felt I wasn't getting, I'd blame myself for not doing a good enough job asking for it.

That feedback loop running through my head continuously lead to better outcomes. And those better outcomes helped me feel like I was in control again--directing my own life.

When you first try this approach, it doesn't seem fair. "Why should I have to do all this work when it's not my fault," you might ask (I did). The answer is you shouldn't. It's not fair. But, as every seventh grader picked last in gym class (also me) comes to realize, life is rarely fair. So, why not work to make it more fair? And why not start by making it more fair for yourself?

For the next few days, every time something goes not-quite-right, rather than blaming the external circumstances, try blaming yourself. Ask, "What can I do differently to get what I want next time?" This question changes the way you analyze bad things that happen. Rather than looking for problems, you start looking for opportunities.

Try it out and see how it feels. If you don't like it, you can go back to life as usual. But, certainly, it's worth a try for a few days, isn't it? I think you owe it to yourself.

1. This is a sensitive topic that you should only apply to yourself, not to others. My intention with this article is only to get you to look at your life and how you assign blame to bad circumstances from a high-level. It should not be construed that it's okay to blame others--victim blaming--who don't take this approach in their own lives.

Tyler Tervooren founded, where he shares research and insights about mastering your psychology by taking smarter risks. For more, join his Smart Riskologist Newsletter.

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