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Ownership Ends Suffering (And Is A Skill You Can Learn)

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When I was 15 years old, I wanted to qualify for the Irish Dancing World Championships. I wanted to prove to myself that I could compete against the best. I had one opportunity to qualify and I knew the only person who could get me there, was me.

I began a strict training schedule. I practiced 6 to 7 days a week, hours on end, for months. My feet bled, my body was sore and injured, but my resolve was strong.

Don’t get me wrong.

There were days I wanted to quit.

There were days I doubted myself.

There were days I cried myself to sleep.

But then I’d get back to the studio, push myself past any limits I had, and go home ready to do it again the next day.

I did what I set out to do: I qualified. I got to compete in the 2013 World Championships.

Then something devastating happened.

I got bit by a snake.


Falling Prey to Victim Mentality

It isn’t that you wake up one day and decide, that’s it: I’m going to be weak. No. It’s a slow incremental process. It chips at your will – It chips at your discipline. — Jocko Willink

The Victim Snake slithered into my life when I wasn’t looking.

It bit me when I wasn’t paying attention.

The venom seeped in slowly.

I went numb.

Victim mentality ruined my life for the next 3,650 days.

I lost my grit.

I lost my confidence.

I lost my self-esteem.

I lost my accountability.

I no longer set worthy goals.

I no longer respected myself.

I no longer took care of myself.

People started treating me poorly.

I became angry, resentful, cynical, depressed.

I believed the world was out to get me.

I believed everything was pointless.

I believed that life was unfair.

I lost my way and I took it out on myself and those around me.

As you could imagine, I had a hard time dealing with this. So I unconsciously set out to prove to the world that I was good enough.

When I was in college, I tried doing this through my grades.

I studied. A lot.

I accomplished. A lot.

That didn’t work.

The accomplishments were empty. They didn’t mean anything to me. They were simply by-products of what I was doing in life to try to feel worthy (the ultimate goal.)

I had to pivot.

When I started acting, I thought I could prove my worth through acquiring fame.

I started writing comedy sketches for TikTok.

I gained 600,000 followers in 6 months.

Guess what?

That didn’t work either.

I was chatting to my brother one day about the woe’s of being me.

He said, “stop being a little b****, get over it, and get after it.”

(Not really.)

But he recommended I read Extreme Ownership and after reading it... that’s basically what he was saying in much nicer words.

This book made me realize something.

I let victim mentality ruin my life for the next decade.

I let my perception of how others were perceiving me dictate what I thought, felt, and did.

I let my mind find evidence to support my beliefs that life wasn’t good, fair, or just and that I wasn’t worthy.

I let the snake in.

I let it bite me.

I let it win.

After 10 years of experiencing mental anguish, internal suffering, physical pain, and hating who I was, I knew something had to change.

I was tired of living this way. I was tired of feeling lost, stagnant, and out of control. I wanted more for my life. I wanted better for myself.

I realized I had to start finding evidence for the opposing beliefs. I had to stop letting life happen to me, stop making excuses, and take back control in areas that I could.

I had to get rid of the lingering snake venom.

I had to find the antidote.


The Ownership Lightbulb

What truths are your curtain hiding from you? What misunderstanding keeps you where you are, in the past, in the dark, shrouded in your limiting beliefs, shrinking from the world, from the light on the other side of the curtain? — Michael E. Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

In life, there exists an Ownership Lightbulb.

The Ownership Lightbulb turns on multiple times a day:

  • in our decisions about food and exercise

  • in conversations with our partners

  • in moments with our boss

  • in our actions

  • etc.

The Ownership Lightbulb shines a light on things we’d rather keep in the dark. It feels safer to ignore our problems and remain the same than to face them head on and enter the unknown. It feels safer to pretend the snake isn’t there than to grab it and toss it out the window.

When the Ownership Lightbulb turns on, we have a choice to make.

If a friend comes to me to say, “You hurt my feelings when you said ______,” they are turning the Ownership Lightbulb on. They are giving me an opportunity. I have 2 options:

Option 1: React Get defensive Find faults in their argument Find excuses for my behavior Remain the victim and strain a relationship Never learn, never grow, repeat the cycle

Option 2: Respond Get curious Figure out their worldview Take ownership of my behavior Understand them, apologize, become closer Learn, grow, change the course of my life

In Option 1, I take the opportunity to react to the light in the room and say, “No thank you, I’d rather not face the chaos here,” and turn the light off. I remain in the dark, trip over my dirty laundry, stub my toe, stumble my way through life, and wonder why my life isn’t as good as other people’s. Option 1 leads to suffering.

In Option 2, I take the opportunity to respond to the light in the room and say, “Hmm, there seems to be chaos here. How do I go about alleviating this?” I keep the light on, clean up my room, forge a walkable path, and wonder why I haven’t done this sooner. Option 2 leads to peace of mind.


Ownership Mentality is a Skill

Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could’ve done, but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and at the same time, effort makes skill productive. — Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

As with all skills, we get better with intentional practice and iteration. If we put in little to no effort, we remain where we are. If we put in a lot of effort, we get somewhere new. Over time, we see the effects of our efforts.

When I first started practicing ownership in my life, I sucked at it.

I wanted to give up.

I wanted to make excuses.

I wanted to retreat to old coping mechanisms.

Taking ownership was difficult for 2 reasons:

1. The Victim Venom made it easy to blame. I had fired and wired the victim card so many times that my default mode was to point the finger outward. My brain had become super efficient at finding evidence to support my negative beliefs. Overriding this unconscious system took conscious effort.

2. My Victim Venom Detox was accompanied by grief. Realizing I had more control than I thought I did made me grieve for the pain I put my past self through. Identifying ways in which I played a part in my own demise made me grieve over the time I lost while remaining in the dark.

  1. Note: Not everything in your life is your fault. If something bad happened in the past, it doesn’t mean you are to blame or that it was within your control. What is within your control, is how you react or choose to respond to your painful past. It dictates your future.

On the other side of my grief, I found hope.

If your problems are outward, they are uncontrollable. You feel restricted by the uncontrollable variables life is dumping on you. This gives you permission to remain passive, kick your feet up, and toss in the towel. Life simply happens to you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Being passive leads to pain.

If you make your problems inward, you gain control. You feel grateful for the opportunities life is offering you. This starts you on an active quest to solve the problems in your life. You become a better version of yourself. You make life happen. Being active sets you free.

I started to notice my efforts paying off the more I practiced.

I had less existential angst, less anxiety, less anger, less despair.

I was more present, more grateful, more hopeful, more confident.

My mindset, state of being, and relationships started to change for the better.

For the first time in 10 years, I felt peace.


3 Steps to Master Ownership Mentality

Taking ownership is easier when you:

  1. know who you are

  2. know what you want

  3. live in alignment with 1 and 2

You must become introspective to know who you are and what you want. It requires silence, curiosity, and honesty.

You must become disciplined and self aware to live in alignment. It requires making a plan, sticking to the plan, and calling yourself out when you stray from the plan.

Step 1: Become Introspective

A: Clearly Define Your Values

If you ask most people what their top values are, they won’t know how to respond. They’ll say something like “family is important to me… so is my job. I’d also like to be happy in life.”

That’s all well and good, but not nearly specific enough to be useful.

If gratitude is a undefined core value of mine and I surround myself with negative people who can’t find joy in the little things, I’ll feel drained every time I spend time with them and I won’t know why. If I figure out that gratitude is very important to me (by defining my values), I’ll know to either spend less time with those people or manage my expectations beforehand.

If I know that family is a core value of mine, it’s going to make any opportunity to move away from them easier to decline, no matter how enticing the offer may be. I’ll also know it was the right decision if it’s made with my core values in mind.

Knowing your core values can help you make better decisions and steer clear of people or opportunities that may disrupt your long term peace.

You will find clarity where there was once fog. You will feel more fulfilled.

If you need help defining your values, I’ve created a free worksheet that will guide you. Download it here!

B: Clearly Define Your Vision

Get a piece of paper. Get quiet. Get curious. Get in touch.

What do you want your life to look like?

How do you want to show up in the world?

What emotions do you want to feel every day?

What do you want to accomplish in this lifetime?

What do you want to experience in your day to day?

What kinds of people do you want to surround yourself with?

Figure out the answers. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Dream big here.

The best thing I’ve done this year is fill out a Year Compass. It’s a free booklet that guides you through questions and exercises to plan your dream life.

If you’re coming up blank, create an anti-vision. Write out everything you don’t want to be, feel, or experience. This should lead to figuring out what is it that you do want.

C: Make Sure Your Values and Vision Align

Is what you want in life congruent with your values? If not, it’s going to make the things you want harder to attain. If and when you get them, they won’t be as fulfilling as you thought they would.

Authenticity is a core value of mine.

When I was in college, I wanted to feel smart.

I studied math because it gave me what I wanted.

Studying math was not true to my personality, spirit, or character.

Feeling smart was not in harmony with what I cared deeply about.

Thus, when I did feel smart (which was rare), the fulfillment was fleeting.

When I finally started living in line with my authenticity, fulfillment came and stayed.

Step 2: Cultivate Discipline

A: Create a Vision Board

Say what you will about vision boards, I stand by them. A vision board is a visual representation of everything you want in life.

Make one.

Put it somewhere you can see it every day.

A phone or computer background works great.

It will remind you on a daily basis of what you’ve deemed important when you set aside the time to listen. When you want to reinforce new behaviors but don’t feel like doing something, looking at your vision board makes it harder to break the promises you’ve made yourself.

Be specific and intentional with the images you choose. They should resonate with your vision and your values. Essence matters here.

Goal Based:

  1. If you want to become really good at yoga, include poses that you aspire to achieve. When you look at these every day, it makes it easier to roll out the mat and form the habit.

  2. If you want to vacation in Hawaii, include pictures of Hawaii. You’ll be reminded on a daily basis that it’s important to you and you will constantly think of ways you can get there.

Value Based:

  1. If you want to embody certain yogi values, like harmony, include images that encompass that essence. Quotes, poses, nature - remind yourself to find harmony in your life.

  2. If you want to live an adventurous life, a picture of Hawaii might not cut it. An image of someone sky diving or cliff jumping may be better suited to remind you of that value.

If you find that after 3 - 6 months there are images that no longer resonate with you, change it up!

B: Reverse Engineer Top Level Goals

If your life vision is drastically different to how your life currently is, break down your goals into smaller, actionable steps. This will stop you from getting overwhelmed and giving up.

If your top goal is to incorporate fitness into your daily life, but you haven’t worked out in 3 years, setting a goal to work out every day for a month is a recipe for failure. You haven’t built a solid foundation to support your new lifestyle.

Instead, reduce your top level goal into it’s most basic first step. Write your top level goal and ask yourself, “how can I make this goal smaller?” Repeat until you cannot reduce any further.

Top Goal: Incorporate fitness into my every day life.


Go for a walk, do pilates twice, weight lift twice, do cardio twice for 4 weeks.

Go for a walk, do pilates once, weight lift twice, do cardio twice for 4 weeks.

Go for a walk, do pilates once, weight lift once, do cardio once for 4 weeks.

Go for a walk twice, do pilates twice, weight lift twice for 2 weeks.

Go for a walk twice, do pilates once, weight lift once for 2 weeks.

Go for a walk twice and do pilates once for 2 weeks.

Go for a walk 5 times a week for a month.

Go for a walk twice a week for a month.

Go for a walk once a week for a month.

Reduce so far that it’s impossible to fail.

C: Prioritize, Organize, Implement

If you have many goals in your vision, choose a maximum of three.

Schedule them into your life.

Then sprint.

When you focus on too many goals at once, you make incremental changes everywhere. While this isn’t bad, it takes more time to see change and results. This becomes discouraging. Left to our own devices, we revert to the comfort of our old predictable life.

Take the most basic first step of 3 goals and prove to yourself that you can do it.

Once you’ve accomplished that, you will have more confidence as you go to the next level.

Use the momentum to repeat the process. Create more evidence to strengthen the foundation.

When you focus and commit to fewer goals, you make strides. You now have evidence that change has occurred, which makes you want to do more of them. The more this happens, the more you become a person who sticks to plans. The more you do this, the more your discipline muscle grows.

Step 3: Practice Self-Awareness

A: Monthly Reflection

Dr. Gail Matthews conducted a study on goals back in 2015.

Group 1 was asked to think about their goals. Group 5 was asked to think about their goals, write their goals down, formulate action commitments, send this information to a friend, and provide weekly progress reports to that friend.

Matthews found that 43% of Group 1 either “accomplished their goals or were at least half way there.” For Group 5, that number jumped to 76%.

At the end of each month, sit down and reflect. (Schedule this in too!)

What went well?

What are you proud of?

What goals did you reach?

What evidence did you create?

When did you take/drop accountability?

What can you do differently next month?

Were there goals that didn’t fit in your schedule?

Did you live in alignment with your vision and values?

Do you feel more in control of what happens in your life?

What goals do you want to dedicate the upcoming month to?

Write the answers down. Every month, look back at how much you’ve done, how far you’ve come.

Over time, the questions you reflect on become easier to answer. They become top of mind. They creep up on you outside of the reflection period. You hear them in your head at random times. They guide you to become better.

They turn the Ownership Lightbulb on.

Question is:

Will you turn it off?


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I write about the connection between personal growth, online business, and psychology to offer you tangible steps for your own transformation.

I'm emma

Actor, Writer, & Content Creator

Small changes,

big impact:

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Free Cheat Sheet

Values shape our beliefs, behaviors, and choices. If you want help defining your values so you can start living in alignment with them, download the Cheat Sheet for free below. 

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