Start with why: how personal responsibility influences your happiness

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Phenomenal Masterclass (prelaunch)


My story

As I lay on my makeshift bed, I close my eyes and wait for the inevitable.  It has taken a long time to get me to this point – this is where I check out.  I lay unmoving, waiting.   The next day I am still waiting.  Err … ok, so my overdose hasn’t worked and I am still here.  I guess I had better ask for some help!  How did I come to this?  I had been a functioning depressive for may years.  Outwardly smiling and efficient at work, yet in my personal life – I was falling apart.  I was in debt, I couldn’t afford to make repairs to my house and I quite simply stopped functioning outside of work.

The final straw that broke me was when my precious dogs were removed from my house.  They were well fed, they were healthy, but their living environment – our living environment was chaotic and  unkempt.  What followed was a year of being apart from my beloved dogs (my only reason for living), being pursued by an uncaring (towards humans) animal charity and appearing in court on my birthday to answer charges of neglect.  Fortunately, I was able to secure a barrister from London, and I was acquitted and my dogs returned to me.  They both died of old age at 12 years and 16 years.

So what changed for me?  What took me from the depths of despair to being in control of my life, happy and NOT depressed?

Personal responsibility

Personal responsibility is the key to happiness

I spent many years trying to figure out why I was a screw up.  After all, I was a bit of a goody two shoes growing up and thought of myself as a good girl.  I also thought of myself as someone who wasn’t very good at anything, lacking in confidence and – unlovable!
As many of you will know, we are all shaped somewhat by our upbringing and those early experiences.  I have to say that looking back – I certainly did not have a bad upbringing.  The way I learned to rationalise it was that it just wasn’t the right upbringing for me.  I was one of five children, and I was painfully shy.  In my view, as an extremely sensitive child, I was simply “lost” in the noise and chaos of family life.  Those who shouted loudest got the attention.  Over time, I learned not to ask for help or for my needs to be met.  This is something that stayed with me right throughout my life until just recently.
I always seemed to assume responsibility for others and I also felt a bit like a modern day Cinderella.  This version of my psyche remained with me for many years, although I tried hard to shake it off.  There were many times when I thought I was “there”.  But it never stuck.  For many years I was a very unhappy, angry, and passive aggressive person.
I spent a good proportion of my adult life either severely depressed, anxious or binge drinking and pretending I had a happy life.  It was difficult at times, not to lament how my life would have turned out if only ….
So what changed?  What changed for me was the recognition that it didn’t have to be that way.  I didn’t have to blame my parents and I didn’t have to blame my sister for the sibling-rivalry-bullying that I perceived growing up.   I could take personal responsibility for myself.

It was so liberating. 


 “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies with their own hands.”  __Anne Frank

Taking Personal Responsibility for Happiness Involves Surrendering

I came across a very interesting article as I researched this topic.  I wanted to know what others had to say about the phenomenon of taking responsibility.
So, what are they key aspects of taking personal responsibility, and how can YOU achieve this?
  1. Not blaming others for your misfortunes or the way you feel.

  2. Being happy regardless of the external circumstances or situation.

  3. Your functional state is based on interpretation rather than reality.

  4. You can be happy regardless of negative events in your life.
Ok, so I can almost hear you asking: but how do I achieve this?  Believe it or not, it is really quite simple.  In order to be happy in the face of adversity, perceived or otherwise, is to work on your confidence.  If you practice being confident that you can be happy regardless of what is going on around you – then over time, this will become your reality.
You can read the full article here:

Taking personal responsibility is empowering

I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree that taking personal responsibility is crucial to being happy.  Although the article talks about developing a mindset of surrender in order to achieve a state of personal responsibility, I would take that one step further.
The fundamental reason that we can struggle so much in our lives is because if we think something, we feel it – and therefore it becomes real for us.  This is not the same as it being a reality.
We may blame our partners for our bad mood because they yelled at us.  Therefore, we are attributing our emotional state to them rather than considering that perhaps they are reacting because they have something troubling them.  We have a tendency to internalise what we experience, and our experiences are shaped by our perception.
By taking personal responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, reactions and actions, we set ourselves free.  We don’t have to feel bad that something did not go our way, or someone spoke unkindly to us.  We can recognise that something may be going on for the other person to make them act this way.
Asking questions is an extremely powerful way to diffuse many situations.  Rather than react and exclaim: I feel bad because you are being horrible to me – we can say something along the lines of: You seem to be upset, do you want to talk about it?
I would like to share a couple of examples from case studies where this has been empowering for my clients:
Case study 1: Fiona was going through a very difficult time, she and her family had been living under financial strain for a number of years and her marriage was falling apart.  She had come to the conclusion that, for her, the marriage was over; but was afraid to verbalise this to her husband as she was afraid as to how he would react.
I showcased to Fiona how – instead of making statements about what she wanted that her husband may find challenging or threatening, she could ask questions that would open up a dialogue between them without confrontation.
Example: We can’t go on like this.  What do you think we should do?  What do you want to happen next?
By using this approach, Fiona is taking personal responsibility for her own feelings, thoughts and actions, and not those of her husband.  She is also providing an opportunity for her husband to share his fears, needs and expectations around how they should proceed.
Case study 2: Simon shared with me that he found meetings stressful, particularly ones where he was tasked with highlighting some difficulty that needed action.   At one particular meeting he got very flustered when the senior managers that he was presenting to stared to challenge him.
Simon had internalised the challenge and felt that it was a personal attack on what he was saying and that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
I highlighted to Simon that instead of experiencing challenge as a negative event, to instead experience it as an opportunity to get to know more about the other people in the meeting.
Simon came to understand that when others challenged what he said, it was not about him, but rather, about their own fears around what this would mean for them.  By asking the question: “I hear that this is a problem for you, could you expand on that” it creates an opportunity for barriers to be brought out into the open and solutions to be found.
Personal responsibility is truly liberating

I hope that, from this article, you get a sense of how truly liberating learning to take personal responsibility is.  It is so important, and has been so crucial to my own happiness and fulfilment, that it is the central tenant to my Coaching Programme: Becoming PHENOMENAL.

Look out over the coming weeks and months as I share elements of this programme – that will guide you along your journey of taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, reactions and actions – and becoming the PHENOMENAL version of YOU.
If you want to sign up to be the first to hear about our amazing offers, please register here.
If anything within this blog has resonated with you, please do comment, like and share.  If there is anything that you would like to discuss with me personally, then please message the page here or send me a message on the website.
With warmest wishes,


Success doesn’t guarantee happiness (despite what the experts say) and here’s why.

This post originally appeared on


“I wish everyone could have all the money that I have, could have all the fame that I’ve gotten and all the attention, and have all their dreams come true, to realize that that is not the answer.” __ Jim Carrey

The Happiness Lie

I learned something new today.  I learned that everything we think we know about how to be happy is WRONG.  That’s right.  Have we really been chasing our tail to try to achieve that elusive HAPPINESS? Before we look more closely at this, it is worth considering what the established formula for happiness is:

Have you spotted the clue?

Happiness at Harvard study

Broadly speaking, the perceived wisdom is that achieving success is the path to happiness, and that the path to success is through hard work.  This is the model that we use in all areas of life and have done so for many years.  What if that formula was wrong?  What if everything that we have been doing for years in pursuit of happiness was only leading us to dissatisfaction and unhappiness?

According to American Psychologist, Shawn Anchor, living our lives to the accepted formula in pursuit of happiness is not only ineffective, but also detrimental to health.  He argues that the way to be truly happy lies not in working hard to become successful, but in social interaction and connectedness.  Not only that, he argues that our state of happiness impacts positively on those around us; and our happiness state influences other people’s happiness state.  Nothing new there in my opinion, as one of my favourite sayings, is that behaviour breeds behaviour.  I believe this wholeheartedly, and I consider it to be one of the most effective ways of influencing change in other people.  Take a look at this case study for a demonstration on how powerful this can be.

Happiness is key to productivity

Shawn Anchor asserts that we are most productive and focused when we are in a happy state. Again, I don’t think there is anything very contemporary about this. If we are unhappy or stressed, it can become difficult to focus on anything, let alone work.  It would seem that if happiness is the key to productivity, and success is not the route to happiness – we most definitely HAVE been chasing our tails!  I think where Shawn Anchor’s argument does become interesting, is when he talks about the formula of happiness in relation to how successful we are, and that we need to reverse this formula to get ahead in the happiness stakes.  This premise pretty much gives us permission (if ever we needed it) to get off the treadmill that many of us find ourselves on in pursuit of happiness that – no matter what we do – continues to elude us.  There are many people who live their lives driven by the idea that great success will lead them to greater happiness.  If I could only get that promotion, I will be happier.If I had more money, I will be happyIf I get my dream house, I will be happy

Shawn Anchor, in the his Ted Talk, makes a compelling argument that success does not make us any happier.  He explains this in terms of brain biology.

He was asked why he studied Happiness at the elite educational establishment of Harvard: what possibly could Harvard students have to be unhappy about?  In addressing this question, he goes on to explain that there is an implicit assumption that our external world predicts our happiness.  It seems that only 10% of our happiness is predicated on our external world.If this is the case, where does the other 90% come from?  If it has nothing to do do with what we have, how successful we are, or how much money we have, does this mean we are doomed to have only 10% happiness in our lives?  That seems a pretty dire scenario.So, where exactly does the majority of our happiness come from?  According to the latest research, 90% of our happiness comes from the way in which our brain processes the experiences we have in our day to day lives (taking us back to brain biology).

Getting back to the Harvard question, Shawn Anchor says that the initial excitement and pride of getting into a prestigious college diminishes within a few days and instead, the students’ brains focus on the pressure, the heavy workload and deadlines.  He reasons, that this is because our brain never lets us be satisfied with our achievements.  Once we have reached our goal – our brain is hardwired to not value that goal, and therefore we end up with a never ending loop of seeking success/achieve a goal to get that dopamine hit that makes us (temporarily) feel good when we have our desired result.

It seems that once we achieve something, it becomes the norm.  Once something becomes the norm, we no longer appreciate the achievement as anything special.  Why does this happen?  It is all down to how our brain is wired.  Once we have achieved our goal, what does the brain do?  It moves the goal posts.

How to get ahead at work

One of the most interesting gems from the TED Talk is around how to achieve success in the workplace.  Did you know that only 25% of job success comes from how intelligent you are?  It seems that 75% comes from your level of optimism, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.  I guess this is where personality characteristics and mindset trump IQ.  I think it certainly turns on it’s head anecdotal gripes about people who get ahead but “are not deserving, and are in with the boss”.  Perhaps it isn’t nepotism that has been at play after all, but the fact that a can-do-attitude and solid inter-personal skills are more effective in teams and influencing others.


Why is any of this important?

It seems to me that, the breakthrough that experiences and connectedness is what leads to greater happiness rather than material possessions, is not new.  Many of us have long known that true value comes from relationships that we have with the people around us; and that isolation (whether that be due to heavy work commitments or otherwise), leads to unhappiness, and even poor mental wellbeing.

This viewpoint doesn’t just come from an evolved emotional intelligence (it took a long time coming and so I claim it with pride), I believe it is replicated many times across society.  The pursuit of happiness through material possessions or achievement of goals may be true for some people.  Who those people are and why, is outside the scope of this piece. I started off this blog thinking that I had learned something new.

As I have been writing, I have realised that – actually I haven’t.  I don’t know that all people do chase success in pursuit of happiness.  I think people chase success for many reasons – including having a psyche that is defined by what they are externally, rather than who they are internally.  Perhaps they are seeking validation.  Or perhaps they simply want to make a difference in the world.

The success lie

I am wondering whether the issue here is more about the success lie, than the happiness lie.  If everyone bought into this, then what would happen to ambition?  What would happen to those that change our world for the good through their hard work, ambition and drive?  If everyone gave up in the pursuit of happiness – where would we be?Are people who are successful, truly unhappy?  I am not entirely sure that they are.  Ok, so some people may measure their worth by what they achieve, and are never truly happy with the end result.  Perhaps our brain biology simply then creates the desire for us to move forward again.  Does that mean that we are unhappy with the success we achieved?

The key to happiness AND success is positivity

If happiness is on the other side of success, our brain never gets there.  __Shawn Anchor

Within the 15 minute TED presentation, Shawn Anchor concludes with the premise that if we raise our positivity in the present, this gives a happiness advantage.  He goes on to say, that the brain when in a positive state, performs better than when in a neutral or stressed state.

Where I really support Shawn Anchor’s views, is in how this formula reversal relates to education. Just not in the way he applies it.  The education system (both here in the UK as well as in the US), is calibrated to the average student. This is advantageous for less than average students (who have something to strive for), but not for above average or gifted student who is not challenged within this model.  Students should not be told simply that if they work hard enough they will be successful; running the risk of becoming stressed and impacting negatively on their mental wellbeing. Perhaps they should be taught how to live with a positive mindset (as proposed by Shawn Anchor). In doing so, they will increase their wellbeing (and therefore their happiness), as well as improving their capacity for learning as the activation of dopamine switches on the learning centres of the brain.

How to increase positivity in the brain

There are a number of ways to switch your brain into a positive state:

  • Random acts of KINDESS
  • Practising GRATITUDE
  • JournallingExerciseMeditation

Effectively, this practice when done continuously over 21 days rewires the brain, leading to more optimism, which leads to more happiness and ultimately more success.

All it takes is a two minutes a day for the brain to create a more positive mindset.



NEXT IN SERIES:   Happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be.

NEXT IN SERIES:   How to rewire your brain to experience life more positively

You can watch Shawn Anchor’s Ted Talk here.  It is not only worth checking out to learn more about the research underpinning a revised happiness (at work) theory, Shawn Anchor himself is a very entertaining presenter.