In Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, there is a scene (and a line) that has always stood out to me. In the film, Anakin Skywalker has become a Jedi Master but has a “secret” marriage with Senator Padme Amidala. Chancellor Palpatine knows about it and uses Anakin’s fear of losing her as leverage to get what he wants. Anakin turns against the Jedi and becomes Darth Vader.
During the scene in question, Padme goes to confront Anakin, and Obi-wan Kenobi goes with her without her knowledge. When Padme arrives and asks Anakin about what he has done, he downplays his actions and even justifies them. Padme begins to see Anakin for what he has become. Obi-wan then walks out of Padme’s ship, which makes Anakin very angry, and he begins to force-choke Padme for bringing Obi-wan.
Then comes the part from which we can learn a lot. After Padme collapses from suffocation, Anakin says to Obi-wan, “You turned her against me!” To which Obi-wan replies, “You have done that yourself.”
Did you catch that? (No, not the cheesy dialogue.)
Obi-wan’s response is a line I have used in social situations many times to get laughs. But recently, the lesson contained in Obi-wan and Anakin’s interaction became very clear.
We Are Anakin Skywalker
Unfortunately, many times in our lives we act like Anakin Skywalker in this scene. We make poor decisions and then seek to justify them when the outcome is not what we desired. We lash out at people who “make us angry.” We blame financial problems on our job, our spouse, our circumstances. We too frequently blame external circumstances for how we feel or how we act when really, the truth is just as young Ben Kenobi said: “You have done that yourself.”
Why do we do this? Why do we blame the actions of others and external circumstances when things don’t go our way or we make bad decisions? Well, for one thing, if we’re not at fault when something goes wrong, (we think) it makes us look better. It’s much easier to blame our feelings and subsequent actions on how our spouse or treat treats us rather than taking responsibility for what we have done. When we do this, we’re not being honest with ourselves or anyone else.
The Hard Truth
The truth is that I am responsible for how my life goes, and you are responsible for how your life goes. This is a statement with which I think most people would agree. However, I’m willing to bet that many of us don’t actually understand it enough to live it.
Every person with normal cognitive functions born on this earth has the ability to choose and make decisions for themselves. Yet, all too often, we complain about how miserable we are because of what is “happening to us.”
Although difficult things may come into our lives, we always have a choice on how to respond. As Stephen Covey explains in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.” He also states that “it is our willing permission, our consent to what happens to us, that hurts us far more than what happens to us in the first place.”
So, essentially, if we are miserable because of something that happened to us, we have done that ourselves.
This can be a pretty hard truth to swallow. I know that when I’m in a bad mood, I don’t like to be told that it’s my choice that I’m in a bad mood.
So how do you take responsibility and take control of your life? Well, to put it simply, you just do it. You don’t try to do it. Do or do not. There is no try.
There have been some situations in my personal life lately that have been…less than ideal. Circumstances beyond my control (another person’s actions) were really starting to impact me. I would get angry, frustrated, annoyed, critical, and so on. Then, one night as I was reading 7 Habits, I realized that this person’s behavior had near total control over me. I immediately decided to shift my thinking and take control of my responses to what I viewed as this person’s negative behavior. It felt so much better to be actively choosing what I spent my emotional capital on, and this person’s behavior was not in my budget.
The next step was to get my wife on board with this paradigm shift.
We had a long conversation about being in control of our responses and actions despite whatever happens. That is when my wife asked me, “You can’t just say you’re not going to care and then be fine. How do you DO it?” I responded: ” You just do it. You wake up in the morning and tell yourself that no matter what happens, you have a choice on how your day goes. No matter what anyone else does, they can’t control what you do.”
The next day and subsequent week went very well. There were a lot of crazy things that happened, but it didn’t affect us. We were able to choose how to respond to those less than ideal circumstances.
Some may take issue with this post and say, “Well you don’t understand! I’m unhappy because of [fill in the blank].”
But that’s the whole point. I am ultimately responsible for my own life and circumstances. You are responsible for yours. You have the ability to choose how to respond to situations in which you do not have control. To allow ourselves to be negatively influenced by external circumstances is to bench the star player (you) in the most important game of the year- only to passively observe, unable to influence the outcome.
My intention is not to preach, but to help set people free from themselves. Most of us, at some point or another, have limited our own potential by making choices, consciously or unconsciously, that go against our very own desires. I’m trying to get rid of that in my own life. I want my life to be a product of my choices, not of someone else’s. I don’t want to have Obi-wan’s voice ringing in my ears when I blame a bad choice on someone or something else saying, “You have done that yourself.”