Exploring the Stages of The Responsibility Process®

The Responsibility Process is not a management tool. It’s a tool for self-leadership — for leading yourself wherever you want to be. And it’s the most amazing framework for learning, growth, and success I know.

Are you new to the The Responsibility Process? Let me offer a quick explanation.

We start by defining Responsibility as “owning your ability and power to create, choose, and attract”.

Most success experts since Socrates have said that taking 100% personal responsibility is the first principle of success. It makes total sense that owning your ability and power would be important for creating success. When everything goes right and success happens, then it is easy to assume Responsibility.

They also say that the psychology of personal responsibility is about what you think, say, and do when things fail to go right. And how often do things go wrong?

When something goes wrong in your world, your mind (and mine, and the minds of everyone we each know, and everyone else too) goes into a hyper-active cause-effect analysis trying to figure out why this happened. That’s when the stages of The Responsibility Process activate in you.

The Responsibility Process

When something does not seem right, you enter The Responsibility Process at Lay Blame, because that’s the first thought we have every time something goes wrong.

Lay Blame

Generally, you enter the The Responsibility Process at Lay Blame as a response to something going wrong. What does that mean? The moment something goes wrong in your life big or small — you spill a cup of coffee or a car stops short in front of you — our mind hands us a set of answers designed to help us cope.

You’ve been taught your whole life you shouldn’t blame others. The truth is that you aren’t a bad learner and it’s not that you didn’t pay attention to people telling you that you shouldn’t do it.

You’re hardwired to blame others, but that’s not an effective problem-solving place — because the premise (in this mental state) is that for you to get a different result someone else must change.

So what if the person doesn’t change?

We can get stuck in Lay Blame for a second or a minute or an hour or a day or a year or a lifetime — or we can get off of it (since it is just a mental state). As long as you’re stuck there as your answer for a problem, then you will keep the problem, because you’re dealing only with the anxiety and not with the real problem (yes, you may need to understand a great deal more about how The Responsibility Process works to make sense of this statement).

You’re complaining. Yes, you’re frustrated at another person rather than truly owning what’s there for you to see and dealing with it so the problem goes away forever.

However, what The Responsibility Process teaches us is that the real problem is in your own filters and perceptions about what’s going on.

So the true problem isn’t out there — it’s in you and therefore the true solution isn’t out there either, but in you. And, when you are in the mindset of Lay Blame, you just can’t see that.


So what happens if you can’t find someone to blame.


If you get off of the mental state of Lay Blame (yes, it’s just a mental state and we call it ‘an island in the mind’) then you graduate to Justify. Justify is only a little different from Lay Blame. Instead of a person, the target of your blame is a set of circumstances that you think are causing the problem. It’s the

  • weather,
  • economy,
  • organizational culture,
  • government,
  • crummy tools,
  • ineffective processes, or (my favorite),
  • management…

Here, the premise is that for your problem to change and for you to be happier, the situation has to change. It is still a powerless position since something outside of you must change to achieve success and for you to be happy.

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And if we get off the mental state of Justify (yes, it too is simply a mental state that comes with its own logic) then we graduate to Shame.

The first two steps (Lay Blame and Justify) are externally focused. After that, when we reject blame and justify as answers, then it’s like a computerized sorting routine in the mind flips the internal/external variable from external (for Lay Blame and Justify) to internal.

Now you are the culprit!

So Shame is just laying blame on yourself. It is beating yourself up for having a problem or believing that you aren’t good enough. In Shame our assumption is that we lack something and that we actually deserve to have this problem for trying to do something that we aren’t able to do or trying to go beyond ourselves. It’s ingrained because our society teaches us that if you are blaming yourself then you are being responsible.

However this thought process isn’t responsibility at all. Why? Because it is highly limiting. It’s not a place of true resourcefulness or freedom.


When we get off Shame we land in Obligation, which is a mental state of feeling trapped. It’s feeling like you have no choice.

I meet bright, successful people all the time that say, “I have to do this, I have to do that, I have to, I have to, I have to…” The premise here is that you have to do or have to be what you don’t want to do or be.

You’ve probably also been conditioned to do what you have “should” do. After all isn’t that what you have been taught is the appropriate way to act or be.

Since you don’t really feel like you have a choice, you will also most likely feel a burden.


The position of Quit is off to the side. Quit is an escape valve, an exit from the extra pain of Shame and burden from Obligation.

If you think about it, in Lay Blame and Justify we externalize and vent, which means we’re blowing off steam. In Shame and Obligation we’re actually building it up internally. If we do not know how to learn and grow by taking ownership, then we need an escape valve for it.

That escape valve is Quit.

Quit is simply the mental place of disengaging, of checking out and pretending that you’ve escaped the problem because you’ve parked it somewhere in your mind.

The truth is it will almost always come back. So every time you go to a meeting that you feel is a waste of your time and you don’t want to be there but you think you have to, you probably mentally Quit.
You aren’t authentic, present, in the now, or speaking your truth.
You are being reserved and controlling yourself because you don’t want the consequences of actually speaking up and saying the truth, which is: “This is a stupid meeting, can we do something different?”

The mental state of Quit is mentally disengaging from a painful situation. It’s not a physical activity, it’s a mental activity.

Twenty-five percent of people are actively disengaged at work. In other words, Quit is how we manage our sanity when we don’t know how to create the results we want. It is where we mentally hide when we don’t know how to take responsibility and produce the effect that we want to produce.


Also shown on the side is the state of Denial. As you can imagine, this does not always occur. Denial is defined as “a defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.” It is basically refusing to accept reality. You solve the problem by refusing to accept that there is a problem. In many circumstances, this can have devastating effects.

Denial can be very powerful for a person since it eliminates the problem and any anxiety that might occur that confronting the problem might create.

As a society we teach each other that Lay Blame and Justify are wasteful. However it’s the unrecognized and unaddressed persisting mental states of Shame, Obligation, and Quit that are the multi-trillion dollar cultural drain at work.

This is worthy of our attention — of your attention! You can use this as an organizing mechanism and as a language and thinking tool, to actually address and change the way you show up at work.

Responsibility mastery is knowing how to move from the bottom of The Responsibility Process to the top, to the mental position of Responsibility. This is the mental state of freedom, power, and choice. It’s where you learn, grow and see things as they are so that you can get new-found clarity. You can deal with the situation as it is.

In Responsibility, you believe that you are bigger than the problem. You have the power and ability to see and resolve the real problem. The assumption is that you are resourceful, powerful, and free to choose.

And that’s an amazing feeling.

What I want for you is to be able to get to that place of responsibility more and more rapidly, until you learn that it’s constantly available to you.

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Here’s what I hope you will take away from this post:

The Responsibility Process only works when self-applied.

It’s so much easier to see it in others than it is to see it in ourselves. Therefore, I want you to focus less on jumping right out and correcting others.

Instead simply start paying attention to your own thought processes.

The goal isn’t to be able to say “I’m always in Responsibility and I never fall out of Responsibility.” The goal of knowing and practicing The Responsibility Process is to recognize the real problem and to pull ourselves up to the place where we can actually solve it.

The next time you are stuck, revisit the stages of The Responsibility Process. Which stage are you in? How can you act differently this time?
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