A man asked his girlfriend to go on a hike one evening. The entrance to the hill was a few blocks from the woman’s home.

“We don’t need to drive,” she told her boyfriend, “I walk there all the time.”

“It’s getting late and that adds an extra 15 minutes.” Replied her boyfriend. Still, he agreed to walk. He put on his shoes and the couple continued on their way.

“This is so far, we could have driven.” The man began complaining almost immediately.

“If I knew you’d be complaining the whole time, we could have.” The woman responded.

At the end of the hike, the mans feet were bruised and blistered.

“My feet hurt! I didn’t have the right shoes on. If you had just agreed to drive in the first place they would be fine.” He glared at his girlfriend, placing the blame for his sore feet on her.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, “you asked me to go on a hike, agreed that we could walk, wore the wrong shoes — and now it’s my fault?”

Accountability.

It’s something few of us value or even think about, but being accountable for your own words, actions, decisions — and then consequences — is one of the hallmarks of emotionally maturity.

In another story, a young man checked in to a hotel. He brought his work with him and proceeded to log on to his laptop, attempting to connect to the wifi. In a matter of minutes, he discovered the deal he was working on needed immediate attention — but the wifi wasn’t working. He blamed the loss of his $10,000 deal on the hotel, rather than his inability to make sure he could deliver. He could have brought a hot spot, gone to a coffee shop, or called a co worker.

We blame traffic, the weather, or our alarm clocks when we’re late to work.

We blame happy hour meetings or our hectic work schedules for why we don’t work out enough.

We make excuses for why something didn’t go right or why we can’t reach our goals. But if everyone and everything else is to blame for your misfortune — nothing is ever in your control. You can never reflect on what happened and improve. You are constantly at the mercy of life — life will always be happening TO you, and you will always find something else to get mad at.

This inability see past our own lack of responsibility is detrimental for future growth. In case #1 above, the man might continue to blame his girlfriend for his unfortunate decisions, she might grow to resent him, and the relationship might ultimately crumble. In case #2, the man might never consider alternative ways of closing deals, and thus may continue to lose money due to his lack of preparedness.

It’s extremely difficult to recognize where we aren’t taking accountability, and even more difficult to own up to it. No one likes to admit they were in the wrong, that it’s their fault, that they messed up. But if we do not learn from our mistakes, history is doomed to repeat itself.

I read a fantastic book years ago called “The Success Principles,” by Jack Canfield. The first principle? Take 100% accountability for your life! You take credit for the good, right? The raise you got at work — is that your “fault?” The marathon you just completed — is someone else responsible for the 26+ miles you ran? No. Of course not. We relish in our achievements, and many of us feel defined by them — which makes all the more sense why we might shy away from taking responsibility for the slip-ups. But if you’re going to take credit for the good, you have to take credit for the bad, too.

Stop blaming everyone else for what goes wrong in your life. Take accountability, asses the situation, and figure out how you can be successful the next time around. It might feel good to shift the negative focus elsewhere for a moment, but it will do damage to you, your relationships, and ultimately — your life.