May 5, 2017 |Gideon Hanekom

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This post has a simple notion – you can only help the world around you by taking responsibility for your actions.

In fact, I want this to be a serious wake-up call.

Let me make a big statement right up front, and I want you to write it down and put it in your mirror somewhere today.

Here it is:

Leading by example by taking responsibility for your actions is not the main thing that influences others, it is the only thing!

Did you GET that?!

Now, let me tell you what I think is the best way for leading by example.

There is a cool saying I learned somewhere that I use all the time now.

It says:

My life can either be an example or a warning. But it can’t be both.

When I read this the first time, it absolutely floored me.

It stopped me in my tracks and forced me to look at my life and ask the question: which one am I??

When people look at me what do they see?

Is the way that I choose to live my life an example or a warning to others?

Now, as many of you know I am in the “coaching” and “teaching” business, and I’m always surrounded by people coming to me for some form of guidance, expertise, advice, or just general thoughts.

But here is the really ironic part…

Even though I could give people lots of good insight (or so I thought), for a long time I was blind to the fact that my greatest message wasn’t what came out of my mouth, but what people saw when they looked at my life.

taking responsibility for your actions

I know this is such a simple concept but it completely escaped my thinking. Seriously, it did.

It wasn’t until my health hit rock bottom that I finally looked in the mirror and actually realised what my “true message” has been all along. And I was appalled.

I realise that I’ve been telling people all about leadership, controlling their thinking, living with excellence, taking care of themselves, enjoying life, being the best they can be for their loved ones, etc.; but my own life was the furthest thing from any of these.

Yes, I said all the right things, but I also did all the wrong things.

Then that quote found me and I realise that the only thing that truly influenced the people around me, was my EXAMPLE.

People will always forget what you tell them. Doesn’t matter how much you tell them. If you have kids, you know this is true.

But, people cannot deny and do not forget what they’ve SEEN. That gets burned into their minds and memories.

It was at this point that I looked at my life, and those I’ve been trying to influence, that I realised I was one huge contradiction. My words and my actions (or choice of behaviour) did not match up. There was a dissonance. A gap. One that didn’t make sense and definitely undermined all the good things I’ve been “teaching.”

I then discovered that the most powerful way to influence the world around me is to start with MYSELF.

Unless I can influence myself first I don’t really influence others the way I think I am.

For example, how can I tell people about the beauty of life when I live in such a way that it undermines that very message?

I abuse my body, through food, drink, and/or various substances.

I bury my talents.

I neglect relationships in my life.

I don’t give it my all every single day as I receive the gift of life yet again.

I don’t feed my mind and my spirit (soul) with good stuff; I stuff it with sensationalism and mental faeces.

So I knew I had to make some changes.

I knew that my life can either be an example or a warning – but it cannot be both at the same time. Unless of course, you’re an example of a warning. I guess that makes sense.

The question becomes, how can I be the best possible example to help the world around me in the best possible way?

Here’s what I believe the best answer is: By taking responsibility for your actions!

taking responsibility for your actions

In fact, I would argue that you need to help the world by helping yourself first.

But how do you do that?

By actually loving yourself.

I know that sounds corny, but hear me out.

In the ancient scriptures, when asked about the most important thing one could do, Jesus taught this idea that one had to love God, i.e. the source of life and all of creation.

But he also added to it saying that one had to love your neighbour (other people) as yourself.

Now, I appreciate that not everyone reading this is religious (and you don’t need to be) but, think about the implications of that concept for a moment.

When one recognises that life is a fragile gift that has been given to you without your conscious choice or input, wouldn’t that change HOW you “treated” life?

Regardless of where you believe life comes from. You didn’t choose life. You received it.

Or, think about the second part of that statement. Loving someone else AS yourself.

Doesn’t that imply that in order to love someone else, you need to love yourself first?

In fact, doesn’t it imply that the depth of love for someone else is based on the depth of our self-love?

So many people go through life “focusing” on the world and their needs, and how they can serve the world better.

But isn’t that an impossibility without some form of 1) appreciation of the gift of life and 2) loving yourself first?

I think it is.

taking responsibility for your actions

So, the best way to be an example that influences others profoundly is by truly understanding and appreciating the gift of life and consequently loving others who have also been given this gift of life.

Why on earth squander it?

Why on earth abuse this gift?

Surely, what you do with it matters.

How can you expect to influence others truly, if you are not kind to yourself and the gift of life itself?

Wouldn’t that make you a warning more than an example?

So the question for me becomes: how can I truly express my absolute gratitude toward this gift of life and simultaneously become the best possible example I can be?

How can I show kindness to myself?

How can I show love to myself?

How can you take responsibility for your actions most in order to help the world more profoundly?

Here are a few suggestions for taking responsibility for your actions

Work out your own issues first.

Have you ever been an aeroplane?

Have you noticed the safety instructions at the start?

What do they tell you, you need to do in case of an emergency when the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling?

They say: Put yours on first before helping your loved ones!

taking responsibility for your actions

Ever wondered why?

Because without having oxygen yourself you are no good to those around you. You cannot help your loved ones if you’ve passed out due to a lack of air.

Life seems to work in exactly the same way.

How can you give love to others when you clearly display a lack of self-love?

How can you help others when you never help yourself?

How can you respect others when you have absolutely no self-respect?

How can you influence others when you clearly betray no sense of self influence?

It is not possible.

If you truly want to help or influence the world around you, you need to work out your own issues first.

You need to take care of yourself first.

Not at the expense of others, but for the benefit of others.

And I appreciate that we all have different lives and want to make an impact in different ways.

That’s great.

But the same principle still applies: your ability to impact others starts with your ability to impact yourself.

If you constantly ignore your own wants and needs, as well as the issues you need to work through, you will eventually suffocate from a “lack of oxygen.”

And so will your message.

So the question becomes, what do you know you need to work on today to rectify this?

What issues do you need to work through and fix?

What part of your life needs more oxygen?

What are you going to do about it?

Spreading the spirit.

I’m kind of reluctant to use the word “spirit” here, but again it’s got nothing to do with religion.

In many of the ancient languages, the word “spirit” could also mean “breath” (like in oxygen).

It’s because the ancient people saw a very strong connection between breath/spirit and life.

So when you breathed new spirit into something, you in a sense gave it new life.

What I’ve learned is that when we have experienced growth in an area of your life, and you’ve made some positive changes, it’s almost like there is a new breath/spirit or life to us.

taking responsibility for your actions

It’s almost like there is a new skip in our step. And other people pick up on this.

They recognise the “breath of fresh air” in us.

Now, when you try and influence from an “old spirit” it’s almost like there is staleness to the air that surrounds you. It’s like “old breath.”

Like un-brushed teeth in the morning. And it’s rarely nice.

But, when there is a new sense of life within you, the world responds to that.  

And you don’t have to force anything because you already revel in the joy of being someone new and living that way.

Again, help the world by helping yourself.  

Become a breath of fresh air to those around you.  

Spread the spirit. Spread this new breath.

Adopt new ideas.

Experts in personal development pretty much all say the same thing when they talk about the secret of happiness and fulfilment.

They say that the key to being happy is growth. Another word is progress.

Everything in the universe is constantly expanding. It is an intrinsic law of the universe life is based on.

If something stops growing or evolving, it eventually dies out.

This is true of living organisms as well as emotions and thoughts.

People don’t think the same way about certain things like they did 100 or 1000 years ago. Why? Because people’s thinking has evolved.

If my love for my wife never expands and grows beyond the puppy love I had for her when I saw her the first time, our marriage would never survive or experience deeper levels of fulfilment.

If I don’t constantly improve my health and take care of it, disease will eventually move in and take over.

It’s not like you can eat fruit one time, and be healthy forever as a result of it.

It doesn’t work that way.

So a powerful way to truly help yourself in order to help the world is to keep evolving, especially in your thinking.

taking responsibility for your actions

Our mindset plays a huge role in terms of the quality of life we have.

It is because our mindset, and way of thinking, impact how we DO life. And if my thoughts never evolve or grow so that I can have a deeper understanding of life (for example), I am placing a limitation on what can happen through my life.

I know this can sound very philosophical or even airy-fairy at this stage, but I assure you it is very practical.

Your ability to influence the world around you is directly proportionate to your ability to influence yourself. And your ability to influence yourself is directly connected to your way of thinking (mindset).

If it therefore never expands or grows, your ability to influence yourself at greater depths is also limited.

Therefore, the question you need to be asking yourself right now is: Am I still growing as a human being? Or have I stopped growing?

Is my health still improving, or have I settled and accepted the biological process of ageing?

Is my spirit healthy?

Am I happy?

Is my happiness are growing?

Do I feel fulfilled?

Am I living a purposeful life?

Is my relationship with my spouse still growing?

Or have I settled?

Am I still looking for ways to love him or her even deeper every day?

Do I still find ways to get excited about him or her?

Do I show them?

Is my love for my spouse growing?

taking responsibility for your actions

As we saw in yesterday’s post, unless you take care of the fence (the one you might be sitting on right now), it might actually fall apart from underneath you.

So keep growing. Keep looking for new ideas.

Grow your mind by feeding it good stuff.

And when you come across something that is really impactful and speaks to you, adopt it into your life and start exploring the possibilities.

Be your true safe.

Many personal development and spirituality experts teach the idea that the only way to live a purposeful life is to be your true self.

And in order to be your true self, you need to discover it.

But, I like the idea that says it is not about discovering your true self, but rather about creating your true self.

Because it’s through the acts of learning, trying, applying and growing that we discover who we truly are. Or want to be.

If you truly want to help the world around you, you have to step out and apply yourself.

You have to be in the world to influence the world.

That doesn’t mean that you have to be like the world and do what everyone else does, but you can’t influence from afar.

You definitely cannot inspire from a distance. It’s only when we are on the ground, doing what needs to be done, and leading from the front, that the world responds most.

taking responsibility for your actions

I learned this the hard way.

I learned that when my actions are aligned with my true identity (who I believe I am on the inside) there is no more powerful message than that.

People automatically respond to that, simply because the authenticity of the messenger and message resonate.

Also, by being your true self you can do a lot for helping the world.

You can inspire others to find their true selves and the world will be a happier place for all you come into contact with.

So, are you aligned?

Are you being your true self? Are you living it?

If not, what’s holding you back?

What do you believe needs to happen before you will step into your true identity and share that with the world around you?

Last thoughts

What is the point of this free-flowing post today?

Well, I’ll tell you what inspired it.

Perhaps then you’ll have a better understanding.

I was browsing Facebook yesterday and saw a post of someone who shared about their current situation and what they were going through.

This person also shared how thankful they were for life and their situation.

And everyone responded in support and admiration.

But instead of feeling thankfulness or admiration, I felt anger.

taking responsibility for your actions

It kind of surprised me, to be honest.

But then I explored this feeling and asked the question: why is this making me angry?

I realised I got upset because even though this person spoke of gratitude towards life, their actual lifestyle contradicted that.

They are abusing the gift of life by neglecting themself.

But it ultimately put a mirror in front of me too. One I had to look in.

And I reflected again on what others might be seeing when they look at me.

More importantly, what those I really care about truly see when they look at me.

What do my kids see?

What does my wife see?

Mum and dad?

My brother and sister?

Close friends?

New friends?


And it made me wonder.

taking responsibility for your actions

But I also had the silent hope that the thoughts in this post would somehow reach the newsfeed of the one that inspired it and perhaps saves their life.

I promise to give you a more normal post tomorrow LOL.

Please leave your thoughts and comments below as it’s awesome to read them.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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