The Four Words That Are Holding You Back (And the Four Words to Say Instead)


It’s ingrained in all of us.

Inevitably, when I motion for a student to quiet down, I hear the response,

“It’s not my fault.”

(Or its synonym, “It wasn’t me.”)

It is a knee-jerk reaction to any pronouncement of culpability.

And rather than grow out of it as we grow older, we begin to pay others to tell us that it is not our fault.


When I first starting getting into health and fitness in the early 90s, I noticed that the industry advice came in two distinct forms – one voice said that you could transform your life and your body through willpower and hard work while the other side spoke of reassurances that the excess weight or sagging muscle was due to no fault of your own (and often this burden shift would be followed up with a “quick fix” for the low, low price of only $19.95).

And I soon figured out that the second view led to increased sales.

Even as it failed to create the desired body.

Because we all like to hear that it’s not our fault. That someone or something else is responsible for whatever is holding us back.

Yet even though we all have situations and circumstances that make certain goals more challenging, you are ultimately the only thing holding you back.

I encounter people that tell me that they cannot lose weight because of PCOS or hypothyroidism. “It’s in my genes,” is offered as a reason for the Type II diabetes or metabolic syndrome. I hear others defend their lack of fitness by claiming that their family or job requires all of their time.

They feel a freedom by stating that it is not their fault.

Yet really they are in chains of their own making.

I workout alongside people who use wheelchairs and people with artificial limbs. I have friends who alternate days at the gym with nights at the hospital as they are treated for their autoimmune disorders. I know women with PCOS who accept that weight loss will be harder for them even as they strive to work within the limitations of their disease. I work with single parents who problem-solve creative ways to exercise while the kids are at practice or asleep.

I’ve never once heard any of these people say that the situation is not their fault.

And it’s no accident that they are constantly pushing the boundaries of their situations.


The problem with, “It’s not my fault,” is that it so easily slides into “And therefore there’s nothing I can do about it.”

And the two declarations are vastly different.

It is not your fault if you have been cursed by faulty genes that cause your body to grasp onto every fat cell for dear life.

(And what are you going to do now?)

It is not your fault if you suffered at the hands of abusive or negligent parents who failed to give you the tools to excel in adulthood.

(And what are you going to do now?)

It is not your fault if you have been exposed to trauma, bruising and damaging your very core.

(And what are you going to do now?)

It’s not your fault if your brain struggles with anxiety or depression.

(And what are you going to do now?)

It’s not your fault if your spouse cheated or abandoned you.

(And what are you going to do now?)

In all of these cases (or in any limitations and struggles you have in your life), you can spend your energy on blaming the fault-carrier. Others will help you, either for pay or for free. After all, it’s easy to point fingers at others.

Because then we are absolved of any effort.

Of course, we are also guaranteed not to make any progress.

Because the last time I checked, reps of reciting “It’s my hormones,” had a dramatically lesser effect on fitness than reps on the weight machine.

And assigning liability to a screwed up family of origin is inherently dissatisfying because they’re too entrenched in their own drama to absorb yours.

And calling your cheating ex an ass won’t help you get off yours to build your new life.

So rather than focus on what happened, focus on what you can do now.

Replace “It’s not my fault” with “It is my responsibility.”

Rather than point fingers (or waste your time and money on those that help you pass blame), use those fingers to grab your own bootstraps.

Nobody else is going to do it for you.


Your future is your responsibility.

Your well-being is your responsibility.

Your happiness is your responsibility.

And if you don’t accept that responsibility, that IS your fault.


It is my responsibility to …

Shift my attention from what happened to me to what I am going to make happen.

Focus on what I can do.

See my limitations as my starting point, not as excuses to never start.

Be realistic with my goals.

Set a limit to the amount of energy I expend on placing blame. That energy can be put to better use.

Surround myself with people who believe I can.

Ask for (and accept) help when I need it.

To refuse to allow somebody else to define me.

Communicate my needs clearly and calmly.

Manage my emotions so that they do not control me.

Establish and maintain appropriate boundaries.

Speak and act with kindness. Towards others and also towards myself.

Believe in myself and act in accordance with that belief.

And what are you going to do now?


The Part of the Betrayed


I’m Not Strong Enough

Thank you for sharing!

12 thoughts on “The Four Words That Are Holding You Back (And the Four Words to Say Instead)

  1. Mary Lou – I'm still here and loving it! Nostalgia isn't my all-time favorite past time. I like to live in the present and look forward. When you reach a certain point in life it's good to look back and review this journey with new eyes ~ in a different place in time. I've arrived at a place in my life where the experiences I've had are coming together to form a collage of beauty and strength. A time where I can put a little more time into my love for water color painting and writing. Creating this website allows me to share some of the expressions of my gratitude and amazement of where this journey has taken me. It's my hope that it will encourage others to share their own story through written word and art.
    Mary Lou says:

    This is a fantastic blog! It’s OK to understand the role other people or situations played in your life. It’s not OK to use those things as an excuse to not move forward and take control of your life. Thanks!

  2. livebysurprise – Liv is the pseudonym reformed divorcee and single mom - now married, coparenting and working mother of three. She's been featured on ScaryMommy, HuffPost Divorce, The Mid and More at
    livebysurprise says:

    You’re absolutely right. But I also believe in admitting fault…taking responsibility and moving on.

  3. You’ve been hitting out of the park with your posts lately – I can relate to each and every one! I remember once I went to a therapist who was convinced my father must have molested me when I was a child. Nothing is further from the truth – my father NEVER touched me. In fact, I often wished my father would touch me – to give me hugs, or a pat on the back, or ruffle my hair. In each session, this therapist would tell me how horrible my parents had been and why they were the cause of my issues and I got to the point where I was incredibly angry with my parents for “ruining” my life. The therapist encouraged me to confront them – and I did, over and over (and bless their hearts, they just took it). When I moved, I started going to a new therapist and in my first session, I started listing the ways my parents had screwed up in raising me and how they were the reason I was so messed up. She looked at me calmly and said, “Jana, do you need a mommy and daddy anymore?” Affronted, I told her that of course I didn’t need a mommy and daddy – I was a grown woman! She responded, “Then start acting like it.” She went on to tell me that certainly my parents made mistakes – every parent does – and while I was a child, I was unable to change that and I developed coping mechanisms that were not very healthy – and that wasn’t my fault. But now that I was a grown up, it was my choice how I proceeded. I could continue to blame my parents for all of my problems and never get any resolution or real change – or I could take responsibility for the way I was focusing on my past as an excuse to deal with things in a dysfunctional way – and once I did that, I could choose to learn new skills and react in healthy, productive ways. I made the choice to quit blaming my parents and my life changed (as did my relationship with my parents).

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. Brilliant example of what I was talking about! As long as we focus on blaming others, we are keeping ourselves back. Kudos to you- great work!!😄😄

  4. Somehow I missed this one when you first posted it. This is a great post, and it’s one that carries the main theme of all of my writing – personal accountability.

    The only thing you ever have control over is your own choices and your own decisions. Truly, that’s it. You can’t control people around you (and it’s a bad idea to try) and you can’t control the circumstances you are in. But you ALWAYS have control over how you respond to them.

    People are only victims when they let themselves become victims. It isn’t going to always be easy, but there are always choices.

    Thanks for posting this.

  5. Krystal L. Perez – New Jersey – I'm a freelance writer and stay at home mom. When I'm not conquering the problems of my family, I'm working on putting my thoughts out to the world.
    Krystal L. Perez says:

    I initially blamed my ex for deciding to end our marriage. But recently, I started taking the blame for my part in it. In doing so, I’ve realized that I have the power to change the behaviors and habits that caused my husband to become my ex. In the future, when I find love again, I will be the best version of myself that I never thought I could be.

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