Last week I was writing the post titled “Don’t make a habit of insanity”, and in one part of the post used the word obligation repeatedly. I use a grammar checker to help my writing, and it told me I was overusing the word obligation, and I should consider using a synonym. This is the message which came up:


It’s not overly surprising to see responsibility at the top of the list. Obligation is often thought of as being a responsible act. In other words, we will say someone is being responsible because they are doing some they are obligated to.

Obligation is when we see ourselves as having a problem, and we feel powerless to do anything about it. We are acting out of compliance, and so follow through often with just enough to get a pass.

Obligation can be a conflicting and stressful mindset to be in, and so we have a coping mechanism called “quit”. Quit is when we check out and don’t care how well the thing we’re doing turns out.

I often realize I’m in obligation when I find my mind wandering. For example, when I’m in a meeting which seems like such a waste of time, I will start thinking about something else. I may be physically present, yet my mind is everywhere except in the room. My mind has shifted to quit without me even being consciously aware.

Does this sound like responsibility to you?

This week’s thought:

Think about places in your life you are acting from a mindset of obligation. It might be a meeting or process you have to do at work, something you do for your parents or a neighbour, going to church on Sundays, or some other part of your life.

Finding yourself in a mindset of Obligation makes you human. We all do it so don’t think of yourself as bad for being there.

To get myself from obligation, I will ask myself something like “What would have me wanting to be here?” Sometimes, the answer is nothing, in which case it’s time to rethink why I’m there in the first place.

Usually, there is an answer, though. For example, it might if the meeting were more focused, or perhaps it’s in my personal values around helping others. Whatever the answer, I take action to make it possible to be in a mindset of Responsibility.

There is no right or wrong answer, other than knowing and doing something from a mindset of obligation is not the same as being responsible.


Want to know more about Responsibility and Obligation? Check out this book by my good friend Christopher Avery.

Building Great Teams

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