The Undefeated Mind: Responsibility; Doers heal, live longer, may be happier!


In the elderly, feeling a sense of responsibility has been found not only to improve daily functioning but also to increase lifespan.



In a study of nursing home patients by researchers Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin, residents on one floor were given a plant for which they themselves were expected to care (the experimental group) while residents on another floor were given a plant for which their nurses would care (the control group).



After three weeks, 93 percent of residents in the experimental group showed an overall improvement in socialization, alertness, and general function; in contrast, for 71 percent of residents in the control group functioning actually declined.



And in a follow-up study eighteen months later, half as many of the residents who’d received plants for which they were expected to care by themselves had died as the residents who’d been given plants for which their nurses cared.



Finally, perhaps the most significant way in which embracing a sense of personal responsibility increases resilience is by motivating action (remember, resilience is also defined by our ability to persevere through obstacles).



In fact, feeling responsible for achieving an outcome may motivate us even more powerfully than our desire to achieve it.



After all, a sense of responsibility often makes us do things we don’t want to do.



Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in people suffering from, of all things, obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Struggling constantly with intrusive thoughts about possible harm coming to themselves or others, patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder are sometimes completely incapacitated by their need to engage in neutralizing behaviors like compulsive checking, washing, and covert ritualization.



What’s surprising, however, is that intrusive thoughts about possible harm have actually been shown to occur in all of us.



Why, then, isn’t obsessive-compulsive disorder a universal condition?



According to some research, the fascinating answer may be that some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder also feel an exaggerated sense of responsibility for preventing the harm they imagine.



That’s why even as they recognize the likelihood of the harm they envision is vanishingly small, they’re driven to take action that they think will in some way mitigate it.



The greater the degree of responsibility such people feel, accordingly, the more irresistibly they feel compelled to act.

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