The Self-Responsible Language Quiz

by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller


One important way to develop the Teacher Talk Advantage is to learn to speak with self-responsible language. Students, as well as our own children, take on the language patterns they repetitiously hear from the important people in their lives. The connection between our self-responsible language and self-responsible behaviors in students is easily explained.

  1. The more self-responsible language that you use, the more self-responsible language your students will use.
  2. It takes self-responsible language to think self-responsible thoughts. Thinking self-responsible thoughts using unself-responsible language is not possible.
  3. Using self-responsible thoughts repetitively leads to the development of self-responsible beliefs.
  4. Most of our behaviors flow out of our belief patterns. Self-responsible beliefs lead to an increase of self-responsible behaviors.

There is an undeniable link between how we choose to talk and the beliefs and behaviors that young people create in their lives today. Sadly, we live in a culture that speaks predominately unself-responsible language, and then we wonder why young people don’t act more responsibly. The answer to that question is simple. They don’t act more responsibly because we have taught them how to talk, think, believe, and act unself-responsibly.

Note: There is no such word as unself-responsible. We made it up to describe the opposite of self-responsible when referring to the use of language.

Do you want to give your students a real advantage in their lives? Do you want to send them off into the world with a strong sense of personal power? If so, learn to speak self-responsibly.

Self-Responsible Language Definition:

Words and phrases that reveal an acceptance of responsibility for one's actions and feelings, show ownership for results, make choices conscious, or speak to unlimited potential.

"I am creating a lot of stress for myself over this."
"My efforts helped produce that."
"I am choosing to let it go for now."

Unself-Responsible Language Definition:

Words and phrases that deny responsibility for one's actions and feelings, limit, confine, or create artificial boundaries, or that place responsibility on someone or something else.

"I can't do it."
"She made me mad."
"It was not my fault."

Can you identify language that is Self-Responsible? Do you want to find out? Take the Self-Responsible Language Quiz which follows. Mark each item as SR (Self-Responsible) or USR (Unself-Responsible). The answer key follows the quiz.

  1. _______“That really bums me out, class.”
  2. _______“That’s too hard. Let’s do a different one.”
  3. _______“Time just got away from me.”
  4. _______“He changed my mind.”
  5. _______“I have to go to my university class this weekend.”
  6. _______“I am frustrated and angry.”
  7. _______“We do not like that kind of behavior here.”
  8. _______“I need a vacation.”
  9. _______“I want you to wait until I am finished listening to Samantha.”
  10. _______“I was fortunate to get this job.”
  11. _______“I apologize for what I said yesterday. I’m sorry. I just got carried away.”
  12. _______“The choice I made produced an outcome I did not like.”
  13. _______“I did not have time to put it on the homework help line.”
  14. _______“You’d better quiet down. My nerves are getting to me.”
  15. _______“I’m going to lose my temper if you keep that up.”
  16. _______“I am feeling frustrated.”
  17. _______“I would prefer it if you’d hand this in by Monday.”
  18. _______“It takes me a while to get going in the morning. That is just the way I am.”
  19. _______“It takes me a while to get going in the morning.  I am obviously not a morning person.
  20. _______“I get really excited when the mood overtakes me.”




Self-Responsible Language: Answer Key

1.   “That really bums me out, class.” (Unself-Responsible)

No one can make you feel or do anything. It is your choice.

2.   “That’s too hard. Let’s do a different one.” (Unself-Responsible)

Too is a “primary preventer.” People use too to prevent taking action and following through: “It’s too wet to mow the grass.” They use it to prevent themselves from feeling or from being seen as able: “I am too old.” They use it to prevent taking full responsibility for the way they act: “I was too mad to say nice things to her.” Some people use it to prevent risk or change: “She’s too good-looking to ask for a date.” And others use it to prevent failure: “That is too hard.”

Too is also an excuse. It is used as a defense to justify actions or inactions: “It was too hot in the gym for me to perform well.” It is used to rationalize a result: “I was too nervous at the start of the game.” And, it’s used to “cop out”: “He was too upset for me to tell him.”

Too is used in a variety of situations, most of which are related to limits. Most are not true. The temperature may be 100 degrees. Still, it’s not too hot to mow the grass.

You’re not too old to start jogging. Of course, it’s intelligent to consult a doctor and start slowly if you’re past a certain age. Still, some people begin jogging at the age of 80.

You’re really not too tired to correct the math papers. If someone called to invite you to a party, you’d be out the door in five minutes, and your gait would reflect energy and enthusiasm. Correcting those papers has nothing to do with being too tired.

3.  “Time just got away from me.” (Unself-Responsible)

If you want to dodge responsibility for being late, this sentence is appropriate. It’s intended to give the impression that you were working hard not to let time get away, yet it managed to get away despite your valiant efforts. What better excuse for showing up one hour late or not getting the papers back to the students in a timely manner than blaming your tardiness on “time getting away”?

4.  “He changed my mind.” (Unself-Responsible)

No one can change your mind but you. He may have given you some new ideas. He may have given you a new angle to consider. It was you, however, who changed your own mind.

5.  “I have to go to my university class this weekend.” (Unself-Responsible)

Using have to, got to and must is one more way you reduce personal power in your life. Do these sound familiar?

“I have to get to work now.”
“I’ve got to remember his birthday.”
“I’ve got to help her with her homework.”
“I must call my mother this weekend.”

Have to is a self-limiting phrase that suggests you have no choice in a situation. It is an absolute that leaves you no room to negotiate. Choosing such language reinforces your belief that you have no options, and leaves you feeling powerless and out of control.

Also, the words have to are not accurate. Actually, on close examination, it becomes clear you don’t really have to go to work now. There are several other options available to you, including the following:

You can call in sick.
You can quit.
You can say you overslept.
You can take a personal leave day.
You can just show up late with no explanation and take your chances that no one will notice.

No, you don’t have to go to work now. You can choose an alternative and accept the resulting consequences. That’s a choice you make every day. You are choosing to go to work either because you want to, or because you don’t want to experience the consequences of not going. Either way, it’s your choice.

6.  “I am frustrated and angry.” (Self-Responsible)

This is a variation of “I’m choosing to be frustrated.” It uses “I” language to own the feeling.

“She is frustrating me” or “That gets me really frustrated” denies your role in the creation of frustration. Such phrases are not examples of language that is personally responsible.

7.  “We do not like that kind of behavior here.” (Unself-Responsible)

Another language technique for increasing self-responsibility is to speak for yourself. Consider the following:

“People resent those things.”
“We don’t like that.”
“You feel scared when something like that happens.”
“Parents care about their children.”

Each sentence above contains a word that represents “I and others.” The italicized words are examples of speaking collectively; surrounding yourself and your statement with support from imagined others. The others are used to bring clout to the statement, as if your feeling or opinion were not enough.

“We don’t like that” is an admission that your voice has to have support to give it meaning and importance. It’s like saying, “I am not enough, but if I surround myself with all these other people (we), maybe you’ll think my opinion is important.”

Using “I and others” is an example of not speaking for yourself and diminishes your personal power. It is not a personally responsible style of communicating.

A helpful alternative to “I and others” is to eliminate the others. Use the word “I” and speak for yourself.

“I don’t like that” tells how you feel about a situation. It’s a sharing of your feelings and an effort to let others know where you stand. It is an example of speaking for yourself and it has a ring of personal power. It’s a self-responsible style of communicating.

8.  “I need a vacation.” (Unself-Responsible)

There are only three real needs in our lives. We need food, water, and love. If we don’t have food or water, eventually we die. The same holds true for love, at least in our earliest years. If infants aren’t stroked, cuddled, or loved, they die. Food, water, and love are basic needs. All others are imagined needs.

You don’t really need a vacation. Certainly you want one. Probably your deserve one. And you’ll survive without one. You might not like it, but you can exist without a vacation this year.

In the same sense, all of our supposed needs are actually wants.

I do not need a new car. I want one.
I do not need attention. I want attention.
I do not need more money. I want some.
I do not need your help. I want it.

I need” and “I want” are ways to describe the desires in our lives. They are different words that send different messages.

“I need” is a whiny phrase. It signals dependency. The more you need something, the more dependent you become. When you are dependent on anything in the outside world, you give away your personal power.

If you need your student to get their work in on time in order to be happy, you transfer the responsibility for your happiness to your students. If you need a new job to be self-fulfilled, you transfer the responsibility of your self-fulfillment to the job. If you need recognition from others, you transfer the responsibility for self-esteem to others.

I need has expectations attached to it. When you announce “I need something,” it’s as if you expect someone else to fulfill that need for you. Since you expect your need to be met from outside, you assume a more positive stance and aren’t as likely to work toward satisfying your desire.

I want is a more self-sufficient expression. It signals independence. It is simply a statement of desire with no expectation attached to it. Because you don’t expect someone else to satisfy your desire, you assume a more active stance and are more likely to work toward fulfilling your desire.

9.  “I want you to wait until I am finished listening to Samantha.” (Self-Responsible)

See No. 8 above.

10. “I was fortunate to get this job.” (Unself-Responsible)

There are many words and phrases in our language that refer to the concept of luck. Some of the more popular words are good fortune, chance, magic, and coincidence. These words, which embellish the myth that luck exists and is at work in our lives, can be heard in sentences such as the following:

“You’re lucky I am in a good mood today.”
“She led a charmed life.”
“Wow, what a coincidence!”
“What an unfortunate string of events.”
“I’m just jinxed today.”

Assigning success, lack of success, or any other situation in your life to luck is a way of disowning the role you play in it. It is one more technique for giving up responsibility and handing it over to something else, in this case, to luck.

The language of luck diminishes personal power. It dilutes the faith and confidence you have in yourself and gives some unknown outside force credit for success and failure. It’s a way you have of seeing yourself as helpless, at the mercy of fate or fortune.

Use of the language of luck is also a variation of the “Blame Game.” It sets up a mysterious external force as a source to blame when things don’t turn out well.

“I didn’t have any luck with him at all.”
“Unfortunately, everything went wrong with my presentation.”
“It just wasn’t in the cards.”

We can understand wanting to assign responsibility to fate or fortune when things don’t go well. What is harder to understand is why people give the credit for their hard work and resulting success to the concept of luck.

“I just fell into it.”
“I stumbled onto that idea at the library.”
“It came my way one day.”
“I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Maybe there is no such thing as luck. Life appears, in one sense, to be an ongoing mixture of good breaks and bad breaks. Yet, in another sense, it is really nothing more than good or poor preparation, abundance or lack of skills, seeing many or few alternatives. Opportunities come and opportunities go. How a person chooses to see those opportunities, and the skills and preparation a person brings to those opportunities, have more to do with success than good fortune does.

11. “I apologize for what I said yesterday. I’m sorry. I just got carried away.” (Unself-Responsible)

This is a convenient and simple way to speak if you want to fool yourself into believing you are not responsible. After all, how could it possibly be your responsibility, or any of your doing, when you were picked up and moved by some obscure, unnamed external force? The next time you want to disown responsibility for one of your actions, just tell yourself you got carried away. That will alleviate your concern and help you see yourself as not personally responsible.

12. “The choice I made produced an outcome I did not like.” (Self-Responsible)

You take responsibility when you see the choices you have and speak in ways that articulate those choices.

13. “I did not have time to put it on the homework help line.” (Unself-Responsible)

A more self-responsible alternative to “I didn’t have time to do it” is “I didn’t take the time to do it.”  “I didn’t have time” is speaking in a way that explains that what happened was mostly beyond your control, that you didn’t have a choice, or that you were not responsible “I didn’t take the time” is a way of speaking that leaves you in control, helps you see yourself as cause, and owns the choices you make about your time.

14. “You’d better quiet down. My nerves are getting to me.” (Unself-Responsible)

Blaming your nerves for an anxious reaction is like holding your hand accountable for striking an angry blow. “My hand did it” makes as much sense as “My nerves did it to me.”

Arnold Palmer, the famous golfer, spoke to this issue. Past his prime and having not won a tournament in several years, Palmer was nevertheless leading in a particular tournament. With two more rounds still to play, the announcer asked, “Arnie, do you think your nerves will hold up?” Arnie never hesitated. He responded with the sureness of someone who wore self-responsibility comfortably: “Oh, I’ve got the same nerves I had 20 years ago,” he said. “My nerves are the same as ever – my nerve may be different, though.”

15.  “I’m going to lose my temper if you keep that up.” (Unself-Responsible)

Speaking this way suggests your temper is separate from yourself. Who is in charge of your temper?

16. “I am feeling frustrated.” (Self-Responsible)

An honest sharing of feeling starts off with an “I” statement. This is the language of someone who owns his or her feelings.

17. “I would prefer it if you’d hand this in by Monday.” (Self-Responsible)

This is an example of a person stating his or her desire simply and directly, leaving others responsible for their own reactions.

18. “I have a low tolerance for excuses, Arturo. That is just the way I am.” (Unself-Responsible)

This style of speaking shuts off possibility so quickly and permanently that we give it a special name: dead-ender. Using a dead-ender leaves you no way out.

“That’s just the way I am.”
“I’ve always been that way.”
“It’s just a natural state of mind.”
“I’m a Pisces.”
“That’s life.”
“That’s destiny.”
“I’m just like my dad.”

Each of these dead-enders is a variation of “There isn’t anything I can do.” Each locks you into a set position from which there is no escape. Each is psychological programming that diminishes your sense of personal power.

Dead-enders limit your response-ability. Once you’ve said, “That’s just the way I am,” to yourself, you have decreased the possibility of making other responses. With those words, you convince yourself that there are logical reasons why you continue to make the same limited response. And since your rational mind continues to send you messages that support your thinking, you stay trapped by a belief that is inaccurate.

19. “It takes me a while to get going in the morning.  I am obviously not a morning person.”  (Unself-Responsible)

See No 18 above.

20. “I get really excited when the mood overtakes me.” (Unself-Responsible)

This phraseology suggests that it’s the mood’s fault, as if the mood were separate somehow from the person choosing it. “It overtook me” means I had no control, and therefore I am not responsible.

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching.They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: and


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