Thought for the Week
“You are not the center of the universe, Alec. Not everything happens because of you! Do you think God gets up every morning, and says, ‘Boy, I’d love to do some terrific stuff today, but I can’t because Alec will just screw it all up’?” ~Healing River
According to happiness researcher Alex Lickerman, M.D., the core issue is our view of causality, where we see adversity as coming from.
Pessimists tend to attribute adversity “to forces that are internal (‘This is all my fault’), universal (‘This affects absolutely everything’), and immutable (‘This isn’t changeable’).” This places them at a disadvantage by preventing them from overcoming adversity, and making them prone to depression and PTSD.
On the other hand, Pollyanna-esque optimism isn’t the solution either. In fact, it can be just another form of self-explanatory style, resulting in a reduction in effort (“things always just work out for me”) and consequent failure.
The real solution, Lickerman says, may be adopting an explanatory flexibility style, i.e. reformulating how we think about and respond to negative events. The “ABCDE” model of learned optimism teaches people to do that by following these steps:
- Adversity – Think about what kind of adversity you’re facing (health, relationships, job) E.g. You’ve started a new exercise plan, but are having trouble sticking to it.
- Belief – What thoughts that are running through your head? “I’m no good at following my workout plan,” “I’ll never be able to reach my goals.”
- Consequence – What sort of behaviors have emerged from those beliefs? Did they keep you from reaching your goals, make it more difficult to stick to your plan, tend to skip workouts more or put in less effort? (Self-fulfilling prophecy).
- Dispute – Dispute your beliefs. Look for other examples that prove those beliefs wrong. E.g. consider other times you have set a goal, worked toward it, and reached it.
- Energization – Let your disputation (above) energize you to rethink, reformulate, and renew your efforts.
Clinical studies have shown the above approach helps people to move from a counter-productive self-explanatory style to a solution-oriented explanatory flexibility approach. So, no, it’s not about you…
But it is about how you respond.