NOW you spend a certain percentage of your life feeling negative
emotions nervous, frustrated, sad, angry, worried, whatever.
I dont know what the percentage is.
One percent of your waking hours? Five percent? Ten percent?
Whatever it is, the information in this chapter will lower it.
You will spend less of your time feeling badly and more of your
time feeling good.
And you will not only feel good, youll
also become more capable of achieving your goals. The same thing
that causes bad feelings also makes you less competent, less
creative, and less energetic. It also makes you less persistent,
less determined, and more likely to give up on a goal.
And as if that wasnt enough, those
negative feelings are bad for your health.
What causes all these things? What harms
your health, impairs your ability, and makes you feel unnecessary,
unpleasant emotions? One simple thing: Making a lousy explanation
of a setback.
When you experience a setback of any kind,
you explain it. This is one of the most important discoveries
ever made by psychology. When you hit a setback, you will explain
it. You cant help it. The reaction is totally automatic.
And your explanation is about what caused the setback.
For example, lets imagine one morning,
right after you get dressed for work, you spill coffee on your
white shirt. This is a small setback. (A setback is something
you wanted to happen that didnt happen, or something you
didnt want to happen that happened.)
After you spill coffee on your shirt, you
will automatically explain to yourself why it happened. How many
explanations do you think are possible?
Here are a few possible explanations:
a) I am so clumsy!
b) I must have been distracted.
c) I am moving too fast.
d) Ive got too much going on in my life and I cant
e) I cant do anything right!
As you can see, the possible explanations
for this simple setback are almost endless. And as you can also
see, the emotional impact of each explanation can differ quite
a bit. You might feel it is no big deal, or you might feel terribly
upset about the incident, depending on how you explain it to
This fact has important practical implications
very direct and significant practical implications. What
do I mean? Just this: Some explanations help you and some impair
you. If you think, I am moving too fast, and you
slow down a little, that might help. You might prevent further
But if you think you cant do anything
right, you might not slow down, you might feel upset at that
fact, and you might make more mistakes.
That particular explanation not only made
you feel bad, but I cant do anything right
implies you are helpless to change it. That is the worst kind
of explanation you can make if its not true and
it almost never is.
The very same event can cause one person
to be motivated to change something, and another to feel defeated
and helpless, depending on how they explain the setback to themselves.
The reason this simple fact has tremendous
implications is because you and I experience many setbacks every
single day. How many days do you have when everything goes exactly
the way you want?
Because of the habitual way you explain
setbacks, you have a feeling of motivation and confidence ...
or a feeling of discouragement, and the feeling accumulates day
after day. In the long run, the way you explain setbacks to yourself
determines, to an astonishing degree, how your life will turn
Successfully losing weight depends on how
you explain setbacks to yourself. If you want to lose weight
and youve just finished eating too much, this little setback
can make you want to give up on your goal to lose weight, or
it can make you more determined than ever depending on
how you explain your failure to yourself.
If you try to improve your marriage and
your efforts at communicating cause an argument, it can make
you want to throw in the towel or it can make you want to try
harder depending on how you explain this setback.
If you try to lower the level of stress
in your life but your efforts only seem to cause you more stress,
it can make you feel defeated or motivated depending on
how you explain the setback to yourself.
What makes an explanation good or bad?
This is the crucial question. Here is the answer: It is a good
explanation if it doesnt have a lot of mistakes in it.
A bad explanation is one that contains a lot of mistakes. We
will go into much greater detail about that in a minute.
But first, where do our block-headed explanations
come from? How can a perfectly reasonable person like yourself
make explanations bad enough to make you feel bad when its
Bad explanations spring out of four sources:
1. Your brains naturally-occurring
flaws sometimes lead you to explain your setbacks badly.
2. You picked up some of your explanations
of setbacks from what youve heard others say.
3. Sometimes just the nature of reality
itself can give you a false impression.
4. And of course, the intense flood of
negative input from media sources can (and does) influence the
way you explain setbacks.
Those influences enter your mind from many
sources just as a virus can enter your computer from an email,
or from downloading from a website, or it might have been lurking
on a disk a friend gave you.
Wherever your mind viruses
come from, once they enter your mind, they can infect you with
a negative attitude, ruining your mood, harming your health,
impairing your ability to act in your own best interest, and
making it harder to succeed.
If you learn how to improve your explanations,
you can be more successful at everything your relationships
with your children, your job, your golf game, whatever
and why? Because you are far more effective when you feel determined
and motivated than when you feel demoralized (or any other negative
emotion). You are more effective and youre more likely
to try again.
And as you can see, this doesnt only
apply to the big career-busting or heart-rending setbacks. We
all experience many smaller setbacks every day.
We call everyday setbacks by
other names, such as irritation, frustration, disappointment,
annoyance, having a problem, running into trouble, etc. The small
letdowns and difficulties are each a setback that either makes
you feel motivated or makes you feel a negative emotion, depending
on what you have decided caused the setback.
Below are some examples of everyday setbacks.
Notice that some of them dont take the form of an obvious
setback. Thats important to remember:
a) Your wrist ached today for no apparent
b) Your boss seemed sullen and distant
when you tried to talk to her.
c) You have felt tired a lot lately.
d) Youve gone two weeks without smoking
but today you smoked one.
e) You want to cut down on junk food but
you havent done it yet.
f) Youve been trying to think more
positively, but it hasnt worked.
g) Your son doesnt seem to want to
talk to you any more.
h) Youre not as attractive to the
opposite sex as you once were.
A setback is doing worse than you expected.
Remember, a setback is something you wanted to happen that didnt
happen, or something you didnt want to happen that happened.
Each of the setbacks above could be motivating, energizing, fill
you with determination ... or make you feel bad, depending on
what you decide caused the setback.
Read the next chapter: Moment