A SETBACK IS ANYTHING you
wanted to happen that didn't happen or anything you didn't
want to happen that happened. That means we experience setbacks
several times a day. It is a rare day that everything goes exactly
the way you want.
When a setback occurs,
you explain it to yourself. That is a natural and unintentional
result of any setback. You explain what caused it. You don't
explain events deliberately; usually you attribute the causes
of events automatically. The automatic, natural, habitual way
you explain events is called your explanatory style.
For example, if Jim and
Sue lost their jobs from the same company on the same day, they
may have two entirely different explanations for why they were
laid off, even if the company gave them exactly the same reason.
Jim might think, "The economy is bad. That's why they laid
me off." Sue might think, "They didn't lay off everyone.
They must have chosen me because they noticed I didn't try very
hard." Same circumstance, different explanation. And the
explanation each person made was according to their explanatory
Look at those explanations
again. Which one is the better one? Which explanation will dishearten
the person and which will not? The answer might not be obvious
to you yet. Not many people are well-educated on the principles
of Jim's and Sue's explanations are significantly different.
Jim may feel defeated by his explanation and lack motivation
to try to find another job. His explanation says the cause of
his setback is widespread and out of his control. Sue's explanation,
however, may cause her to decide to get a job she really wants
and to put her heart into it. Her explanation was more specific
and the cause is under her control.
Explanatory style will
determine whether a person is demoralized by a setback or unaffected
by it or even motivated by it. And this difference, as it accumulates
momentum with the daily setbacks we all experience, greatly alters
the trajectory of a person's life. It will also have an impact
on the person's health. Read more about it in Martin Seligman's
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and
Your Life and David
Burns' Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and
The approach is scientific
and effective. It isn't positive thinking. There is no need (or
desire) to try to believe something you don't actually believe.
The approach is to think more accurately. The aim is to reduce
the number of mistakes we all naturally make in our thinking, and thereby reduce the amount
of helplessness we feel. When we stop making ourselves feel so
helpless and hopeless, our natural determination and fighting
spirit begin to rise and purposeful action becomes inevitable.