How Looking Back Shapes Your Way Forward

How do you interpret adversity in your life?

In today’s article we’ll examine what is known as your explanatory style (how you explain the nature of your past events) and how that correlates to your future happiness and success.

Often referred to as the grandfather of positive psychology, Martin Seligman has been a major force in this field over the last several decades. He has helped refocus the study of psychology to not only include where humans are deficient, but also where they excel and how we can benefit in our own lives.

For example, in 1986, Seligman and Shulman published an article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that theorized there are two types of explanatory styles when faced with adversity:

Optimistic – a person who views the situation as temporary and local (i.e, “things will improve, it isn’t really that bad”)
Pessimistic – a person who views the situation as more permanent in nature (i.e., “this is terrible, it is never going to change”).

The study outcomes demonstrated that each group’s beliefs directly affected their actions. Those in the optimistic group pushed forward which led to higher performance, while the pessimists fell prey to helplessness and stopped making an effort to improve their situation. In short, how you explain your world can impact your future results.

In Shawn Achor’s excellent book,” The Happiness Advantage” he reveals that explanatory style predicts everything from how well students do in high school to how well collegiate and professional athletes perform athletically. From a health perspective, MF Scheier et al published an article in 1986 revealing this – explanatory styles predicted how well people recovered after coronary bypass surgery. No joke!

What can you take away from all this?

1. Pay closer attention to how you explain the nature of events in your life. Are you consistently optimistic or pessimistic?
2. Your explanatory style actually has an impact on your future performance – use it to your advantage!

Action: for the next 3 days, think about how you are explaining your situation to yourself and others around you. Are you seeing the bright side or the dark side? Track this and make adjustments as needed – it matters!

Who in your life needs to read or hear about this article? If you found this enlightening, share it with someone who could benefit!

Until next week,