Explaining Adversity Are You Bloom, Doom, or Gloom?

Explaining Adversity – Are You Bloom, Doom, or Gloom?

What do you tell yourself when you goof? Did you know we all have a default explanatory style? Leave it to the psychologists and social scientists to study this one!

Actually, people like me who work with clients in a coaching role, actively listen to spot the thought patterns that “pull the client down or pull the client up”. Furthermore, research demonstrates that people who are naturally resilient have an optimistic explanatory style—that is, they explain adversity in optimistic terms to avoid falling into feelings of helplessness.

The scientist who’s studied this the most is University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin P. Seligman. He believes most people can be immunized against the negative thinking habits that may tempt them to give up after failure. In fact, 30 years of research suggests that we can learn to be optimistic and resilient—often by changing our explanatory style.

The Three “P’s”!

In my book, Smart2Smarter, I developed a resilience assessment called “What Are You Thinking?” based on Martin Seligman’s theory of a default style of explaining events. According to Seligman, we choose to explain events using three basic dimensions of Permanence (how much you believe that something you are experiencing is permanent or temporary), Pervasiveness (situational factors cause an effect or the effect is evidence of more universal factors) and Personalization (something about you influenced the outcome, as opposed to something external to you).

Those with an optimistic mindset chose to explain setbacks as temporary, local and changeable:

  • “The problem will resolve quickly…”
  • “It’s just this one situation…”
  • “I can do something about it…”

In contrast, individuals who have a pessimistic mindset chose to explain and respond to failure differently. They habitually think setbacks are permanent, universal and immutable:

  • “Things are never going to be any different…”
  • “This always happens to me…”
  • “I can’t change things, no matter what…”

Resilience Training- From the Military to Your Workplace

The good news is that people are not born with either an Optimistic or Pessimistic mindset. One’s default explanatory style is learned behavior – through self-talk, emotional memories (iceberg stories), or by accepting other people’s behavior or words – You are smart or you are a loser OR not getting picked to be on a sport team or not getting a promotion.

Marty Seligman and Karen J. Reivich, University of Pennsylvania, developed a Master Resilience Training program for the United States Army that emphasizes positive psychology, mental toughness, use of existing strengths and building strong relationships. I applaud the program’s success! Similarly, Smart2Smarter offers workplace training, leadership coaching along with a Certified Resilience Coach program with emphasis on many of the same social and emotional competencies that our military leaders are learning.

So, what is your own or your workplace’s default “thinking style” – bloom, doom or gloom? Your comments welcomed.


Cynthia Kivland, Author and President Smart2Smarter Coaching, Training and Assessment Services has over twenty five years of accomplished career coaching experience working with very smart people, leaders and teams including MBA’s, military, scientists, CEO’s, and healthcare professionals. Join Cynthia’s Career and Workplace Resilience group on LinkedIn. To have a chat about coaching, training and career resilience resources Contact Cynthia.

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