Imagine you are on the road, driving your car, and suddenly you are approached by a very fast-moving car that races around you and speeds off into the distance. You might shake your fist at this car and think “What a jerk!“ You might even honk, as my partner does to “show them a lesson.” Psychologists call this Fundamental Attribution Error, and it’s part of a social psychology theory called Attribution Theory.
While that person who cut you off in traffic may be a jerk, it’s also likely that they could be late for a meeting, or even rushing someone to the emergency room. We actually cannot know what someone’s motivations for behavior are, and what helps me when cars race around me or otherwise behave oddly in traffic, is to remember that I can’t possibly know what’s going on inside of that driver’s head.
Attribution theory gets really interesting when we apply it to ourselves. let’s say that you had an unsuccessful launch in your business. In trying to understand it, you could either say, “Hey it had nothing to do with me. Ten other people were launching at the same time, and December is a terrible month to get people to buy something anyway. On the other hand, you could say, “I fouled it up.” Those would be external, and internal reasons, respectively, shown on the chart above. The additional factor in Attribution Theory is that those internal or external reasons can either be 1. temporary, or 2. permanent. Some temporary external reasons for the failed launch are what I stated above. If ten other people are launching, or December is a terrible month, then those reasons are obviously temporary. A permanent external reason might be something like, “The market and business world are stacked against me.”
Where it gets interesting is the internal reasons. If “I fouled it up” is temporary, then it might be something like, “I had a cold,” or “I hired the wrong assistant,” or even ” I just broke up with my partner and was distracted.” If it was a permanent attribution, then you might say to yourself, “I’m a failure,” or “I’m not cut out for business.”
I want you to notice here that the only thing that we have complete and total control over is the internal temporary attribution. Here is where the magic comes in. Be conscious of how your mind is creating your reality. First of all, you can control your mind and your reality by eliminating the permanent attributions altogether. if we consider something permanent, then you have created an internal block which prevents you from even noticing if the external situation changes. I’m asking you to be a bit irrational, because I personally believe that everything external is temporary, and I have seen examples of changes that seem unbelievable. But this is not the point. The point is that we become more resourceful individuals when we think that the attributions for our failures are temporary. Everything changes after all.
Now the next piece of magic is not so magic, really, but just makes common sense. Your power comes from your internal attributions. All the power that ever was or will be is here now. In addition, all of that power is inside you. If we blame things on an external source, we are giving away our power. It’s functional, within limits, to take responsibility for everything that happens to us. Now, mind you, I am not saying that it is your fault that you get sick, for example. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people all over the world. But, if I say I take responsibility for my flu, then I will take Vitamin C, rest in bed, do whatever is necessary to get myself well, and I might even get a flu shot next year. Consider the difference between, “the flu is going around, it’s not my fault that I got it,” and “ I let myself get really run down, and I got the flu.” The situation is the same. I have the flu. The second sentence however, allows me to take action, and puts me in a more powerful position whether or not I got the flu from being run down. The reasons we get the flu are complex. What I’m interested in is your power, and your power is increased when you can consider that some part of that was internal.
Now, one more thing about attribution. And this is more about your default condition rather than attribution. A friend asked me about how often I get sick, and I replied “Not very often. My attitude about colds illness is that they are temporary interruptions in my sense of overall wellness.” She was shocked, because she realized at that moment that she considered wellness to be a temporary Interruption between illnesses. So, as I said, this is not about attribution as it is about what you consider to be your default position.
Here’s something to consider, What is your default position on wellness, wealth, happiness, gratitude? Would changing your default positions on these questions change your life?