Whenever a setback or failure occurs, you will explain it. You can’t help it. Your explanation will come quickly and automatically. And your explanation will seem entirely self-evident. Some of your explanations are good, some will make you feel bad unnecessarily, and some will make you less capable of dealing with the setback successfully.
The main technique in my book, Antivirus for the Mind, is to look at your explanation and see if you've made any thought-mistakes.
If you then find mistakes in your explanation, you will naturally form new explanations of the setback. The question for today (What would be a more reasonable explanation?) goes straight to the task of creating a new explanation. You can use the question as a sort of shortcut to the antivirus for the mind once you've trained yourself to detect mistakes in your explanations. You can also use this question if you don’t have time to look for mistakes and want a quick and dirty method. After a setback occurs, notice the explanation you automatically made for it, and then ask yourself what would be a more reasonable explanation.
For example, let's say you have a goal to make ten thousand dollars this month but by the end of the month, you didn't achieve your goal. This is a failure, and you will explain it automatically. Let's say you explain it like this: "The economy isn't doing very well right now."
But then you use today's question. You ask yourself, "Is there a more reasonable explanation?" Not that there is anything horribly wrong with your first explanation. It's that not bad. It takes the blame off yourself, so it will keep you from feeling too bad about it. But on the other hand, the explanation leaves you somewhat powerless. It doesn't give you any avenue for finding a way to make ten thousand dollars when the economy is doing poorly, which leaves you somewhat helpless in the face of forces outside yourself.
So you try to think of another explanation (something that is true). "I didn't do all I planned on doing. That's why I didn't make the ten thousand dollars." This explanation gives you an avenue to pursue that might actually lead to you achieving your goal next month regardless of what the economy is doing.
It's always good to come up with more than one alternative explanation. So you try again. "I wasted a lot of time on the least profitable part of my business. If I eliminated that part of my business, I would have more time for the more profitable things." Again, this could lead to actions that might make you more capable of hitting your goal next month.
Every failure is probably influenced by many different factors. Trying to come up with alternative explanations opens your mind to factors in your power to control, and that not only makes you feel better, it makes you more capable of changing things in the future.
If an event happens and you feel bad about it, your feelings derive largely from how you explained the event. And your ability to deal with the setback is influenced by the way you explained it. However reasonable your automatic explanation is, can you think of an even better explanation? If you can, it will change your feelings and your capabilities.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.