Choosing the Worst Possible Explanation

This is one of "22 virus definitions" (thought-mistakes that cause ineffectiveness and unnecessary negative emotions).

The Republicans won because they manipulated the election results. The air is polluted is because nobody cares. The reason she left me is I’m a loser. These are all explanations of events. And of course these are not the only possible explanations for those events. In fact, with a little time, most people could come up with many alternative explanations, some of them more likely to be true. But when you're feeling down, you are more likely to explain setbacks with the worst possible explanation. And this tends to make you feel even more demoralized.

In other words, the more disheartened you get, the more likely you are to choose the worst possible explanation, which can make discouragement a self-perpetuating, self-feeding, downward spiral.

What can you do about it? Simple: Notice you have chosen a dire explanation, realize it’s not the only possible one, and make a list of other, less dire, more likely explanations. It always comes back to using the antivirus for your mind. Always do it in writing. It doesn't take long and it works like magic.

Write down what you think caused your setback. This is your "explanation" of the setback. Now find something wrong with that explanation. One thing that might be wrong — one possible thought-mistake — is assuming your explanation is the only valid one when it isn't. The solution is to make a list of possible alternative explanations. Think of something else (something less depressing) that explains the setback just as well.

For example, you start a new business, you're feeling enthusiastic, but after a few months, things aren't going as well as you'd hoped, and it slowly dawns on you it is going to take longer than you thought to make good money. This is a setback. Remember, a setback is anything that happens that you didn't want to happen. Or anything that doesn't happen that you wanted to happen. So this is a setback: You're not making money as quickly as you thought.

You feel discouraged because you automatically explained the setback with the worst possible explanation, "People don't want my product." Okay, that's an explanation of the setback. But it's only one of many possible explanations. So you try to come up with alternative explanations. What other reasons would explain why you aren't making as much money as you thought you would? You might write a list like this:

  1. I didn't know much about this business when I started, so my predictions in the beginning were bound to be wrong.
  2. It takes awhile for people to find out about my business.
  3. I didn't spend enough money on advertising.
  4. I spent money on the wrong kind of advertising.
  5. My original expectations were unrealistic.
  6. I'm just being impatient.

These are explanations of the setback. Any of these explanations would be less disheartening than the one you came up with first. Which explanation do you choose? It depends. If one of them seems more right than the others, you can choose that one. But you also have the option of not choosing any. In truth, your setback was probably caused by more than one factor, and you may not know which ones.

As far as your feeling of discouragement is concerned, it doesn't really matter. As soon as you recognize your explanation isn’t the only one possible, you will almost immediately feel your mood lifting. Your head will come out of the darkness and it will become easier and easier to think of less catastrophic explanations than the first one you came up with. Your rising mood will start to work in your favor, creating an upward spiral.

See the complete list of definitions: The 22 Virus Definitions.

No comments:

Post a Comment