Whether you have experienced a set-back in pursuit of a promotion, have been made redundant, or didn’t win the job you desperately wanted after four rounds of interviews, it can be easy to take a pessimistic view and feel like giving up.
But Dr Martin Seligman, professor of psychology and leader of the positive psychology movement, has identified that our explanatory style (the way we explain situations to ourselves), when dealing with misfortune or set-backs, is what makes the difference between giving up and losing confidence, or staying the course and feeling optimistic.
Next time you’re experiencing a set-back, reflect on the ‘3 P’s’ that he has identified, and consider how you can change your internal explanation to overcome setbacks, maintain your confidence and not give up!
People who give up easily explain the negative events that happen to them as permanent. For example, ‘I’m never going to get another job’ or ‘my career is over’. Want to resist this helplessness? Then change your explanation style to; ‘I didn’t get this job, but if I keep plugging away, one will turn up’, or ‘no career is on a constant upward trajectory, so this setback will pass, and my career will start progressing again.’
An all-pervasive explanation of a bad event essentially takes one thing and applies it to all others. For example, if you’ve lost your job, a pervasive explanation would be, ‘I’ve lost my job and now I’ll lose my home, my relationship and my friends.’ To fight off this negative thought spiral, change this explanation to something like, ‘I have lost my job, but have my family and friends to support me through this difficult time.’ See the difference? The last explanation is specific to the situation at hand.
The final ‘P’ is personal, and as you have probably guessed, this explanation style is about making negative events all about you. So instead of, ‘I was a strong fit for that role, but obviously they saw something that appealed to them in the other candidate’, a personal explanation style would be, ‘they clearly didn’t think I was good enough for the job.’
The 3 P’s are a powerful tool to apply when you are experiencing set-backs or negative events. They help to protect your confidence and self-esteem, boosting your optimism and your desire to keep going. If you want to read more on this, then check out Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism.