perspective and self talkLast week’s post outlined key points from Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This groundbreaking book laid the foundation for the rapidly growing field of Positive Psychology that Seligman went on to establish during his presidency of the American Psychological Association.

In his follow up book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Seligman wrote,

“Pessimists have a particularly pernicious way of construing their setbacks and frustrations. They automatically think that the cause is permanent, pervasive and personal: ‘It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything, and it’s my fault.’…Optimists, in contrast, have a strength that allows them to interpret their setbacks as surmountable, particular to a single problem, and resulting from temporary circumstances or other people.”

It’s all too easy to listen to others tell us how we “should” feel about positive or negative events in our lives. We think and act according to our deep-rooted habits about what we think we “should” do in response. Unless we become more aware of our own thoughts, we don’t realize how automatic — and possibly destructive — they’ve become.

Positive psychology builds on and extends the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach pioneered by Aaron Beck to treat depression to help non-depressed people increase their happiness and flourish. A key component of CBT is our automatic explanatory style. This is defined by the “three Ps” of permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.

Our explanatory style establishes the glasses or frames through which we create reality. If we build the skills or habits of using an optimistic or leading style, the three Ps are a stairway to ever higher effectiveness in our personal and professional lives. If we’ve habitually chosen a negative or wallowing style, we slide ever deeper into the swamp of unhappiness, despair, and lowered leadership effectiveness.



Explaining Bad Events:

Permanent (Pessimistic/Wallowing)

Temporary (Optimistic/Leading)

“I am such a loser.” “I was really off my game today.”
“My boss is a jerk.” “My boss really messed up this time.”
“You’re always late.” “You’ve been late three times in the past week.”


Explaining Good Events:

Temporary (Pessimistic/Wallowing)

Permanent (Optimistic/Leading)

“I caught a lucky break.” “My luck’s holding up again.”
“Looks like they gave in on this one.” “I am persistent and persuasive.”
“My competitor messed up.” “My service is clearly better.”




Explaining Bad Events:

Universal (Pessimistic/Wallowing)

Specific (Optimistic/Leading)

“All (managers/workers/______) are idiots.” “He was really off the mark on this one.”
“I am a terrible parent.” “Our teenager is going through a tough phase.”
“I am useless at figuring out technical problems.” “These instructions are very poorly written.”


Explaining Good Events:

Specific (Pessimistic/Wallowing)

Universal (Optimistic/Leading)

“That turned out surprisingly well.” “I am a strong leader.”
“Wonder what got into them this time.” “We’re an effective team.”
“Guess somebody was actually listening.” “I am a good communicator.”




Explaining Bad Events:

Hopeless (Wallowing)

Hopeful (Leading)

“I am just not smart enough.” “Emotional Quotient (EQ) is much more important than Intellectual Quotient (IQ).”
“Just like a man/woman.” “I caught him/her at a bad time.”
“With my luck, this is likely cancer, and I’ll be dead next month.” “The odds are in my favor, and this is likely benign.”


Explaining Good Events:

Hopeless (Wallowing)

Hopeful (Leading)

“We barely made it this time.” “We’re good.”
“I wonder what my spouse is really up to.” “My spouse is considerate and caring.”
“That was a lucky fluke.” “My hard work paid off.”



During one of my workshops, we were discussing keys to building responsibility and ownership. One participant told us that he and his wife had their four-year-old grandson, Tyler, stay overnight at their house. In the morning, he came running down the stairs and reported, “Grandma, Grandpa, somebody peed in my bed!”

Who do you think did that? Was it Grampa the trickster!? Part of a kid’s growth is learning to take responsibility for their actions. However, it’s too easy to grow older and become an adult without growing up.

The good news is that you can stop P-ing and should’ing yourself! But after years of walking around with “opticalrectumitis” — and maybe even wet pants — it’s not easy to change your crap glasses. You may need a coach, mentor, training, therapy, a support group, structured personal growth program or other such help. By thinking about our thinking, we can become more aware of the reality we’re creating for ourselves and change our world.