Building Your Resiliency: Part II – Avoiding Learned Helplessness and Changing Your Explanatory Style

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 3, 2010 · 52 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

This is the second part in a new series designed to help you boost your resiliency. For an introduction, see here.

Starting in 1967, Dr. Martin Seligman began a series of experiments involving 3 groups of dogs. The first group of dogs were given electric shocks, but were able to press a panel with their nose to make the shocks stop. The second group of dogs were given the shocks as well, but had no recourse to make them stop. The third group was the control and received no shocks.

The dogs in the first and third group recovered well from the experiment. But the dogs in the second group, those that had been helpless to stop the pain, developed symptoms similar to clinical depression.

In the second part of the experiment, the dogs were placed in an enclosed box separated by a low barrier over which they could see. When the shocks were administered, all the dogs had the opportunity to easily escape the pain by jumping over the partition, and this is what the dogs in the first and third group did. But the dogs in the second group, those which had previously learned that there was nothing they could do to escape the shocks, simply lay there whimpering and took it. They had come to believe that nothing they did mattered; Dr. Seligman called this behavior “learned helplessness.”

The experiment was repeated with other animals, babies, and adult humans, and the results were the same. Once subjects had been exposed to a situation over which they had no control, they would continue to feel helpless, even in situations where they did have control.

Learning Helplessness

You were an awesome boyfriend, but still got dumped or a wonderful husband who still got cheated on. You’ve always been a good person, but your father died when you were in college, while the jackasses out there still get to go on fishing trips with their dads. You put your heart and soul into your job, but got passed over for the promotion. You worked your butt off in law school, but you still can’t find a job.

When these kinds of things happen, you lose an important sense of control over your life; you stop believing you’re the captain of your destiny. You followed the rules, but you still got screwed. You feel disillusioned, and it becomes easy to develop a jaded, passive “What’s the point?” philosophy that informs all areas of your life.

But having such an experience doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop “learned helplessness.”

During his research, Seligman noticed a curious phenomena; in all the experiments, a consistent ratio emerged: 2/3 of the test subjects which had experienced a situation over which they had no control developed “learned helplessness,” while the other third did not. They were able to see the helpless situation as an isolated event, and bounce back to proactively face future challenges.

Dr. Seligman wanted to know the secret of the 1/3 who felt helpless in one situation, but didn’t carry this feeling over to new challenges. Why did the exact same events produce such different responses? The answer turned out to be something called explanatory style.

Explaining Explanatory Style

Dr. Seligman discovered that the difference between those who were able to bounce back and those who were susceptible to learned helplessness was rooted in the different ways people explain the things that happen to them.

Seligman argues that our interpretation of events can be broken down into three categories:

  • Personalization (internal vs. external)
  • Pervasiveness (specific vs. universal)
  • Permanence: (temporary vs. permanent).

The authors of The Resilience Factor helpfully rename these categories in an easier to remember way and explain their meaning:

  • Me/Not Me
  • Always/Not Always
  • Everything/Not Everything:

“A ‘Me, Always, Everything’ person automatically, reflexively believes that he caused the problem (me), that it is lasting and unchangeable (always), and that it will undermine all aspects of his life (everything).When problems arise, a “Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything person believes that other people or circumstances caused the problem (not me), that it is fleeting and changeable (not always), and that it will not affect much of his life (not everything).”

For obvious reasons, studies have shown that those with a “Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything” explanatory style are the most optimistic, while those with a “Me, Always, Everything” explanatory style are prone to pessimism and depression. Once MAE’s fail at something, they are susceptible to experiencing “learned helplessness” for a long time and across many areas of their life.

The effect of your explanatory style not just on your resiliency but on your whole life cannot be overstated. Those with a pessimistic, “Me, Always, Everything” explanatory style are more prone to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and paralyzing inertia in the face of setbacks. Those with an optimistic, Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything style, on the other hand, experience improved health and happiness and significantly more success in the workplace, at school, and on the playing field.

An Example of Explanatory Style

Let’s examine one situation and see how a Me, Always, Everything man reacts compared to a Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything man.

Len gets fired from his job:

  • If Len tends to a Me, Always, Everything thinking style then he might explain this event by saying, “I’m such an incompetent accountant. I was always out of my league at the office (Me). I’ll never be able to find another good job. (Always). My wife is probably going to leave me now. Man, my life is so screwed up. (Everything).”
  • Now if Len has a Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything explanatory style, then he might explain this event by saying, “I got fired because there just isn’t very much work for me to do anymore, and the company is trying to be more efficient. (Not Me). The economy is really making holding a job difficult. But things will eventually turn around. (Not Always). The job wasn’t a good fit for me anyway; I really wasn’t using my true talents. At least I have a good wife at home to help me through this (Not Everything).”

Flexible Optimism

None of use the same explanatory style with everything in our lives. For instance, while optimistic people tend to use a Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything approach when dealing with bad events, they use the opposite style when good things happen. And vice versa for pessimistic people. And we can give into “learned helplessness” even when we know it’s not our fault-it’s not “Me” but it is “Always” and “Everything.” Ie., you worked your butt off in grad school but you can’t find a job because the job market is crap. It’s not your fault but you find yourself feeling like things will never get better and responding passively to everything in your life.

Also, while a “Me, Always, Everything” approach can cause a person significant problems, always using a “Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything” style can also be unhealthy. Because sometimes it is your fault. You can slough off all of your personal responsibility for failures to keep from getting depressed, but you’ll also keep yourself from ever being successful in life. You can admit it’s your fault without going farther and believing the problem is pervasive and permanent.

Finally, sometimes you’re right to be pessimistic. A bit of pessimism keeps you vigilant and prevents you from taking foolish risks. There’s no need to be blindly optimistic; Pollyanna was never an icon of manliness.

So the key is not to wear rose-colored glasses all the time, but to be what Seligman calls a “flexible optimist.” This means seeing the world accurately, reacting appropriately-using the right explanatory style at the right time-and not letting pessimism obscure the things you legitimately have going for you.

Relearning Your ABC’s

So the bad news is that having a pessimistic explanatory style can have a big negative impact on your life. The good news is that you can change your explanatory style for the better. And it’s as easy as ABC. How we encounter and react to life’s setbacks can be broken down like this:

A: Adversity. We face a setback or challenge.

B: Beliefs. Our thoughts, feelings, and interpretation of the setback. These beliefs lead to:

C: Consequences. How we act because of our beliefs about the setback.

So we can’t change the A. But we can change the B, which will lead to a new C. It’s not adversity itself that creates our reactions, but our beliefs about our adversity. If your beliefs have been leading to negative, non-resilient responses that are dragging you down, you have to short circuit this reaction by changing your beliefs about challenges.

Here’s an example of a pessimistic ABC in action:

Adversity: James frequents a coffee shop because he has a crush on the girl at the register. He finally works up the courage to ask her out. But instead of saying yes, she turns him down.

Beliefs: James thinks: “Geez, I’m such a freakin loser. I’m not attractive and don’t have anything to offer women. I’m never going to find a girlfriend.”

Consequences: James alternates between feeling depressed and angry for the next week. He can’t muster up the courage to ask another girl out for over a year.

James’ beliefs about what happened led to an overly negative reaction. To get a better outcome, he needs to change his beliefs by disputing them.

Disputing Your Beliefs

Just because you have certain beliefs, even if you have held them for as long as you can remember, that doesn’t make them true. False beliefs will limit your ability to get to the root of your problem and will limit the solutions you are able to come up with. If you have some beliefs that are sabotaging your resiliency, you need to dispute them, challenge them, and have an argument with yourself.

Dr. Seligman recommends judging your beliefs on 4 criteria. Let’s take a look at them and explore how James could have reacted more resiliently to the rejection he received:

1. Evidence. What are the real facts in the situation? Does the evidence support your belief or vanquish it?

  • James could think, “I’m not a loser. I’m an Oxford scholar, I’ve done an Ironman, and I’ve got a great job at a prestigious law firm.”

2. Alternatives: Pessimists have a tendency to latch onto the most dire of explanations for a bad event, ignoring more positive alternate explanations.

  • James could think, “Maybe she had a boyfriend and that’s why she said no. Maybe she just got out of a bad relationship. It might have nothing to do with me personally at all.”

3. Implications. When faced with a setback, pessimists have a tendency to jump to more and more catastrophic implications. But what are the chances of these implications really happening?

  • James could think, “Just because a girl at a coffee shop turned me down doesn’t mean I’ll never have a girlfriend. I’ve had a girlfriend before and I’ll have one again.”

4. Usefulness. Just because a belief is true, doesn’t mean it’s useful. Clinging to useless beliefs keeps you from working on the things that you actually can change about yourself.

  • James could think: “Yeah, I’m not that attractive. But I have a lot going for me otherwise. Girls like confidence, so what I really need to work on is coming off as more confident and self-assured. Thinking about my unattractiveness is sabotaging that.”

Whenever faced with an ABC, practice disputing your beliefs; have a knock down drag out fight with yourself and figure out what’s really going on. It may be beneficial to journal it, as writing can help you sort through why you’re feeling the way you are, and whether your beliefs are distorting what is really going on. It can also be helpful to have a spouse or trusted friend do the disputing for you. Tell them what you’re upset about and have them challenge you on your beliefs, asking you questions to figure out just how accurate your beliefs actually are.

While at first it will take some effort to stop in the midst of your negative reaction and work on disputing your beliefs, over time it will become natural and will help you respond appropriately, positively, proactively-and resiliently to your challenges.


Learned Optimism by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman

The Resilience Factor by Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatte

Building Your Resiliency: Part I – An Introduction
Building Your Resiliency: Part II – Avoiding Learned Helplessness and Changing Your Explanatory Style
Building Your Resiliency: Part III – Taking Control of Your Life
Building Your Resiliency: Part IV – Iceberg Ahead!
Building Your Resiliency: Part V – Recognizing and Utilizing Your Signature Strengths
Building Your Resiliency: Part VI – Quit Catastrophizing
Building Your Resiliency: Part VII – Building Your Children’s Resiliency

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carl C February 3, 2010 at 2:13 am

That was a very interesting article. I’ve always believed that a Positive Mental Attitude is very important to success.

2 Michael February 3, 2010 at 2:38 am

I know I’ve been down on parts of this site, but this is an example of its best. A pragmatic approach to living up to the ideals of being a strong human being, supported by our increasing understanding of human behavior.

It’s interesting, though — this is also one of the areas which is most gender-neutral. I can’t imagine a woman who wouldn’t benefit from this sort of resiliency as well.

3 Jeffrey February 3, 2010 at 2:50 am

Really solid post. It totally explained what my problem is-I’m definitely a “Me, always, everything” guy. Well not so much “Me.” The stuff that’s happened recently in my life wasn’t my fault, but I can’t help feeling that things are never going to get better and my whole life is f-ed up. I really need to get it together.

4 Tyler Logan February 3, 2010 at 3:29 am

Nice post. My area of interest lies in psychology and learning helplessness is one of my pet peeves I see in certain people. Holds so many people back. Nice to get this info out there.

5 Milkman Dan February 3, 2010 at 4:02 am

Great article, thanks guys! Been through a fairly rough start to the year & this was just what i needed to get my optimism back! Time to relearn my ABC’s!

6 Richard | February 3, 2010 at 4:21 am

Learned helplessness is something that we studied in Psychology and its something we should all be making sure we don’t get taken by. It’s so easy to fall into that habit. Great post.

7 Rahul February 3, 2010 at 5:39 am

Great Article man, and your site has definitely found a dedicated follower out here in India, I keep checking out your site now almost everytime I need a break at work ;-). I myself am probably a Me/Not Always/ somewhere in between everything and not everything guy.

I do disagree however with the Me/Not Me analysis. I have always in life believed that it is important to take responsibility for our position in life and that means being a ME. ie: Looking back at adverse events or even when stuck in adverse events one should always believe that it is I/Me who can make a difference rather than giving over control to the world/environment and saying “hey, I failed at this because of xyz external factor (because our society is corrupt/because the competition was harder/because I did not have enough resources etc.) In fact, in my world view this is the attitude that will actually save u from depression ie: you acknowledge a situation is bad and instead of blaming others and brooding over your bad luck you decide to do whatever it takes to make it better….. I hope you get my point… how do you reconcile that with your analysis and the book excerpt? I always thought this was the way to live and now you are telling me the exact opposite :-)

8 Dennis February 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

Where else on the web can you find an article like this alongside an article about burpees? AOM is one of my few “go to” sites. You guys are the best!

9 Inkster February 3, 2010 at 8:04 am

So the babies didn’t jump over the wall when they shocked them?

10 Tarcas February 3, 2010 at 9:16 am

Question: Are “Me, Always, Everything” and “Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything” generally the only two options? In some areas of my life, I see myself being more a “Not Me, Always, Not Everything” person (i.e. bureaucracy in both government and work) and in others more a “Me, Not Always, Not Everything” person.
I agree with Carl C above, in that a positive attitude is very important to success. When you decide not to look for a solution to a problem, you won’t find one. I see this being a tendency that a lot of people have.

11 Eric Fawkes February 3, 2010 at 9:35 am

This was a great article! It will really help me think about the manner in which I live my life.

12 Rick Scoutmaster February 3, 2010 at 9:50 am

This is fascinating for me, as it seems to cut to the core of my personality faults, my family tree is riddled with meloncholy types. I’ve had a lot of success, but every inch was a battle with myself. The amazing part is that here we are given a clear picture of the situation, and practical things to do about it. I’ve always known that being thankful for what is good, to be optimistic, is a key to a good life, but it does not seem to work very well for me. I believe ideas have consequences, but this article actually gave me the A,B,C of how to do “positive” while not denying reality. I’m starting now with implementation. I hate my “sometimes” passivity, true men take action! Thank you AOM!

13 Hans Hageman February 3, 2010 at 10:32 am

Good stuff! While this would be regarded as “soft” skills by professional educators, it would do wonders for our culture if Seligman’s work were part of a middle school/high school curriculum.

14 Surreal Deal February 3, 2010 at 10:58 am

As some previous commenters noted, it seems that there are 8 possible combinations of the resilience categories and that this article only looked at two extremes.

I cannot believe that I wrote that, I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut – Now my credibility is ruined. ;-)

15 Jake February 3, 2010 at 11:16 am

I read a story once. In India and Thailand, they have an interesting way of training elephants. They take a baby elephant and chain it to a giant tree and leave him there for a few days. After the baby elephant pulls and tugs and tires himself out, they unchain him. They will move him to smaller and smaller trees, until eventually a full grown elephant can be tied to an old fence post and not so much as try to escape.

You have to identify these moments in your life, not just tell yourself to be more optimistic. I believe that most “learned helplessness” is actually “taught helplessness.”

Anyway, great article. Thanks for posting it!

16 Brett McKay February 3, 2010 at 11:40 am


I definitely agree with taking personal responsibility when appropriate. But I do think there are times when it really is not your fault, and believing it is is going to make you depressed. If your job gets downsized or your wife gets cancer and you blame yourself, that’s not healthy.


Ha! No, they didn’t shock the babies. They did different experiments with them that were based on the same principles as the shock experiment with the dogs.


I tried to explain in the “Flexible Optimism” section that nobody uses the same explanatory style in every situation. There are lots of different combinations obviously. But studies have shown that people do tend to one or the other. “Me” people also tend to be “always” and “everything” people. “Not me” people also tend to be not always, not everything people. And the same is true for all the elements-they tend to correlate together.

@Surreal Deal-

17 john book February 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Great article! I go along with it about 95%.

Great blog!!!! 90% there.

There is also the learned helplessness of not knowing what to do in given situations.
Mom, dad or an authority of some kind always gave the “proper” attitude, action, decision for the child or other person to make. The kid, or who-ever, never was allowed to make any life decisions, let alone any minor daily ones.

Think of the mother who always tells little Jonny to button up his jacket. Dad who always tells him to do something dad’s way or …else! And unfortunately Churches or pastors who are totally dogmatic in what and how to believe. (Please! No offense meant against Christians!! I am a conservative Christian.) The different types of decision-makers in one’s life can go on and on.

I have a great friend who’ in his mid 70s. He can’t decide much of anything. His parents did all that for him a long time ago… and since he got married, his wife totally dictates to him.

He supports all 4 of his kids in one way or another… two of them totally. They can’t make any kind of life decisions either… His kids are in their 40s and 50s and he doesn’t know how to help them more?

I suggested a book on setting boundaries for his adult kids.. but he won’t read it….
Its just too easy to continue as he has for so long……..

Well, again, great article!

18 amy February 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Really nicely done, AOM. I like Seligman’s work on Positive Psychology and his focus on strengths rather than pathology. I think you have done a terrific job of connecting and summarizing some of the best theories and techniques in the field (I also get a major kick out of Ellis–have you heard any of his songs? I think you’d dig “Perfect Rationality” in particular…). I think if all my texts were as practically applicable and well-written as this my Master’s degree would have been more useful. Terrific job–I’m saving this one as a reference for my use with clients.

19 Patrick February 3, 2010 at 1:23 pm

A+. You definitely excel at these self-help articles. Please keep them coming!

20 Michael February 3, 2010 at 1:44 pm


This post rocks! You rock! AoM rocks! In fact, this post is an example of everything that is good about this site.

Plus, I really needed this today and you will never know how much.

21 dave bockman February 3, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I guess my immediate and overarching thought as I read this article was, “What kind of a sick [edit] tortures dogs?”

22 Marc Neilsen February 3, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Great article. I think it has to be one of my favorites so far. Most of us have been that guy who has followed the rules but in the end, still got hurt. I agree, we aren’t able to change certain life events, but we do have the power to modify our response to such events and in the end, learn from our experiences.

Thanks for the article, it was well written and inspirational.

23 James Wells February 3, 2010 at 2:40 pm

@ Brett – Great article. I just read Seligman at the suggestion of my shrink. Between that and cognitive behavior therapy, my depression that has plagued me for years is cured! Much better than the anti-depressants and endless hours of talking about how I felt.

@dave bockman – He did it in the 60′s before the world was enlightened. He has acknowledged in his books that he would not do taht sort of thing anymore.

24 Kevin February 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I’m curious what percentage of men have the explanatory style of “Me, Always, Everything”, “Not Me, Not Always, Not Everything”, or some combination of the two. I’ll definitely pick up the books next time I’m at the library.

I love the articles that give some insight into why we think the way we do. Great stuff.

25 J G February 3, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Brett – Phenomenal post. I love how you weave psychology and identity into a lot of your content. This post was top notch and eye opening. Keep it coming!

26 Brett McKay February 3, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Thanks for the kind words, fellas. I’m glad people are digging it.

You rock, Michael.


As an animal lover, Seligman had serious reservations about hurting the dogs-he found the idea repulsive. But he talked it over with an ethics professor, who helped him realize that the research would help alleviate much more pain in the long run than it did in the short run. And he resolved to stop using the dogs as soon as he got answers to his questions. After his experiments, he never worked with animals again. While animal experimentation is distasteful, the results of such research have done much good for mankind.

27 Sven February 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Wow this site is so amazing. It’s like it’s been setup for me personally. This post is just another brilliant heartwarming eyeopener.. Relearning ABC’s it is then!

28 Jeff Kraykovic February 3, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Another great article, thanks!

29 Tola February 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Great article. Love your site. Long-time reader. I especially liked the part about examining and questioning your beliefs. Our beliefs affect our choices and therefore shape our reality. Beliefs are not good or bad in themselves, they are just tools we have at our disposal to help us create the life we would like to live.

The problems arise when our beliefs do not align with the goals we want to experience. In those instances, it is beneficial to dispute your beliefs using the 4 criteria you mentioned.

I do agree with Rahul in that one must accept 100% responsibility for their current position in life. Blaming something “external,” such as the economy, your spouse, or the government takes away your own power to create and gives it to external forces. In this way, you are limiting yourself. With great power comes great responsibility and we all have within us the greatest power of all, which is to create the lives we wish to experience.

30 Cameron Schaefer February 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Excellent work Brett! Resiliency is a subject that I’ve been really interested in the past several months and you shed light on it in a few new ways I had not considered, thank you.

Resiliency is a trait or characteristic that I believe will be increasingly in demand as our economy continues to transition from the traditional (i.e. work 50 years at the same company, defined benefits packages, etc.) to non-traditional (i.e. lots more freelancing, finance your own retirement, change jobs frequently).

The themes you discuss above are critical to succeeding in any environment!

31 Jordan Felo February 3, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Been reading this sight for a while, really liked this article a whole lot. One of the best things yet.

32 Sir Lancelot February 4, 2010 at 2:16 am

“I have a great friend who’ in his mid 70s. He can’t decide much of anything. His parents did all that for him a long time ago… and since he got married, his wife totally dictates to him. ”

Unfortunately that’s all too common.

Good article. I too have been on occasion a victim of fatalistic thought.

33 Michael February 4, 2010 at 2:38 am

Another great article. A guy’s own mind can be his own best friend or worst enemy. Especially good job of describing the tightrope between taking a setback personally and playing the victim (to me these are both examples of learned helplessness).

Challenging your own beliefs also results in learning, and learning is good.

34 dave bockman February 4, 2010 at 7:02 am


“The experiment was repeated with other animals, babies, and adult humans, and the results were the same.”

35 prufock February 4, 2010 at 10:44 am

This is brilliant. It all sounds so common-sense, but I’m glad to see that there’s research to back it, and the way it’s presented is fantastic. I can definitely recognize moments in my life when I behaved as a me/always/everything person. I’m going to give this another read later. Thank you.

36 DM February 4, 2010 at 10:53 am

There is this funny little guy named Morty Lefkoe who has a system for busting beliefs that hold you back. It is a process that amazingly works far better than anything I’ve ever come across. I highly recommend his method. It sounds to good to be true at first, but I’ve tested them and it works very well. It is right along the lines of this article and enhances the ability for success. You can buy one module at a time for a very reasonable price of like $19.95 to test, or a whole program for less than the cost of 1-2 sessions with a counselor. This stuff really works! Best results found in 50 + years!
Try one for free first and do what it he says to do!

37 Brett McKay February 4, 2010 at 11:55 am


It was an admittedly poorly worded sentence. It should have said something like,

“Similar experiments were repeated with other animals, babies, and adult humans, and the results were the same.”

Seligman did further experiments based on the same principles as the ones done with the dogs, but not with shocks. So for example with people, they would be subjected to a loud noise, distracting noise that they could turn off or on.

38 Dr. Rod Berger February 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Thank you for tackling this topic of learned helplessness. Men are so in need of this topic and presented in a non-shaming manner as you have done quite successfully. I have found learned helplessness to be off-shoot to the “freeze” response and a coping mechanism to insure that one doesn’t get emotionally wounded.
Dr. Rod

39 Parker Stover February 4, 2010 at 7:24 pm

This is a good message for young men such as I who are quick to blame themselves when things go wrong. Confidence and optimisim are much more beneficial to a man trying to improve himself than putting himself down.

40 William Frank Diedrich February 5, 2010 at 9:42 am

The article is well-written and a must-read for most of us. The only issue I have is that the authors seem to present the ABC and “dispute your beliefs” as their own when it comes directly from the writings of Dr. Albert Ellis. The only difference is that “A” in Ellis’ system stands for “Activating Event”–the event that activates the belief. But still, thanks for an excellent article.

41 Brad February 5, 2010 at 10:02 am

Thank You. I am using the informtion to educate the young men I work with to help them change their lives and get back with their families. This helps them see that therapy is not just all feelings, but is very manly. Please keep up the good work.

42 aethertron February 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Great post, I think concrete systems like this can be very helpful for sorting out problems. I personally practice Buddhist meditation. I find that meditation makes me aware that a thought that comes by is an interpretation of an event. By contesting the interpretation, you are no longer bound by it.

43 Steve Benjamins February 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I interpret different aspects of my life differently– I am by nature optimistic and don’t take setbacks in school or work as slights to me BUT I’ve been through two breakups in the last eight months and am beginning to identify myself as a ME/ALWAYS/EVERYWHERE when it comes to relationships. I’ve started this narrative in my head about my inadequacies and it becomes the loudest voice in my head. I used to be very confident in relationships but am having trouble getting myself out of that self-defeating narrative.

I’m trying to reacquiant myself with myself and develop a stronger sense of who I am and from there build confidence in knowing who I am.
I’ll echo the obvious and say this is a great post– was really looking forward to the resiliency posts and this didn’t disappoint.

44 Dean Becker February 10, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I’m glad to see this material appearing out in the world where it can help people feel better and do better. However, the resilience training world has come quite a bit farther since Learned Optimism (1990) and The Resilience Factor (2002) were first published.

Dr. Andrew Shatte’ (co-author of The Resilience Factor) and I founded Adaptiv Learning Systems in 1997 to develop and deliver resilience training programs based in part on the Learned Optimism research that Seligman, Reivich and Shatte’ conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. The book The Resilience Factor describes Adaptiv’s 7 Skills of Resilience, and I would recommend this book over Learned Optimism for anyone seriously looking to boost their personal resilience. Since inception, we have trained more than 20,000 corporate employees in these skills either in group workshops or in one-on-one coaching sessions, and The Resilience Factor content reflects much of that experience.

For readers of The Resilience Factor: When you get to the RQ Test, I invite you to go to to access the Resilience Factor Inventory (RFI) – an online, self-scoring resilience assessment. The RQ Test in the book is an abridged version of the RFI and it is a bear to score by hand.

By the way, Mr. Diedrich is absolutely right about the ABC Model being the work of Albert Ellis. And I believe we credited him in The Resilience Factor.

Finally, for any of you who are really into the Explantory Style (ES) stuff, I’d like to add to the conversation. First of all, there are as many possible ES types as can be generated in a 3×3 matrix. However, Always/Everything and Not Always/Not Everything tend to cluster together, i.e., we rarely see a “Me/Always/Not Everything” or a “Not Me/Not Always/Everything” thinker, for example. It is also not true that Me’s are likely to also be Always and Everything’s. In fact, we run into a large number of Me/Not Always/Not Everything thinkers in Corporate America. If you think about it, this is a pretty resilient style. When facing a challenge, a “M/NA/NE” will see the problem as solvable and changeable by him.

In the Seligman lab in the late ’80′s and early ’90′s, it was commonly believed that it was the “Me/Not Me” dimension of ES that was the primary indicator of pessimism (Me) vs. optimism (Not Me). However, more current research has shown that in fact it is the Always and Everything dimensions that drags you down.

Further, while a Not Me/Not Always/Not Everything style may help someone keep his optimism and self esteem intact regardless of the situation, the Not Me dimension can keep that person from finding solutions to a problem that are in fact in their control.

The real trick with ES is to first understand your own style, and then to flex around it not necessarily to get to optimism, but to get to accuracy.

Finally, for the reader that commented that it would be nice if our kids could learn to be resilient in their teens, there is a powerful e-learning program for kids that has recently come available. You can learn more at

Sorry for the long post, but I hope it provides some value.

45 differentroads February 19, 2010 at 5:29 am

@Rahul and Tola. Forgive me, but I think you missed a key point by focusing on personal responsibility for a situation. Resilience isn’t about what got you into a situation, but how you get yourself out of it. The egocentrism of assuming that you are responsible for something bad happening limits your ability to respond, even if, objectively, you had some blame in the matter. Resilience helps you step out of the blame/guilt cycle into squaring up to putting things right where you can and living with it where you can’t. Proper manly behaviour in my book, at least. As the sage almost said “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, courage to change the things I can’t accept and the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people who piss me off.”

46 aaron July 5, 2010 at 10:36 pm

THis is what i’ve been waiting for all my life. Something that will explain why i’m so depressed. Thank you!

47 TH December 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Excellent! :)

48 Kit Navock August 9, 2013 at 9:13 am

Great Article! Thanks for sharing. And thanks for being manly!

49 JD October 30, 2013 at 12:17 am

+1 to Rahul’s “follower from India” comment :)

I think, I’d get classed as a Me/Not Always/Not Everything. And I think this outlook may have some cultural foundations – the interpretation of Karma.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter