Up Close With Dr. E

What is your style?


How many times have you heard these phrases? What do they have in common?

1. She makes a mountain out of a mole hill.

2. He is his own worst enemy.

3. You just shot yourself in your own foot.

4. It is not the knife life throws at you; it is how you catch it.

5. It is not the truth that matters, it is what we believe to be true, that matters.

Number 1 is about taking a small thing (mole hill) and expanding it into a really big thing (mountain). This is an example of an inaccurate belief, which has distorted reality.

Number’s 2 and 3 are examples of negative beliefs about oneself. Number’s 4 and 5 are more complex because they are belief systems. Both deal with the difference between objective reality (It is not the truth that matters), and an individual’s own personal perception (it is what we believe to be true that matters).

What do they all have in common? They are all about beliefs and the distortion of beliefs. So, what’s the big deal? The beliefs we hold to be true may not in fact, be accurate. What to do?

Today’s article is about a belief system, called explanatory style, which is defined as, “The way you explain to yourself why a good or bad event happened to you.” Formed in childhood, ES has two basic dimensions:

1. A positive vs a negative style.

2. An accurate vs an inaccurate explanation.

If your ES is positive and accurate, it becomes a force ­— increasing your power to achieve in life. If your ES is negative and inaccurate, your power is greatly diluted.

Lost you yet? Let’s do an exercise to help you learn these complex concepts.

You have been hired by Cognex, to find an answer to this question: What personal characteristics help individuals bounce back from life’s worst hardships? You are assigned two test subjects (A and B). Both have experienced multiple, severe traumas. Your job is to review their files and then interview them.

Miss A: 56-year-old CPA, married three times, three deceased husbands, two children, history of severe clinical depression, anxiety and insomnia. “Miss A, how did your husband’s die?” “Well,” said Miss A, the first died of cancer, the second was in a car wreck, the third had a heart attack.” You ask her, “How do you explain their deaths?” Miss A becomes upset, “I don’t mix well with men, they always die, they always leave me. I’ll never marry again.”

You conclude: Miss A has an explanatory style which is both negative and inaccurate. She makes the deaths personal, by hinting that she caused them. Her, “never marry again” is the loss of any future dreams.

Miss B: 50-year-old schoolteacher, swims, golfs, sings in her church choir, two children, three deceased husbands. You begin, “Miss B, how do you explain the death of three husbands?” Miss B pauses, and in a soft, but firm voice, “I’m not in charge of who lives or dies, that job belongs (she points her finger toward heaven) to another.”

Next, you ask, “Will you ever re-marry?” Miss B’s eyes flood with tears, as she hands over a wedding invitation. “Please come to my wedding this Saturday.”

You conclude: Miss B has an accurate and positive explanatory style.

Miss A and Miss B, two women who share the same three losses. But Miss A shuts the door to her future, while Miss B remarries. How do you explain their different reactions to the same events? Only Miss B holds on to her dreams.

Conclusion: What stirs our blood is not the humdrum reality of our daily lives. No. What electrifies our hearts, spurring it into a wild and wonderful gallop, can only be found in our dreams. We dream about what we could be, not what we are. Our wishes, passions and deepest desires fuel the quest to do something truly grand.

However, to turn a dream into a reality, we must construct a bridge which spans over the Valley of Dead Dreams. Dreams die easily. They die from negativity, fear, and from the foul wind which wheezes and whispers, “You can’t do that! You’ll fail!” The name of the bridge which connects and converts a dream into reality is Explanatory Style and, it has this request: Become a Miss B, and learn to stop burning your own bridges, for the world already has matches a plenty.

The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.


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