Who’s to Blame?

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What keeps you from changing your life? Psychologists say that it may be your “explanatory style,” i.e., how you account for your present predicament. People who over-generalize by saying “I can’t do anything right,” or “it’s always going to be like this,” or “everything is all screwed up” will likely be paralyzed by learned helplessness and depression. On the other hand, those who tend to see external factors as having produced a specific bad situation are resilient and able to change their situations, taking advantage of opportunities available to them. Seeing your own role in your problems isn’t particularly helpful unless it’s of the “well, I goofed there, guess I won’t do that again” variety.

People who are in the paralyzed state (count me there many days) can be dragged out of it. They need to practice explaining their situations in better ways. Try it. Be very specific when you describe the situation to yourself. Make yourself a list, not a to-do list, but a list of what’s wrong. I’ll start:

1. I have to pay back taxes
2. I need to sell the cafe
3. I have a bunch of stuff that’s making it hard for me to move
4. I have to make a living, too, and don’t seem to have time to get stuff done

Tell yourself how you got here, and don’t blame yourself.
1. The economy tanked & I don’t have the money
2. The city made several decisions that hurt my business and others
3. Family emergencies took me away from my business
4. I’m now by myself, I don’t particularly want a nest, so I don’t need all of this stuff
5. Suddenly I have to take care of my mother
6. I’m over-committed

And now, problem solve. (Don’t include winning the lottery in your solution.) Without baggage. Don’t beat yourself up. If you hear yourself explaining your situation in “hopeless” ways (and this includes blaming your parents for making you an inferior person), cut the conversation short. Psychologists suggest keeping a rubber band on your wrist, and snapping it each time you do this. Then change your explanation to something matter-of-fact and hopeful. Not a Pollyanna-ish “I am a wonderful child of the universe, God will provide, etc.” (another, more interesting version of learned helplessness), but “here’s the problem, let’s figure out the best way to address it.”

OK, so lots of us want “new lives.” Our children are off on their own, our careers are no longer fulfilling or they’ve run their course, it’s time for something new. What are the problems? Make a list, and get started. Clear impediments out of the way, and you’ll find yourself a whole lot closer to seeing what it is you want to do next.

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