8/12/21: The Four Factors that Explain Every Outcome

Sent 8/12/21

This week's Think Better Newsletter is about how we talk about our performances and explain our results. 

The Idea

One of the mental model spotlights in Make the Leap is on Attribution Theory. Attribution Theory is the study of how we attribute success and failure, or in other words, what story we tell to explain our performance.

UCLA researcher Bernard Weiner found that we all attribute our performances to one of four factors: talent, effort, task difficulty, and luck. Here's how I describe them in the book (page 74):

  • Talent is inherent to who we are. It's our natural ability (key word: natural).
  • Effort is how hard we work to achieve something. It includes our preparation, concentration, and execution.
  • Task difficulty is how hard we think it is to do something. This can relate to whether or not we think we will succeed or to how much pain we will feel doing it.
  • Luck is what happens to us that we couldn't reasonably expect. Obviously this can be good or bad.

We don't have to use these exact words, however. We have tons of phrases we use to describe our performances. In the chart below I've grouped them for you.

What we say - four factors

Here's what's important to know: the words we use don't just give us a glimpse into how we are thinking, they reinforce that pattern of thinking, making it more likely we will think that way in the future.

(Note: Matt Chittim and I also discussed Attribution Theory on his Rambling Runner Podcast, which is worth a listen!)

The System

There are a lot of insights to be gained from Attribution Theory, and I'll get into them over the next couple newsletters. For now, however, here's a simple system you can use to start thinking better about how you attribute.

Pay attention to the words you choose when you explain outcomes and results. 

Don't worry about changing them or improving them. Start with noticing them. 

And remember that attribution doesn't just happen with races or workout results. We try to explain everything. It's human nature.

Next time you find yourself talking about the NBA Finals, that project at work, what's working or not in your city government, your kids' performance in school, or yes, your workouts and races...go back and try to recall the exact words you chose. Then fit them into one of the four factors in the diagram above.

Try to get a feel for how often you associate things to talent, effort, task difficulty, or luck. The results may surprise you. 

The Question

What is your go to explanation for why things work or don't work?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

"A person is known by the behavior he displays consistently." — Harold Kelley



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