Graeme Newell

Defensive Attribution

Brain research shows that most of us underestimate just how powerfully random events shape our destiny. We like to believe we got that big work promotion because of our own hard work and genius, not because the more qualified candidate just happened to catch the flu and botched her interview.

Our fearful brain likes to believe that the world is an orderly place, so when we hear about someone having a heart attack, we like to believe it wasn’t just some haphazard heart malfunction. Instead, we suppose there must be some sort of self-induced cause. Maybe the victim didn’t exercise enough or had a bad diet.

We do this because our brain is uncomfortable with the idea that random events could befall us as well, and our knee-jerk reaction is to blame a VICTIM or a PERPETRATOR.

So when good and bad things happen in our lives, it’s important to realize that our order-obsessed brain will usually minimize the awesome power of simple good and bad luck. Odds are you probably weren’t a bungler, you were just unlucky, and you probably weren’t exceptional either. You just got lucky.

How can you avoid defensive attribution? Here are three tactics:

#1 Imagine a Stranger in the Same Situation
Our objectivity tends to improve when we remove ourselves and think about others in the same circumstances. For example, why did your business fail? Think about the thousands of other businesses that fail and why that happens. Most times, the reasons will be similar.

#2 Get Comfortable with Never Knowing Why
Our brain’s reflexive action is to build elaborate stories about cause and effect, even when there are few facts available.

#3 Really Notice Who & What You’re Blaming
This activity tends to be instinctual and subconscious. Set your rational brain to building a hypothetical jury in your head. Is there enough evidence or are you really just guessing?