Honestly, I have never struggled with road rage. Ever. I follow all the rules and I’m a complete saint on the road. In fact, people adore me, and Matthew West even once wrote a love song dedicated to my gorgeous driving skills!
… …. yeeeah… If you’ve ever ridden in the car with me, you know that’s not true!
I can’t count the number of times someone has cut me off in traffic and then slowed down, forcing me to hit the brakes like a mad woman! And what comes out of my mouth?
“Oh, you poor thing! You must not know where you’re going!”
Of course not! Obviously, I’m gonna shout:
“IDIOT!!! What are you DOING?!?!”
Side note to reader: I’m not very godly in my car….
Have You Heard of the Fundamental Attribution Error (F.A.E.)?
It works in two parts:
1.) When someone else does something I don’t like, I tend to attribute it to his or her character and personality. She must be stupid. He clearly must be a jerk. I mean, c’mon, they are both so idiotic that I’d nominate them for admission into the Idiots’ Hall of Fame!
2.) But when I do something that others don’t like, I rationalize it. Cuz… clearly it’s not my fault! I was running late and missed my coffee, so obviously I can’t be expected to act like a normal coffee-enriched human being, right?
Here’s another example:
How Depression Hijacks the Fundamental Attribution Error
Isn’t it ironic that, in cases of depression, the fundamental attribution error is often reversed? I may rationalize what others do, but when I make a mistake, gosh, I’m such an idiot! What was I thinking?!
My Gen. Psych. professor talked about this phenomenon in class last semester.
I found it fascinating! I had never questioned those thought processes before.
…Geez, I’m such a goober!
(F.A.E. alert there!)
Now I have an option to identify my unhealthy thinking patterns when I’m in a low episode and try shifting them in a more positive direction.
Personal Failure and the Keys to Responding Well
First, you should check out my follow-up post on this topic, where I discuss healthy thinking patterns with respect to the attribution error. That post includes a free printable worksheet to help you process through different situations.
Now, there are many factors that affect behavior, including personality and value systems, but our external environment (what’s going on around us) also plays a significant role.
When we experience failure, we have two options:
1.) We could choose to look only at internal factors (“I messed up, so I must be a failure”) and therefore believe there is something inherently wrong with us.
2.) Or, we could look at the full context of the situation, including internal as well as external factors (“I messed up, but that’s because I didn’t have all the information I needed, or I got distracted by something”) and decide what we choose to learn from it!
I also love asking these three questions when I have experienced a failure:
- What did I do well?
- What can I improve?
- What will I do differently next time?
Notice that “what did I do wrong?” is not on the list!! Asking that question can reinforce unhealthy, self-deprecating thought patterns.
Friends, let’s stop our negative thinking before it gets to the point of assuming we are worthless.
Let’s not go the route of believing there is something inherently wrong with us.
If we get on that trail, we’re driving an ice cream truck straight into a minefield, and that’s bound to get messy!
Instead, let’s see what we can learn from that failure and how we’d approach the same situation differently in the future.
Aaaand… when others do something that drives us batty, let’s practice some rational empathy and continue loving them, even if we’d rather give them a high-five… in the face!
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