What’s Your Explanatory Style?

“We live in an expanding universe, a universe of plenty.
Perhaps the safest prediction we can make about the future is
that it will surprise us.
Our key choice is whether to become aware
and take responsibility for the power of our intentions.”
—George Leonard, The Silent Pulse

Think of your explanatory style as reflecting “the word in your heart—the basis for your intentions.” Each of us carries a word in his or her heart—a “no” or a “yes.” Is the word in your heart a “yes” or “no?”

I’ve learned from my own experience that a no says I’m helpless—there are too many barriers. With a yes in my heart, I see possibilities. Once you’re aware, you can choose. With that clarification, you will understand why I enjoy the following delightful poem:

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds.”
–ee cummings

The date Transformational Thinking (now updated in 2023 in Imagine Your Life, Discover Your Dreams, available on Amazon) came off the press signaled the fulfillment of a dream to bring the Life Creation Process into tangible book form after years of presenting and clarifying these life-planning concepts. It is an accumulation of much thought, experiences, questioning, writing, experimenting, refining of ideas, and then more rewriting.

Read Our Review

Buy on Amazon

As I think back to that moment in 2004, I realize that I haven’t stopped learning about and refining the concepts I thought I had so clearly explained in that volume.

Ideas continue to come in clarifying ways, such as the following surrounding explanatory style captured from Marti Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism.

Some Favorite Quotes

“Self-esteem is about doing well in the world, about persisting, and therefore overcoming obstacles. The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault.

“The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case.

“At the core of the phenomenon of pessimism is another phenomenon—that of helplessness—a giving-up reaction. Helplessness is the state of affairs in which nothing you choose to do affects what happens to you.

“Personal control—the ability to change things by one’s voluntary actions is the opposite of helplessness. Explanatory style is the manner in which you habitually explain yourself why events happen. It is the great modulator of learned helplessness. An optimistic explanatory style dispels helplessness, whereas a pessimistic explanatory style spreads helplessness.

“How do you think about the causes of the misfortunes, small and large, that befall you? Some people, the ones who give up easily, habitually say of their misfortunes: ‘It’s me, it’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything I do.’ Others, who resist giving up to misfortune, say: ‘It was just circumstances, it’s going away quickly anyway, and besides, there’s much more in life.’

“People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent: The bad events will persist, will always be there to affect their lives; they use always and never. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary; they use sometimes and lately they believe good events are permanent.

“Some people can put their troubles neatly into a box and go about their lives even when one important aspect of it—their job, for example, or their love life—is suffering. Others bleed all over everything; they catastrophize. When one thread of their lives snaps, the whole fabric unravels.

“It comes down to this: People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one part of their lives yet they march stalwartly on in the others. Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope.

Read Our Review

Buy on Amazon

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers helps individuals look at the underlying messages that keep them stuck in resistance language and change them into possibility thinking.

Some Favorite Quotes

“If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you possibly have to fear? The answer is: nothing! What I have just told you means you can handle all your fears without having to control anything in the outside world. All you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

“As my confidence grew, I kept waiting for the fear to go away. Yet each time I ventured out into a new territory, I felt frightened and unsure of myself. I learned that the fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.


Want to get suggestions on books to read every week?

Sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter providing some of Karen’s favorite books you might enjoy reading!


“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out and do it. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

“If everybody feels fear when approaching something totally new in life, yet so many are out there ‘doing it’ despite the fear, then we must conclude that fear is not the problem. The real issue has nothing to do with fear itself, but, rather, how we hold the fear.

“For some, the fear is totally irrelevant. For others, it creates a state of paralysis. The former hold their fear from a position of power (choice, energy and action), and the latter hold it from a position of pain (helplessness, depression and paralysis).

“To help your pain to power path, it’s important to realize that certain words are destructive; others are empowering. ’I can’t’ implies you have no control over your life, whereas ‘I won’t’ puts a situation in the realm of choice. From this moment strike ‘I can’t’ from your vocabulary. When you give your subconscious the message ‘I can’t,’ it really believes you and registers on its computer: weak . . . weak . . . weak. Your subconscious believes only what it hears, not what is true.

“You might be saying ‘I can’t’ simply to get out of a dinner invitation. In fact, ‘I can’t come to dinner is an untruth. The truth is ‘I can come to dinner, and I am choosing to do something that has a higher priority at the moment. So instead, say, ‘I’d love to come to dinner, and I have a meeting that’s important to me. So, I’ll pass for tonight and hope you’ll invite me again.’ That statement has truth, integrity and power.

Read Our Review

Buy on Amazon


Each of us chooses how we face our fears and distress. Both of these books can inspire you to make different choices about your thinking. Examining your explanatory style and making some adjustments can give you a perspective and encourage you to move from helplessness to a positive and accountable way of viewing the world you live in.


My latest book, How to Make Communication Easier is now available on Amazon. It’s the last of the “how to” books I’ve written: How to Make Writing Easier and How to Make Financial Independence Easier. As an instructional writer, it’s been my intent to write books that are easy to read and where concepts are clearly explained.

Read Our  Review

Buy on Amazon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *