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Nothing Bad Is My Fault: Toxic Financial Attitudes

While I wasn't familiar with the psychology behind my approach to life at the time, I was shifting attribution. As I've read more about attribution theory in the years since the time I started changing my approach, I've come to see how the experts have clearly defined the effects of life philosophies pertaining to attribution.

If you do well on a test in school, you can attribute your success to a number of factors. If you perceive your success is due to your effort or your skills, you are likely to have an internal locus of control - you believe that this positive result is the effect of something inside yourself. If you attribute your successful results on luck or ease of the test, your locus of control is external.

It's a natural defense mechanism to want to differentiate this locus of control based on the outcome. It's not uncommon, particularly for managers of people to see this among employees who do self-evaluations, for people to focus on external forces when asked about poor results and on internal forces when asked about favorable results.

The feeling that bad situations are the result of bad luck, difficulty, or an external event more specific can make it more difficult to succeed financially over the long term. If you don't believe the choices you make every day can have a positive effect in your life, there's no incentive for making better choices. Blaming ourselves for our bad circumstances requires admitting that we've made bad choices. Most people want to feel good about the choices they've made, so there is natural resistance to accepting responsibility.

I've heard these external attributions - and in some cases, the one having these thoughts at some point might have been me.

I can't get a job because the economy is bad. With companies laying off employees during the recession, this is something I heard frequently over the past few years. The media perpetuate the story that people are having a difficult time staying in their current jobs or finding new ones, and this helps those in the same situation feel like they're going through a tough situation with many other people.

There's camaraderie in the unemployed. And that makes it easy to accept that you won't succeed until the economy improves - you're just waiting for the statistics like the unemployment figures to be more in your favor. Once companies start hiring again, once consumer confidence increases, once the public wants to buy products again, you'll have more options.

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