#1435 Failure Is a L-I-E

Here’s the (Scientific!) Truth

In our last +1, we talked about creating Relentless Optimism via Targeted Thinking AND Heroic action.

In the one before that, we hung out with Michael Jordan (and SNL’s Stuart Smalley! 🤓) to talk about how to Forge Antifragile Confidence.

Today we’re going to talk about the fact that, as Darrin Donnelly puts it in Relentless Optimism, Failure Is a L-I-E.

Let’s jump straight in.

Note: This is probably THE BEST description of how to APPLY Martin Seligman’s research on Learned Optimism that I’ve ever read.

Quick context.

Relentless Optimism features a minor league baseball player who meets a brilliant manager who helps him break through to fulfill his dreams.

Wally, the Hero-Coach-Guide in the fable tells us: “Failure is a lie; that’s L-I-E. Failure is Limited, Isolated, and External. It’s Limited to one particular moment, it’s Isolated to one particular area, and it occurred Externally—outside of you.”

“‘You see,’ Wally continued. ‘We’re not talking about positive vibes and happy feelings here. That’s not what optimism is. We’re talking about logic.”

“When people experience negative events, they usually lie to themselves. You have to recognize those LIEs and stop them in their tracks. Very few people get this. They feed themselves pessimistic lies after each setback and it creates a vicious cycle of new setbacks—in future events, in other areas of their life, and deep inside of them. It draws them down and whittles away at their self-esteem.”

Know this: The reason I’m such a big fan of this book (and the others in the series!) is because it’s not just a bunch of pom-pom waving feel good, “wishful thinking” mumbo jumbo.

It’s grounded in REAL science.

In fact, as I said, I think this book features THE best practical application of Martin Seligman’s research on optimism. Period.

The foundational book from which Darrin draws his wisdom is Seligman’s classic Learned Optimism. As you know if you’ve read that Note/book, Seligman’s research focuses on the difference between “learned HELPLESSNESS” (which is a one-way ticket to depression) and “learned OPTIMISM” (which is the engine for a flourishing life full of meaning and joy).

Of course, the opposite of optimism is pessimism. Seligman tells us that the primary difference between optimism and pessimism comes down to what he calls “explanatory styles.”

There are “3 P’s” in his explanatory styles. Check out this +1 on How to Learn Optimism for the longer take. Here’s the super-short story.

When something happens (whether that thing is good OR bad), you can think that it will be either permanent or temporary and either isolated or pervasive. You can also think it was because of something you did or something out of your control.

Pessimists tend to think that failures/bad things are PERMANENT (meaning they will last forever) and that they are PERVASIVE (meaning the bad stuff spills over into every aspect of their lives) and they take it 100% PERSONALLY (meaning they can’t see how external factors out of their control influenced the situation).


They tend to think that GOOD things are the exact opposite—they are TEMPORARY, ISOLATED and not because of something they did. Their poor, pessimistic explanatory styles make them MUCH more likely to get depressed.

Optimists, on the other hand, take the EXACT OPPOSITE approach to explaining these events.


That’s where Darrin comes in with his super-practical take on how to apply the science to our lives. He tells us that failure is a L-I-E.

Failure is “Limited” in time. It’s NOT permanent.
Failure is “Isolated.” It is NOT pervasive.
Failure is “External.” There were causes outside of your control that influenced the outcomes.

When things don’t go our way, we need to PRACTICE our philosophy and put Seligman’s scientific wisdom to work. And, we need to know that how we CHOOSE (it’s always a choice, Hero!) to explain what’s happening has HUGE impacts on the quality of our lives.

Here’s what Darrin’s guide in the book tells us to do with a failure: “It’s a quick three-step process. You have to get in the habit of instantly recognizing those negative thoughts, arguing with the LIEs they try to tell, and then replacing those negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Recognize. Argue. Replace.

He continues by saying: “Once you realize you’ve made a negative event personal, for example, you have to remind yourself that it’s the other way around. You aren’t a failure because you experienced a failure. You’re a successful person who temporarily failed and is now returning to your natural state of success. ... A negative event is a single isolated event that you can stop in its tracks and make sure it will never affect you—or anything else in your life—again.”

And: “If you’ve made a negative result permanent in your mind, turn it around quickly. You didn’t miss out on your only shot at success. That negative experience will now lead to positive experiences in the future because it has made you smarter and more prepared for the future. You’re now wiser, more experienced, and one step closer to the inevitable success you’ve prepared yourself for.”

Remember: Failure Is a L-I-E.

Here’s to your RELENTLESS OPTIMISM, Hero.

P.S. Darrin’s also a big fan of some of my other favorites as well: How Champions Think by Bob Rotella, The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, and Mind Gym by Gary Mack. Check out all those Notes for more.

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