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Navigating the Power of Attributions: Understanding the Impact on Our Lives

Updated: Feb 6

Our attributions – to individuals’ dispositions or to their situations – should be made carefully. They have real consequences. ~ David G. Myers ~

In our daily lives, how we attribute things — whether to individual traits or external circumstances — holds significant consequences, as wisely noted by David G. Myers. The process of attribution, whether applied to ourselves or others, plays a crucial role in shaping well-being.

Attributing Success


Attribution, discussed as one of the essential elements of meaning in my previous article, "The Anatomy of Meaning," is vital in how individuals perceive, create, and make sense of their experiences. Let's explore this concept more deeply, examining its nuances and understanding its impact on our lives.

Attribution Defined

Attributions encompass a person's defining and inherent character traits or qualities. Whenever we utter phrases like "I am…" or "You are…" we are engaging in attributions, both for self-description and describing others. These attributions become standalone types, imparting meaning to our self-concept and our perceptions of others.

Additionally, attributions involve ascribing, designating, or inputting intent. Whenever we credit or attribute actions or consequences, such as saying, "I succeeded thanks to Harry's kind help," we are attributing or assigning intent.

Attributions reveal our self-esteem and the regard we have for others. This regard determines how we treat ourselves and others.

Strengths and Challenges of the Power of Attributions

Carol Dweck's Mindset Theory provides a profound illustration of the impact of self-attribution. As she articulates in her book "Mindset" (2006), there are two meanings to ability: a fixed ability that demands proof and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning.

Fixed Mindset and Its Impact

In a fixed mindset, individuals believe that traits such as intelligence are predetermined, stable, and unchangeable. Consider the attribution that one is not good at math – this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the belief in a fixed ability hinders efforts to develop the perceived skill.

Frustrated with Math

Growth Mindset and Its Transformative Potential

Dweck introduces the concept of a growth mindset, where individuals believe that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. In this mindset, attributions shift from a fixed view to a belief in the potential for growth and development.

The attribution changes from "I'm not good at math" to "I can improve my math skills with effort." This transformative shift in attribution empowers individuals to overcome challenges, embrace learning, and unlock their full potential.

Confident Student

Attribution Error

Attribution error occurs when we attribute others' behavior to internal factors (traits or dispositions) while neglecting external factors (situational influences). For instance, assuming someone is always grumpy because of their personality without considering external factors like a challenging day at work or personal issues.

Blaming another

Avoiding Attribution Error

  • Consider external factors: Pause and consider external factors that might be influencing someone's behavior. People's actions are often shaped by their circumstances.

  • Seek diverse perspectives: Encourage diverse viewpoints and gather more information before making attributions. This helps in developing a more accurate understanding of others.

  • Practice empathy: Put yourself in others' shoes. Understanding their experiences and challenges can lead to more compassionate and accurate attributions.

The Dark Side: Defamation through Attributions

Attributions, when misused, can be directed against a person to defame them. Negative attributions without basis can harm reputations, relationships, and overall well-being. Guard against baseless attributions about others' character, intentions, or capabilities. Also, remember, people who have failed or done a misdeed in the past can and do learn lessons and change their ways for the better. The present person might not be the person of the past.


Building Self-Esteem through Positive Attributions

Conversely to the dark side, positive attributions can uplift and build self-esteem. When we attribute success to effort, perseverance, and inherent capability, we foster a positive mindset. Encourage others by affirming attributions, recognizing their strengths, and acknowledging their contributions. It also helps when you foster encouraging, trusting, and prosocial environments. Positive environments lead to human thriving and lessen the odds of allowing the dark side to take root.


Staying on the Positive Track

  • Question Negative Assumptions:  Challenge negative attributions about yourself and others. Question whether they are based on facts or unfounded assumptions.

  • Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Embrace a growth mindset, recognizing that abilities and qualities can be developed over time. This mindset promotes resilience and a positive approach to challenges.

  • Promote Positive Attributions: Encourage a culture of positive attributions in your interactions. Acknowledge efforts, celebrate successes, and provide constructive feedback.


Attributions, therefore, become a double-edged sword. They can either empower us or inflict damage, depending on our mindset. Recognizing the impact of attributions is the first step toward wielding this power wisely. Acknowledgement should be followed by answering three simple questions:


1.      Is it true?

2.      Is it uplifting?

3.      Is it developmental?

You can determine if you will operate from the dark or virtuous path.

In conclusion, the way we attribute shapes our individual narratives and the collective story we weave together. Understanding the dynamics of attributions empowers us to navigate life with greater self-awareness and a profound impact on the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Positive attributions are the path to what is meaningful!

The Paths We Choose

To learn more about the meaningful path, we encourage you to attend our next "The Paths We Choose Workshop."  We are accepting registration for our next workshop in Westfield, MA, or Central Florida. For more information on this workshop, click The Paths We Choose: A Workshop | authorluismarrero.

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