Life Hack for Getting Suddenly Awesome: Don’t Make the Fundamental Attribution Error


People aren’t bad. Well, okay. Not usually, anyway.

But sure–they do bad things sometimes. We all do.

So why are we so totally quick to attribute someone else’s bad behavior to poor character, and so darn quick to attribute our own to–er, something else.

Circumstances. Life. You know: stuff outside ourselves.

Well, as it turns out, there’s a name for that tendency. It’s called “the fundamental attribution error,” and people are known to make it pretty often. It’s one of the psychological tidbits offered by authors and psychologist researchers Chip and Dan Heath in their book Switch–a great read on the subject of altering one’s undesired behavior.

Here’s a perfect example of what they’re talking about: In romantic relationships I had previous to my current one, I often took negative comments personally. I made the mistake of getting seriously offended by comments or behaviors that I didn’t like, deeming my partner “selfish.”

Now that I’m with David, I am realizing what a mistake this was.

See, David can be a tad “selfish” sometimes, too. And so can I. Selfishness is just something that goes along with the territory of being human.

Sometimes we don’t want to cuddle and talk. Sometimes we don’t want to visit our in-laws.

Sometimes, we’re even a little–dare I say it?–cranky.

But does that mean we don’t totally, absolutely love each other?

Heck, no, my friends.

Heeeeck, no.

Why would it?

So: my get happy tip of the day: don’t take things too personally. Don’t blow things out of proportion.

Don’t make the fundamental attribution error.

Then come back here and tell me about all the arguments you avoid.


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  1. Basic truth there, Mollie. One of the huge problems I had in earlier relationships was that I was the one who “always gave in”. I see now that, doing that always, meant I didn’t give the other person enough credit to stay when things got a little rough. Maybe they would have left, anyway. However, I needed to allow myself to be cranky and whatever. They needed to accept that. I know that wasn’t the message you were trying to put across, but it’s the one that resonated with me.

    1. 🙂 You’re right. I was a total wimp in my early relationships. The problem wasn’t that I was a wimp, though–it was that by being that way, I was avoiding the problems in the relationship that would have been so obvious if I’d’ve stood up for myself more!