Mindset, mindfulness, and for that matter “Mcmindfulness” is all the rage. If you are teaching sport or cleaning and  jerking, or kipping your way through your pull-ups  and you don’t say “mindset” at least once you are very naughty.

However, before mindset, specifically Mindset as defined by Carol Dweck became the thing, we used to also talk about attributions!.

The following is  from Andrew Stemler’s blog post “Attributions

You are a self-fulfilling prophecy! Your early teachers, the trainers you have met, the sports you have tried and failed at  have pretty much taught you that you are weak, uncoordinated, and basically crap. So, when you look at the WODs we publish on the Crossfit London UK site, you must be thinking: “you have to be joking!  I can’t do that!”

How you account for failure and success and the feelings these evoke is the subject of attributions;  the perceived causes of events and behaviours. Theories about attributions focus on your perceptions and interpretations that affect your behavior.

The attributions we make about ourselves and others affect our behaviour.

If you cannot snatch (an Olympic lift) you would behave differently depending on why you think you cannot. Perhaps you don’t know how, or need more practice; in which case you may attend a Crossfit London UK skill seminar. However if you think it’s because you are weak and too uncoordinated to learn, you could simply give up and go back to a leg extension machine in your local fitness centre. The attributions you make about others also effects how you feel about them. If you watch a classmate attempt a snatch, how you perceive their attempt will be different if you think they lack the strength or that they are lazy!

Weiner et al (1974) has been credited with bringing attribution theory to prominence by developing an attributional theory of achievement behaviour. He specifically felt that the difference between high and low achievers is the difference in attributional patterns (or how you think about stuff)

According to Weiner, if you had to assess why you screwed up a workout, or came last in the Crossfit games, your explanations could fall into one of 4 categories: ability, effort, luck, task difficulty.

However these four categories are not the critical aspect, the locus of causality (where the “blame” lies) and stability are the two essential dimensions.

The locus of causality can either be internal or external, ie ability and effort are internal,  luck and task difficulty are external. Are these stable?  Your ability is stable, however your effort is unstable and can vary from workout to workout: luck, unstable.

Later Weiner added a third dimension; controllability. Some factors are internal, but not very controllable, ie aptitude and natural ability.

Often people make internal attributions for winning and external ones for failure. In team sports, external attributions normally seem to come from the losing side (lucky breaks, officials’ calls, weather). The tendency to attribute success internally and failure externally can be seen as setting up a self-serving bias. If you complete a workout faster than classmate, you would prefer to think that your extra effort won the day, not that your rival was ill that day.

Weiner suggests that the internal/external dimension can correlate to feelings of pride and shame, with the internal attributions provoking stronger feelings: you take a greater pride in a victory you earned!

The stability of these factors also has an effect: a stable attribution leads you to expect the same outcome: if you have failed in the snatch because you it’s too complicated for you, you can expect the same results in the future. The controllability of the factor affects our moral judgments: we praise those who give extra effort and dislike those who shirk.

However, the results of the studies are confusing. Some have identified winners as internally stable and controllable, others that winners make more stable and controllable, but not more internal, attributions.

Spink and Roberts (1980) showed winners made more internal attributions, more importantly they actually found two types of winners satisfied, and dissatisfied winners who felt the victory was too easy. Satisfied losers attributed losses to task difficulty, dissatisfied losers looked to their own low ability. Essentially, McAuley(1985)  found perceived success to be a better predictor of internal stable controllable atttributions than objective success.

Attributions and Emotions.

It is quite popular to link attributions and emotions. Weiner identified outcome-dependent emotions (associated with actual outcomes)  and attribution-dependent emotions (the reason for the outcomes)

Work by Biddle ( 1993) indicated performance satisfaction (or subjective appraisal)  is one of the best predictors of emotion, and that attributions play a role.

Dweck (1978)  (before her Mindset book fame ) deploys attributional theory in the field of learned helplessness.  We all come across those individuals ( do you think this of yourself)  who “know” they are slow, uncoordinated, and too un-athletic to take part in sports or get fit ( or Crossfit) Here we can help by making these people attribute their failings to unstable, controllable factors including a lack of practice, instruction, and techniques.

In reality, at Crossfit London, we find that many people who have been dismissed as weaklings, or overweight, uncoordinated failures can often make substantial improvements in performance and fitness. Our focus is to get you to work on those things you can control, and make stable; we do our best to get you to forget the vicious labels that incompetent sports teachers and trainers may have lazily given you. Our teaching is made progressive so that we can take beginners and make them skilled performers. Our approach will get the best out of your efforts and enhance your feelings of personal control.

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