Ep. 95 Are you Rubber Cement?

Rubber cement is a type of adhesive, composed of rubber and known for its ability to form flexible bonds you can move around before they set and become permanent.

What a perfect analogy for the ways in which we get stuck in life, reliving the same patterns over and over, all the while asking, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t do I keep doing this?!”

As it turns out, some of us get stuck in these patterns far more easily than others. We are the rubber cement people.

There’s a word for rubber cement in psychological circles but when I tell you what it is, you’ll likely say, “No, that’s not me. I’m not that.”

In 2016, I took a test, created by Martin Seligman (often referred to as the father of Positive Psychology), which revealed me to be quite strongly “rubber cement” – although, of course, he used its proper name.

At the time, I thought, “No! That’s not me. I’m not that,” and although I read a little further in his book, I put it down and it remained on my shelf untouched except to dust behind it, until last week.

As part of the research for my first book, I returned to Seligman’s work, and his book, having forgotten about the reaction I’d had the first time I read it. This time, when I took the test, once again expecting a “positive” result, I got a (slightly less severe) “rubber cement” result.

Only this time, it hit me.

“Oh my God! Of course! That makes complete sense!” I thought.

For the first time, I saw the pattern lying beneath the things I have found most difficult in my life. I understood why and how it was possible for me to experience depression so repeatedly, and I understood why it had take me so. many. years. to get my business moving, while others had managed to move further, faster and with greater ease.

Listen to the podcast

Take the Test

Midway through the podcast, I invite you to take Seligman’s test.

Regardless of the results, you may find it illuminating. This is the link to the official test, offered online by Seligman and colleagues. I have no affiliation with them and this is not a sponsored link. It is, however, the most reliable source from which to access the test.

What it means

**WARNING: If you read beyond this point without having taken the test, you will skew your results, making it more difficult to get an accurate reading. If you’re curious, take the test first.**

Some of us are more prone to getting stuck than others because of the way we make meaning from our experiences – or, as Seligman calls it, our Explanatory Style.

If you have a pessimistic explanatory style, you are more prone to getting stuck. Like me. Rubber cement.

If you have an optimistic explanatory style, you are more likely to get up faster, be less impacted by failures and setbacks, and take life’s difficulties less personally.

Explanatory style when negative events happen

Your explanatory style is how you explain events to yourself an others.

When differentiating between a pessimistic and optimistic style, Seligman notes 3 elements:

  1. Personal

  2. Permanent

  3. Pervasive

The hallmarks of a pessimistic explanatory style differ markedly from an optimistic style in all three areas:


Pessimistic: “I wasn’t…”, “I’m not…”, “I can’t…”, “I am…” etc.

Optimistic: “Something else got in my way” – the wind, the tide, my boss etc.

I’ve always judged people for these sorts of explanation because I felt they were failing to take ownership, but as I describe in the podcast, my need to take ownership for everything in my life has led me to take ownership of things I probably would have done better to let go of.

A single piece of feedback I received from a delegate on a training course where he wrote, “If the trainer was in any way engaging, the material would have worked.” I cried for two days about that piece of feedback, despite receiving 22 glowing feedback forms from the other members of the group.


Pessimistic: Things aren’t miractulously going to get better. If it didn’t work this time, it’s not going to work next time – “Diets never work”, “My boss never listens” etc.

Optimistic: Things aren’t good right now but this is temporary. “I struggle to stick to my diet when I eat out,” “My boss was distracted during our meeting and didn’t listen.”


Pessimistic: The bad stuff spreads. Rather than focusing on the specific, the problem takes on a universal feel and has a wider impact than just the situation. “All men are liars”, “School is boring”

Optimistic: The difficult situation is recognised but the explanation keeps it contained so the difficulty doesn’t spread to other areas. “My boyfriend lied to me.”, “My chemistry class is boring.”

Why does it matter?

Last week I wrote about life’s fundamental question – towards or away.

Our explanatory style plays a huge part in how we answer that question.

For example, this afternoon I received a Facebook message from a business coach offering me a free call where she would help me figure out the next steps I need to take to increase my revenue.

When I saw her message I rolled my eyes, barely conscious of the thought, “all these coaches are the same! Always trying to sell me stuff but I never get the results they promise.”

I declined the free call.

To be fair, I have accepted a few of these calls and have spent tens of thousands of pounds for coaching to help me grow my business – and I talk about this in the podcast episode.

Now it’s finally easier to see where my explanatory style might have stopped me acting on the advice I received and caused me to give up too early and repeat the same mistakes.

Which is precisely why explanatory style is important. Essentially, it’s one of the key things that keeps us stuck.

We give up before we find another way because our explanatory style makes us think there isn’t another way, or that the problem is bigger than us.

Despite all the work I’ve done – and qualifications I’ve amassed – as a Mindset Coach and hypnotherapist, I somehow missed this incredibly important (and very easy to spot when you know what to look for) piece of the puzzle.

I’ll pay much closer attention from now, and anticipate making some changes to the way I talk to myself about life’s inevitable setbacks on the road to big goals.

Your Thoughts

Did you take the test? Were you surprised by the results?

Can you remember a time when you got stuck, and do you have any thoughts on how your explanatory style contributed?

Has this given you any ideas for things you can do in future to get unstuck more easily?

I’d love to hear from you in answer to these questions or anything else you’d like to comment on or share.

Thank you for reading and I hope this episode offered some useful insights.

Next week, I’ll be looking at explanatory style in relation to positive events and how this differs between optimists and pessimists.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment