eConsultant Book Reviews

Learned Optimism by Dr Martin E P Seligman


Dr Seligman scientifically proves two vitally important points.
1. Optimists lead a better life - live longer and are happier with their actions and choices.
2. Optimism can be learned.


Explanatory Style is the term Martin Seligman uses for the manner, learned in childhood and adolescence, in which we explain our setbacks to ourselves.

There are three crucial dimensions to your Explanatory Style :

1. Permanence
People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent. The bad events will persist, will always be there to affect their lives. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary.

Permanent (Pessimistic) // Temporary (Optimistic)
"I'm all washed up." // "I'm exhausted."
"Diets never work." // "Diets don't work when you eat out."
"You always nag." // "You nag when I don't clean my room."
The boss is a bastard." // "The boss is in a bad mood."
"You never talk to me." // "You haven't talked to me lately."

Optimists think about bad things in sometimes's and lately's and NOT always's and never's.

The optimistic style of explaining good events is just the opposite of the optimistic style of explaining bad events. People who believe good events have permanent causes are more optimistic than people who believe they have temporary causes.

Temporary (Pessimistic) // Permament (Optimistic)
"It's my lucky day." // "I'm always lucky."
"I try hard." // "I'm talented."
"My rival got tired." // "My rival is no good."

Optimists explain good events in terms of permanent causes: traits, abilities, always's.
Pessimist explain good events in terms of transient causes: moods, effort, sometimes's.

2. Pervasiveness: Specific vs. Universal
Permanence is about time. Pervasiveness is about space.

Some people can put thier troubles neatly into a box and go about thier lives even when one important aspect of it - their job or thier love life - is suffering. Other bleed all over everything. They catastrophize. When one thread of thier lives snaps, the whole fabric unravels.

People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one part pf their lives yet march stalwartly on in the others.

Universal (Pessimistic) // Specific (Optimistic)
"All teachers are unfair." // "Professor Seligman is unfair."
"I'm repulsive." // "I'm repulsive to him."
"Books are useless." // "This book is useless."

The optimistic explanatory style for good events is opposite that of bad events. The optimist believes that bad events have specific causes, while good events will enhance everything he does; The pessimist believes that bad events have universal causes and that good events are caused by specific factors.

Specific (Pessimistic) // Universal (Optimistic)
"I'm smart at math." // "I'm smart."
"My broker knows oil stocks." // "My broker knows Wall Street."
"I was charming to her." // "I was charming."

3. Personalization : Internal vs. External
When bad things happen, we can blame ourselves (internalize) or we can blame other people or circumstances (externalize). People who blame themselves when they fail have low self-esteem as a consequence. They think they are worthless, talentless, and unloveable. People who blame external events do not lose self-esteem when bad events strike. On the whole, they like themselves better than people who blame themselves do.

Internal (low self-esteem) /// External (high self-esteem)
"I'm stupid." // "You're stupid."
"I have no talent at poker." // "I have no luck at poker."
"I'm insecure." // "I grew up in poverty."

The optimistic style of explaining good events is the opposite of that used for bad events: lt's internal rather than external. People who believe thay cause good things tend to like themselves better than people who believe good things come from other people or circumstances.

External (Pessimistic) // Internal (Optimistic)
"A stroke of luck ..." // "I can take advantage of luck."
"My teammates' skill ..." // "My skill ..."

Personalization is the easist dimension to overrate.
Personalization controls only how you feel about yourself.
Pervasiveness and Permanence - the more important dimensions - control what you do : how long you are hopeless and across how many situations.

The ABCDE Method of Learned Optimism:
A - Adversity - Define the problem.
B - Belief - Define the belief system that is interpreting that adversity.
C - Consequences - Define the consequences arising from the adversity and the (in)action.
D - Disputation - Argue the core belief and effectively dispute the belief that follow the adversity.
E - Energization - The positive feelings that overcome the negative thoughts after the disputation step.
eConsultant - Optimism

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Book Reviews Index :

100 Simple Secrets of Happy People by David Niven | 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People by David Niven | 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler | Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy | Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi | Focal Point by Brian Tracy | Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen | Gig by John Bowe | It's Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden | It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Michael Abrashoff | Keep Your Brain Alive by by Lawrence C Katz & Manning Rubin | Learned Optimism by Dr Martin E P Seligman | Life Strategies by Phil McGraw | Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fullfillment by George Leonard | Never Wrestle with a Pig by Mark H McCormack | Please Don't Just Do What I Tell You by Bob Nelson | Rules for Revolutionaries by Guy Kawasaki | The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum Smith | The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business Success by Brian Tracy | The Brand You 50 by Tom Peters | The Power of Optimism by Alan Loy McGinnis | The Professional Service Firm 50 by Tom Peters | The Project 50 by Tom Peters | The War of Art by Steven Pressfield | The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith | Thriving in 24/7 by Sally Helgesen | Time Tactics of Very Successful People by B. Eugene Griessman | Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation by Robert I. Sutton