Learned Optimism

If you are pessimistic, there is hope for you in learned optimism. Yes, optimism can be learned! View this material along with helpful videos to help you become an optimist.

Learned Optimism Index

Benefits of Optimism

Explanatory Style

Explaining Positive and Negative Events: Optimists vs. Pessimists

Video of Optimist Utilizing the Permanence Explanatory Style

Video of Optimist Utilizing the Pervasiveness Explanatory Style

Video of Optimist Utilizing the Personalization Explanatory Style

Changing from Pessimism to Optimism Using the ABCDE Model

Example of How to Use the ABCDE Model

Video of Philosopher’s Notes on Learned Optimism

FREE Optimist Test

Inspiring Quotes to Promote Optimism

Related Links

References

Benefits of Optimism

Martin Seligman, one of the leaders of positive psychology and the author of "Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life" indicates that the benefits of optimism include (Seligman, 2006):

• Optimists catch few infectious diseases than pessimists
• Optimists have better health habits than pessimists do
• Immune system may work better when we are optimistic
• Optimists live longer than pessimists

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Explanatory Style

According to Martin Seligman, how a person explains events in their life (explanatory style), differs greatly between any optimist and a pessimist in terms of the following:

• Permanence: permanent vs. temporary
• Pervasiveness: specific vs. universal
• Personalization: internal vs. external

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Explaining Positive and Negative Events:
Optimists vs. Pessimists

Optimists believe that:

• Positive events are permanent, universal, and internal
• Negative events are temporary, specific, and external

Pessimists tend to believe that:

• Positive events are temporary, specific, and external
• Negative events are permanent, universal, and internal

If both an optimist and a pessimist got a promotion at work:

The optimist might say: "I got the position because I am talented and I look forward to doing more good for the company as I take this position".

The pessimist might say: "I got the position because, Joe missed some time from work due to his father being ill. It is only a matter of time until the boss realizes that I’m not the right person for the job".

If both an optimist and a pessimist got laid off at work:

The optimist might say, "I’ll only be out of work for a short time. I look forward to finding an even better job and since I have some time off, I’m going to enjoy spending more time with my family".

The pessimist might say, "I’m worthless. No one will want to hire me. I don’t see things getting better soon. I better get a smaller apartment and cancel my cable because the economy is very bad".

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Video - Permanence (Timescale) Explanatory Style

Mike Duckett of Coaching for Success (www.coachingforsuccess.co.uk) interviews Nick Barber, who is someone who demonstrates optimistic thinking even after not reaching his goals at work for the previous month.

The focus of this interview is about the Permanence explanatory style (Duckett, 2009).

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Video - Pervasiveness Explanatory Style

Mike Duckett, life coach, continues interviews Nick Barber, an optimist, who has not met his work goals for the previous month.

The focus of this interview is about the Pervasiveness explanatory style (Duckett, 2009).

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Video - Personalization Explanatory Style

Mike Duckett, life coach, continues interviews Nick Barber, an optimist, who has not met his work goals for the previous month.

The focus of this interview is about the Personalization explanatory style (Duckett, 2009).

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Changing from Pessimism to Optimism
Using the ABCDE Model

Martin Seligman utilizes the ABCDE Model to challenge negative beliefs that contributes to pessimism. Below is an explanation of the ABCDE Model:

A = Adversity
B = Belief
C = Consequences
D = Disputation and Distraction
E = Energization

Adversity: The objective description of what happened, not your interpretation of it.

Belief: Your beliefs are how you interpret the adversity. Be sure to separate thoughts from feelings. Feelings will go under consequences.

Consequences: Your feelings, and what you did.

• Often you will feel more than one thing
• Write down as many as you are aware of
• What did you do then?

Distractions and Disputation: There are two ways to deal with pessimistic beliefs once you identify them – distraction and disputation.


Distraction: Here are several simple but effective thought-stopping techniques that can be used to interrupt habitual thought patterns:

1. Ring a loud bell
2. Carry a 3×5 card with the word STOP on it in enormous red letters
3. Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it hard
4. To keep your thoughts from returning to a negative belief, direct your attention elsewhere
5. Concentrate on a small object with ALL of your focus
6. When adversity strikes, schedule some time–later–for thinking things over
7. Write the troublesome thoughts down the moment they occur

Disputation: A deeper, more lasting remedy for disturbing beliefs is to dispute them; go on the attack!

There are 4 different ways to make your disputations convincing:

1. Evidence – shows that the negative beliefs are factually incorrect. Most negative beliefs are overreactions. So ask 'what is the evidence for this belief?' (This is not just about affirmations or repeating positive statements it is about employing logical arguments.)

2. Alternatives – ask yourself if there are alternative ways to look at the problem which are less damaging to yourself. Focus in particular on causes which are changeable (i.e. you were tired), the specific (i.e. only this instance), and the non-personal (other people’s contribution to the problem).

3. Implications – even if you still take a negative view of what you have done you can still de-catastrophize. For example, even if you did put your foot in your mouth at the interview and didn’t get this job what are the implications for other jobs or the rest of your life?

4. Usefulness – question the usefulness of your belief. It can be helpful here to realize that even negative situations can in the long run work out well. We can also realize that some of our beliefs about the world (i.e. that it should be fair) though laudable lead us to be unduly negative.

Energization: the new consequences (feelings, behaviors, actions) that do or could have from adopting a different, more optimistic explanation or set of beliefs.Practice the ABCDE technique with a friend or spouse providing the negative criticism to challenge you.

Example of How to Use the ABCDE Model

Adversity: I just started taking night classes after work for a master’s degree. I got back my first set of exams back and did not do as well as I would have wanted.

Belief: I probably did the worse in the class. I am stupid. I’m too old to be competing with these kids. I mind as well accept the facts, I just cannot learn. Even if I get my degree who is going to hire a 40 year old when the can hire a 24 year old instead? What was I thinking when I enrolled? It’s just too late for me to pursue my dreams.

Consequences: I felt totally dejected and useless. I was embarrassed I even gave it a try, I should withdraw from school and be satisfied with the job I have.

Disputation: I ‘m blowing this out of proportion. I hoped to get all A’s, but I got a B, a B+, and a B-. These are not awful grades. I may not have done the best in the class, but I didn’t do the worse either. The fact that I’m 40 does not make me any less intelligent than anyone else in the class. One reason I may not have done as well is because I have a lot of other things going on in my life that takes time away from my studies, like a full-time job and a family. I think given my situation, I did well on my exams. Now that I know how much effort is required, I can plan according in the future so I can do even better. Almost anyone who graduates from this program gets a decent job. For now, I need to focus on studying and earning my degree. When I graduate, I’ll focus on getting a better job.

Energization (Outcome): I feel much better about myself and my exams. I’m not going to withdraw from school. I’m not going to let my age get in the way of what I want. I’m still concerned that my age may be a disadvantage, but I will cross that bridge if and when I come to it.

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Philosopher’s Notes on Learned Optimism

Brian Johnson, the founder of the Philosopher’s Notes, presents a 10 minute video on the key points of book "Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman.

Brian also provides a 6 page PDF file outlining the key points for 100 top personal development books at a very nominal fee. If you’ve felt the need to pursue regular personal development, but do not feel you have enough time. This is an excellent option. You can just listen to his 10 minute video or read the 6 page PDF file to glean the salient facts. Great time saver and productivity tool!

To get 3 FREE summaries of self improvement books, click on the Philosopher's Notes ad in this section.

If the book really peaks your interest, buy and read "Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life" for a more complete guide in assisting you in becoming an optimist.

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FREE Optimist Test

Find out how optimistic you currently are. You can take a FREE Optimist test by registering for free and taking the Optimist Test located at the following website:

http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

Don’t worry if your scores are not as high as you would like. You can learn optimism by being conscious of your current explanatory style and changing that style to become more optimistic. You can use the ABCDE Model to assist you in this process. Buy and read “Learned Optimism” for a more complete guide in assisting you in becoming an optimist.

After you have practiced Learned Optimism for a month, go back and re-test yourself to track your progress.

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Inspiring Quotes to Promote Optimism

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we took so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened up for us."
~ Helen Keller

"The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude."
~ Dennis S. Brown

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."
~ Willie Nelson

"Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some."
~ John Keats

"The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up."
~ Mark Twain

"The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it."
~ C.C. Scott

"Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve."
~ Napoleon Hill

"Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass...It's about learning how to dance in the rain."
~ Vivian Greene

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."
~ Unknown

"Do not fear the winds of adversity. Remember - A kite rises against the wind rather than with it."
~ Unknown

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
~ Helen Keller

"The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly."
~ Richard Bach

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Related Links

Optimistic Quotes
Perseverance Quotes
Positive Quotes
Video by Napoleon Hill on How to Develop a Positive Mental Attitude
Motivational Posters

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References

Duckett, M. (Producer). (2009, October 23). Optimistic Thinking 1. Podcast retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA5XVibHTao&feature=channel

Duckett, M. (Producer). (2009, October 23). Optimistic Thinking 2. Podcast retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yO2_LZ7tlbY&feature=channel

Duckett, M. (Producer). (2009, October 24). Optimistic Thinking 3. Podcast retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYIcz1-a5XY&feature=channel

Johnson, B (Producer). (2009, December 16). Learned Optimism - Episode #9. Podcast retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me9TI9JhvZw

Seligman, M.(2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. United States: Vintage Books.

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