'Learned Optimism' by Martin E. P. Seligman
notes by J. Zimmerman

J. Zimmerman on
Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman.

Seligman's Learned Optimism has become so important in the self-help field because it justifies its claims through its scientific foundation. The book is not only about optimism. It also validates the possibility of personal change through one's efforts and will.

Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman.
Discover what other people think or obtain your own copy of Learned Optimism.
Support us -- Buy at Amazon

Seligman on Explanatory Style
How can you figure out your style?
How can you change your style?
Who is Martin Seligman? A brief bio

Seligman on Explanatory Style

Seligman observes that there are three enormous differences in the Explanatory Style (the way in which a person tends to explain situations to herself) between pessimistic people and optimistic people:

  1. Temporary versus Permanent: how long something lasts and how frequently it occurs.
    "People who give up easily believe the causes of the bad events that happen to them are permanent: The bad events will persist, [and] will always be there to affect their lives."

    "The permanence dimension determines how long a person gives up for. 'Permanent' explanations of bad events produce long-lasting helplessness and 'temporary' explanations produce resilience."

    "Optimistic people explain good events to themselves in terms of permanent causes: traits, abilities, always's. Pessimists name transient causes: moods, effects, sometimes's."

  2. Pervasiveness, which concerns how widespread something is:
    When something wanted ... When something unwanted ...
    ... happens to an optimist Success is attributed to a universal explanation such as a widespread skill (e.g. 'I am smart'). Failure is attributed to a specific explanation (e.g. 'Professor Seligman is not fair').
    ... happens to a pessimist Success is attributed to a specific instance (e.g. 'I am smart at memorizing phone numbers'.) Failure is attributed to a universal explanation or generalization (e.g., 'All teachers are unfair').

  3. Personalization: Internal versus External attribution: Is it about you or about other people?
    "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 unlovable. People who blame external events do not lose self-esteem when bad events strike. On the whole, they like themselves a lot better than people that blame themselves do. "

Seligman says that you can use a different, more optimistic, way of explaining setbacks to yourself, and that this can protect you from allowing a crisis to drop you into depression.

Seligman found that people who give up easily have not argued against their negative interpretation of failure and their self-disparagement.

Those who avoid being snared by depression tend to listen to their internal dialogue, and then argue with themselves against their self-limiting thoughts, and quickly find more positive thought about the event that concerns them.

How can you figure out your style?

Seligman includes a series of tests that you can take, so that you can measure your explanatory style, and determine how you use those three dimensions (permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization).

How can you change your style?

The final third of Seligman's book is Changing: From Pessimism to Optimism. Using techniques of cognitive therapy developed by Steven Hollon and Arthur Freeman, he asks the reader to identify the ABC's:

Initially you simply record what happens.

Then he teaches you two techniques:
"There are two general ways for you to deal with your pessimistic beliefs once you are aware of them. The first is simply to distract yourself when they occur - try to think of something else. The second is to dispute them. Disputing is more effective in the long run, because successfully disputed beliefs are less likely to recur when the same situation presents itself again."

Who is Martin Seligman? A brief bio

Martin Seligman is a cognitive psychologist. He asks "What makes a person keep going after the death of a spouse or a child, or pick themselves up after their company folds."

He is credited with developing the learned helplessness theory of depression, and with discovering ways that people can become more optimistic and therefore less likely to succumb to depression.

Martin Seligman grew up in Albany, New York. As an undergraduate at Princeton, he majored in modern philosophy. Shifting to psychology, he became licensed as a psychologist in 1973, and then directed the clinical training program of the University of Pennsylvania psychology department.

Seligman has written over a dozen books and almost 200 articles.

We highly recommend Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman.

Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman.
Discover what other people think or obtain your own copy of Learned Optimism.
Support us -- Buy at Amazon