Learned Optimism

In Book Experiences, Happy Hats, Jogging on Saturday on January 12, 2013 at 9:54 am

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E.P. Seligman

It is a good book.  This guy has spent 25 years studying why some people make it out of adversity and others don’t.  An example is: why some students who have high scores and excellent test results succeed in college and others don’t.  Why some kids who are living in a world of chaos make it and others don’t.  After many studies he has come to the conclusion that an important difference between people who can overcome adversity and those who don’t is they way they think about it.  Pessimists and Optimists.  Optimists are those that make it.  The way they think about adversity helps them overcome it and bounce from the impact faster.  More importantly, that way of thinking can be learned.  So, I’ve read the book and it makes sense.  It requires attention to our inner dialogue.  The voices.  And it provides ways to manage that inner dialogue and transform it into something that energizes us to get into action.  It also is specific about when to let the pessimistic inner dialogue be dominant.  The author takes the time to explain the questions he had and how he went about to get the answers.  He brings to light concepts that are very interesting, such as ‘learned helplessness’ that state in which we have learned that nothing we do will make a difference so we don’t do anything anymore and also how to overcome this state permanently.  I recommend this book to all of you who are looking for ways to manage yourselves to become more effective and create positive impact in you and  around you.

This is a personal example of that pessimistic inner dialogue and how it can be transformed to a dialogue that helps me move forward.


A set back – I stated in my goals for the year that I was going to go to the gym four times a week.  This past week I only managed to go twice.


The thoughts are against us, they are permanent, pervasive and personal – I’m so disorganized, I’ll never make it to the gym four times a week, what was I thinking? It is stupid of me to think I can do that.  I’ll never get to be as fit as I want to.  I’m just a middle age woman out of shape and that’s who I’ll be from now on, with a bulgy stomach and a huge bottom! just accept it.


We feel angry or sad. We are ready to just sit down and do nothing about it or quit – Well, that’s where I was on Friday, I didn’t go to the gym on Friday.

Disputation of the Belief:

The thoughts are supportive of us.  They are temporary, specific and there is the option to fix/change things – Yes, I was not able to go to they gym on Monday or Tuesday because things at work were really busy.  I had two new employees starting and the lockers in the gym were getting installed so the showers were out.  I may not reach the fitness or look of a swim suit model, but I can now jog 6 miles if I have to and comfortably I can jog 5 miles.  My bottom is not huge, I’ve seen huge bottoms and mine is not that size.  I am not disorganized.  In all the chaos of starting the year I managed to make time to go to the gym twice even though I had two new employees to take care of.   Things will improve as they learn and I won’t feel the need to stay in the office to be their safety net.


We feel angry or sad, but shake of those feelings quickly and move to action –  I know my focus needs to be with my new employees and if I can train them so they are independent to be alone while I’m at my lunch break then I can take that time without worries to go to the gym.

Disputation tools:

  • Usefulness:  Is it good to stop to think about this now? If yes, skip to Aternatives and below.  If no use Distraction and, write the thought down and schedule a time to think about it later.
  • Distraction: Do something physical to take your mind away from the negative thoughts
  • Alternatives: Find a way to look at the situation that is not personal, pervasive and permanent
  • Evidence: Look for evidence that confirms or denies your belief
  • Implications: The objective is to decatastrophize if the evidence we found supports our belief.  How real are the implications?

When to use:

Use pessimism if the cost of failure is high: A drunk party goer using optimism to get him/herself to drive home is not good.  The drunk may lose his life or kill others if he fails.  Pessimism will give him/her a more accurate view of reality.

Use optimism if the cost of failure is low: The sales agent using optimism to make one more call is good.  He only loses his time if he fails.  Optimism will give him/her the tools to keep making calls in the face of rejection allowing him/her to get to the call where the receiver will buy faster.


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