• Have you ever wondered why some people seem to find it easier to get through life than others? Or, why some people are far healthier and enjoy more success?
  • If so, you've probably thought at least once that such people were just “born under a lucky star.” But have you ever considered that perhaps their good fortune is the result of their optimistic outlook on life?
  • Learned  Optimism  is about exactly this phenomenon. Its author, Martin Seligman, is considered the father of the positive  psychology  movement, a movement which began with Seligman's studies of, what he called, “learned helplessness.”


  • Explanatory style refers to the way in which we explain the negative events of our lives to ourselves : optimistically or pessimistically.
    • pessimists consider problems to be permanent, while optimists consider them only temporary.
    • Second, where optimists think of problems as being specific to a certain situation, pessimists tend to generalize.
  • if a pessimistic student believes that the bad grade they received is unjustified, they might go on to think of grades as unfair in general. Consequently, they might find it a lot harder to study for their next exam.
  • while optimists tend to consider negative events as being externally caused, and positive events as internally caused, pessimists usually think of these the other way around.
  • the ways in which optimists and pessimists make sense of bad events are not set in stone: all three behavioral patterns can be changed.
  • Our explanatory style derives from our individual experience. Depending on our life experiences, we become either pessimists, believing we have no control over our fate, or optimists, feeling a sense of control over our destinies.
  • The most important takeaway is that, since our explanatory style is learned, we can change the way we “talk” to ourselves: even if you’ve acquired a pessimistic style in childhood, you're not condemned to use it forever.
  • Self talk is often unconscious
  • While it's difficult to ascertain which of our beliefs are “true,” it's clear that how we think about negative events greatly influences how they affect us.
  • imagine you're faced with an adverse situation at work – say you're calling a customer repeatedly and they don't pick up the phone. You believe that the customer is probably too busy to answer. The consequence is that you decide to simply leave a message and try again tomorrow.
  • However, with a different belief, the same adverse situation can have a very different result. For example, after calling for the fifth time, you believe that the customer is probably screening your calls because they don't want to do business with you. The consequence of this belief is that you feel defeated and unworthy, and might decide to quit trying to reach them altogether.

experiments & facts

  • Seligman administered electric shocks to dogs. Some of these canine subjects had the ability to put an end to the shocks by touching a button with their nose, while others couldn't stop the shocks no matter what they did.
    • What fascinated Seligman was that the dogs who couldn’t change their fate in this experiment would later also not even attempt to do anything about their situation when they actually could. Instead, they would simply lay there, apparently defeated.
  • While it is quite normal for people to feel helpless in a situation of defeat, one thing makes the helplessness stick, or enables us to “shrug off” the situation and move on: our so-called explanatory style.
  • The positive effects of an optimistic outlook are far greater than most of us assume. For instance, compared with their pessimistic peers, optimists are generally healthier.
    • Firstly, on a cellular level, optimists often have a stronger immune system. For example, studies that induced a state of inescapable helplessness in rats have shown that their immune systems produce fewer T-cells – cells that are crucial to immune system response.
    • Other studies have shown that changing our explanatory style, and the relief from the feeling of helplessness that this provides, can even enhance the immune system of cancer patients.
    • Secondly, because optimists tend to be more active than pessimists, they're more likely to take good care of themselves.
    • This is because optimists believe that their actions have a positive effect, so they're more likely to adhere to a health care regimen
    • Also, optimists encounter fewer negative life events than pessimists do, a phenomenon that researchers explain in terms of a pessimist’s passivity due to their conviction that they can't change anything
    • Thirdly, optimistic people find it easier to sustain friendships, and friendship is beneficial to our health. This is because having a friend that you can confide in and discuss anything and everything with actually eases the stress generated by negative life events.
    • So when you're going through a rough patch, confiding in someone who is close to you can help immensely. Often, because such people know us so well, they'll have insightful, useful ideas about what we can do to improve our situation.
  • In the human study, subjects were placed in a room, and given a panel with several buttons. The room was then filled with noise, and the subjects were given the task of stopping the noise by pressing the panel's buttons.
    • However, the experiment was rigged for some of the subjects: no matter which buttons they pressed, the noise wouldn't stop.
    • these particular subjects learned to be helpless in this situation, and after the experiment was over they showed symptoms of depression.
  • One area where this is particularly true is competitive sports. Given two teams that are equal in every other respect, the optimistic team will always outperform the pessimistic team, especially after a prior defeat.
    • Another example of the powerful influence of optimism on performance can be seen in the 1987 Berkeley swim team. The optimistic swimmers in the team performed better after failure than the pessimistic swimmers.
  • In one experiment, two groups of children – one optimistic, the other pessimistic – were given solvable math problems. In this first trial, both groups perform equally well.
    • In a second trial, however, the math problems are switched for unsolvable  ones.
    • The pessimistic children gave up, refusing to continue with the task. In contrast, the optimistic children, while aware that they were making mistakes, continued in their efforts to solve the problems by using their existing strategies.
  • As Seligman’s research shows, aptitude or talent is not sufficient to predict professional success, particularly in fields where one encounters a lot of setbacks. Therefore, he suggests selecting personnel for three main characteristics: motivation, aptitude and, of course, optimism.


  • One particularly effective way of handling negative self-talk is the so-called ABC technique, developed by the psychologist Albert Ellis. This technique involves three steps: adversity, belief and consequence.
    • ADVERSITY: A love interest doesn't return your phone calls.
    • BELIEF: He or she doesn't like me. My jokes are not funny. I'm ugly.
    • CONSEQUENCE: You feel depressed all day.
    • you should try to listen to your self talk and find at least five ABCs, so you can observe their negative effect on your life.
  • Our beliefs about a situation will determine both its consequences and how we feel about the situation. So, by changing our beliefs, we also change these consequences and our feelings.

  • The first way is disputation, which works on a deep level to transform your negative beliefs. Disputing your beliefs involves testing every belief in terms of the following four questions:

    • Is the belief actually true? If so, what evidence is there? For example, if one client doesn't buy from you, does this really mean that you're bad at your job? If you answer “yes,” then how can you explain the successful sales you’ve made this week?
    • Is there an alternative explanation? Here, you should focus on the specific, changeable and impersonal causes. For example, if your colleagues suddenly stop talking the moment you entered the office, is it actually because they were talking about you behind your back? Is it possible they were talking about something else entirely?
    • What are the implications of your belief, if it were true? How probable are these implications, and are they really that bad?
    • Finally, ask yourself: is what I’m thinking useful to me? If a thought isn't useful, can you simply let it go and focus instead on how to change the situation next time around?
  • Once you have practiced this method of disputing your beliefs, you can then move on to the second way: externalizing the voices.

    • For this, you need to get a close friend to do the exercise with you and to attack you as viciously as you do yourself, using all your own negative self-beliefs. Your task is to defend yourself against these attacks by verbalizing your defense out loud.

#learning #psychology #blinkist [[psychology]]

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