Learned Optimism

Life’s not always easy, but for some, everything always seems to turn out fine. We all know someone like that, someone whose life always seems to be on an upward trend.

In his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin Seligman tries to explain the difference between these two different kinds of people. Why some people seem to always get everything they want, while others just don’t.

It’s a bit of a spoiler (not really), but his answer to the question is: they’re optimist.

But that’s not all there is to it. Sligman explains that optimism and pessimism are explanatory styles that we use to explain bad events in our lives.

Optimists and pessimists explain bad events in 3 distinctly different ways:

Optimists see problems as temporary, pessimists see them as permanent.

As an example, pessimist says:”I failed this test. I always fail my tests,” when an optimist would reach a different conclusion:”I failed this test, but next time I’ll do better.”

Optimists see problems as specific to a situation, pessimists make them a general case.

Having an online gaming background, I have this example to give. When in a team game, a pessimist might say after small failure: “This team sucks.” writing off everyone in the team as incompetent. An optimist would say “This person doesn’t quite deliver, but I’m sure the rest of the team will carry us to victory.”

You don’t need to have a gaming background to understand what I’m trying to say here.

Optimists see problems as externally caused, pessimists blame themselves.

When getting a divorce, both people will think one of them is the major cause. An optimist will always attribute the failure to an external source, in this case, their former spouse (“He never wanted kids anyway”). The pessimist is likely to blame herself (“I never made time for her that’s why she left me).

Now you know about the difference between optimists and pessimists, and you might be wondering how does this help you?

Well, both styles are acquire and can be learned. In fact, you already learned them from your parents, teachers and friends. Your environment has shaped you into an optimist or a pessimist.

Throughout this book, Seligman gives you ways to change yourself from an “I can’t” to “I can”-person, and that is why I recommend this book to anyone who recognizes themselves as someone who is prone to pessimistic thinking.

If you got intrigued, you can buy the book here: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

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    1. These days, I also fall into the optimist category, but I wasn’t always like that. Many things had to change in order for me to change. The previous me would have benefited from reading this book.


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