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Learned Optimism

How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

By Martin Seligman
  • Read in 18 minutes
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  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

Learned Optimism explains why so many people grow up to be pessimistic and what the negative implications of this habit are. Furthermore, it shows how our habitual optimism or pessimism influences us for better or for worse in all areas of life. Finally, it shows how pessimists can learn how to become optimists, thus greatly improving their health and happiness, and presents several techniques for learning this new way of thinking.

Key idea 1 of 12

What‘s in it for me: acquire the right mindset and a positive view on your world.

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.”

In perhaps his most famous experiment, 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.

Explanatory style refers to the way in which we explain the negative events of our lives to ourselves : optimistically or pessimistically. Both optimists and pessimists tend to use very distinct explanatory styles.

As you'll see in the following blinks, this style does not only pertain to individuals, but also to entire teams. For example, all other things being equal, explanatory style is a predictor of the success and failure of sports teams, especially when under pressure.

Also in these blinks, you'll discover the reason why optimists tend to be healthier than pessimists.

You'll find out why talking to yourself in a pessimistic way can lead to depression.

Finally, and most importantly, you'll discover that our explanatory style is learned, and that it's possible to change your outlook on life for the better.

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