Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life – Martin Seligman

How does optimism have an affect on your life? According to Martin Seligman, American psychologist and avid promoter of positive psychology, he argues through detailed studies and research that those who are more optimistic have fewer health problems, and are more successful. In addition, he addresses the point of ‘learned helplessness’ which dives into how our helplessness may have been conditioned. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. YOU have the power to choose the way you interpret the cards that have been dealt to you. A situation is only as good or as bad as you perceive it to be. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should think; YOU are the captain of your own ship. Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think. The science of psychology has not always cared about individual styles of thinking, or about individual human action or the individual at all. Quite the opposite. When I was a graduate student in psychology, twenty-five years ago, dilemmas such as the one I’ve just described were not explained the way they are today. At that time people were assumed to be products of their environment. The prevailing explanation of human action was that people were ‘pushed’ by their internal drives or ‘pulled’ by external events. Though the details of the pushing and pulling depended on the particular theory you happened to hold, in outline all the fashionable theories agreed on this proposition.


2. You are capable of achieving more than you think. Your environment has conditioned you to believe that you aren’t good enough or that you’re not capable of achieving XYZ. If you have a strong will at achieving your goal, you can do it. Don’t be helpless as you’ve been conditioned to be that way. This is exactly why elephants can be tamed. From early on in their lives, they were chained to a poll. They had obviously tried to escape however their failed attempts only conditioned them to believe that they can’t break out of it. As they grow into adults, they still hold that belief that they are tethered to this chain and pole. Don’t be the elephant. I was stunned by the implications. If dogs could learn something as complex as the futility of their actions, here was an analogy to human helplessness, one that could be studied in the laboratory. Helplessness was all around us-from the urban poor to the newborn child to the despondent patient with his face to the wall.


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3. Adapt an optimistic mindset. You’ll have a better life than if you’re pessimistic all the time. The book talks about the “ABCDE” method on ways to change over to an optimistic mindset. In the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, he states that success doesn’t precede happiness but rather happiness precedes success. My subsequent research showed repeatedly that optimists do better in school, win more elections, and succeed more at work than pessimists do. They even seem to lead longer and healthier lives. As a therapist and a teacher of therapists I found that pessimism can be changed into optimism, not just in depressed people but in normal people as well.


4. Those who are pessimistic are often more depressed than their optimistic counterparts. The changes of depression can be seen even on a cellular level. The brain and the immune system are connected not through nerves but through hormones, the chemical messengers that drift through the blood and can transmit emotional state from one part of the body to another. It has been well documented that when a person is depressed the brain changes. Neurotransmitters, which are hormones that relay messages from one nerve to another, can become depleted. One set of transmitters, called catecholamines, becomes depleted during depression.

By Ryan Lee


My rating:
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Check out the book here:
Amazon USA
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK


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1 Comment

  1. […] that’s called Learned Helplessness which was coined by Martin Seligman as stated in his book Learned Optimism. Stop with the excuses and helplessness as to why you can’t live the life you want it to. No […]


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