Optimism #2: How Optimism Works “In Your Head”

25 Jun

Understanding the nature of optimism helps us to understand how we can assess our level of optimism-pessimism, and how to become more optimistic.  For this section I have used the work of Martin Seligman’s  classic book: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, with particular attention to pages 40 – 53.  Be advised, the book is pretty academic (tedious).

The essence of this concept is that we talk to ourselves and explain our experiences.  These explanations have three dimensions:

Permanence (always vs. temporary)

The boss is a SOB (pessimism)

The boss is in a bad mood (optimism)

Pervasiveness (specific vs. universal)

Blogs are useless (pessimism)

This blog is useless (optimism)

Taken together permanence and pervasiveness are the cognitive basis of hope.  Finding permanent and pervasive negative causes of events is despair.  Seligman says “No other single score is as important as your hope score.”

Personalization (internal vs. external)

I’m stupid (pessimism)

You’re stupid (optimism)

Seligman then notes that this does not relieve people of personal responsibility.

Getting your head around these ideas can take some time, but is worth the effort if you want to understand and change yourself.  In general, the optimist chooses to explain events in a manner that allows her to exert control over these events in the future.

If your mental explanations of events in every situation are always negative and it’s your always your fault, you are experiencing a serious pattern of pessimistic self-talk.  This “learned helplessness” can become depression.

On the ABCs of becoming an optimist next week.

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