Learned Optimism

Learned Optimism

How to become an optimist? Change your thoughts!
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Martin Seligman was the president of the American Psychological Association and is one of the eminent leaders of the “positive psychology” movement, which focuses not just on making ill/depressed people feel better, but make OK people feel even greater! His book, Learned Optimism, was recommended to all by Karl Bunday of Hacker News. So I read it.

Seligman anchors his argument in the context of Learned Helplessness, a concept he helped pioneer. From Wikipedia:

learned helplessness refers to a condition of a human being or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected.

Seligman says that depressed behavior is often a symptom of learned helplessness.

It turns out that not everyone reacts the same way to negative external events. Some people bounce back after a bout of depression (which almost everyone experiences in the face of adversity), others wade, marooned in their sadness, fits of despondency. People who are resilient are more emotionally intelligent – and they tend to be optimists. People who wade are pessimists.

Seligman attributes these categorical differences to what he calls “explanatory style”. If you have an optimistic explanatory style, you “explain” away negative events with positivity; if you have negative explanatory style, you explain them with negativity. There are three dimensions to your explanatory style: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization.

Permanence means saying things like “You always nag” instead of “You nag when I don’t clean my room”, or “I’m all washed up” instead of “I’m tired.” To think about bad things in always’s and never’s is pessimistic; to think with sometimes and lately’s, and blaming bad events on transient conditions, you have an optimistic style. The converse, however, is that optimists explain GOOD events with permanence, whereas pessimists attribute good events to temporary conditions. A pessimist might say “It’s my lucky day”, or “I try hard”, or “My rival got tired” instead of “I’m always lucky”, “I’m talented”, or “My rival is no good.”

Pervasiveness is about universal vs specific. For example, in bad events, a pessimist might say “All teachers are unfair”, “I’m repulsive”, or “Books are useless”, whereas an optimist might say “Professor Seligman is unfair”, “I’m repulsive to him”, or “This book is useless”. The converse holds as well: optimists explain good events with universal style whereas pessimistic use specifics. For example, a pessimist says “I’m smart at math”, “My broker knows oil stocks”, or “I was charming to her” instead of “I’m smart”, “My broker knows wall street”, or “I was charming”.

Aside: Seligman claims that people who make permanent AND universal explanations for their troubles tend to collapse under pressure. He calls this dimension “hope” and he says no other “score” is as important as your hope score, and he operationally defines hope as a combination of your negative-permanence and negative-pervasiveness.

Personalization is about how much you attribute negative events to your own causality versus bad external events. When bad things happen, we can blame ourselves (internalize) or we can blame other people or circumstances (externalize). Low self-esteem usually comes from an internal style for bad events. A pessimist might say “I’m stupid,”, “I have no talent at poker”, or “I’m insecure”, whereas an optimist might say “You’re stupid”, “I have no luck at poker”, and “I grew up in poverty”. Similarly, a pessimist might explain good events with “A stroke of luck” or “my teammates’ skill” as opposed to “i can take advantage of luck” or “my skill”.

What about responsibility? You don’t want people to turn into self-aggrandizing blowhards, but if they are depressed then they can’t change their negative behavior. Better to be happy than to be miserable. There is a time and place for pessimism which I will describe later in the essay.

Seligman provides what in my opinion is way too much evidence for the benefits of optimism. Optimists live longer; they’re happier; they have better survival rates for cancer; they perform better in sports; they make more money. If you want to see all the specifics, buy the book. I understand that as a scientist (especially in something like psychology, which a lot of ignorant people dismiss as “not a real science”) he has to back up his claims with evidence, but whatever, you.

Speaking of studies, one cool scientific technique he employed was CAVEing. Seligman and his research cohorts invented a technique called CAVE: Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations. They could determine how optimistic or pessimistic someone was based on their quotes, even if they were uttered half a century ago. The team would analyze them on the dimensions of permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. Then they could go on to CAVE their public-record commentary (e.g. newspapers) in order to study the long-term effects of optimism or pessimism.

Optimism is especially valid in sports. It seems that optimists and pessimists don’t fare the same – pessimists tend to perform poorly after negative performances, whereas optimists don’t let past performance affect future performance.

How to become an optimist? Change your thoughts!

But pessimism has a place! If there are long-term consequences involved (e.g. money, health), then it pays to be pessimistic. Otherwise, one should be optimistic!

Cover Image Credit: pixabay

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22 New Things That I Want To Try Now That I'm 22

A bucket list for my 22nd year.

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"I don't know about you but I'm feelin' 22," I have waited 6 long years to sing that and actually be 22! Now 22 doesn't seem like a big deal to people because you can't do anything that you couldn't do before and you're still super young. But I'm determined to make my 22nd year a year filled with new adventures and new experiences. So here's to 22.

1. Go sky diving.

What's crazier than jumping out of a plane? (Although I'll probably try indoor skydiving first.)

2. Go cliff jumping/diving.

I must be the only Rhode Islander who hasn't gone to Jamestown and jumped off a cliff.

3. Ride in a hor air balloon.

Up, up and away.

4. Try out skiing.

Cash me in the next Olympics, how bout dat.

5. Try out snow boarding.

Shawn White, I'm coming for you.

6. Go bungee jumping.

Because at least this time I'll be attached to something.

7. Go to Portugal.

I mean I'm Portuguese so I have to go at some point, right?

8. Go to Cape Verde.

Once again, I'm Cape Verdean so I have to go.

9. Vist one of the seven wonders of the world.

I mean hey, Egypt's on, my bucket list.

10. Try out surfing.

It's only natural that somebody from the Ocean State knows how to surf.

11. Learn a new langauge.

Because my little bit of Portuguese, Spanish and Latin isn't cutting it anymore.

12. Travel to a state that I've never been to before.

Fun fact: I've only been to 17 of the 50 states.

13. Go paddle boarding.

Pretty boring but I've never done it.

14. Go scuba diving.

I'm from the Ocean State so I guess I should see the ocean up close and personal.

15. Learn how to line dance.

There's actually a barn in my state that does line dancing, so this one will definitely get crossed off.

16. Go kayaking.

All this water around me and I haven't done a lot of the water activites.

17. Stay the night in a haunted hotel room.

I bet if I got my friends to come with me, it would be like the Suite Life of Zach and Cody episode, minus the ghost coming out of the wall but you never know.

18. Get my palms read.

Because who doesn't want to know their future.

19. Go to a medium.

Like a medium that can communicate with people that have died.

20. Take a helicopter ride.

Air plane: check Helicopter:....

21. Sleep under the stars.

Because sleeping in a tent is more like glamping than camping

22. Just to try new things in my everyday life.

Whether it's trying a new restaurant, getting something different at my usual restaurants, changing my usual style, going on the scary rides at amusement parks, and bringing things I used to do back into my life now.

Cover Image Credit:

Author's illustration

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Poetry On Odyssey: Self Love

"happiness isn't always easy, especially being happy about yourself."

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self love. not something i was ever very good at.

hell i'm still learning how to be good at it.

it's hard when you are constantly surrounded by people and things telling you your worth. it sucks.

i am always told that i need to stop being so hard on myself but it's not easy to be easy on myself when all i see is my life spiraling out all around me.

love is defined as something that makes you happy and something one can appreciate forever and ever.

i however see myself every single god damn day and feel the opposite.

my face, my skin, my hair, my body, my life.

they all make me unhappy and then i wonder if i'll ever know what self love really is.

it's so hard to dig yourself out of a mile deep hole you have been digging for yourself for the past 21 years of your life.

i am pale and average and i have cellulite and my stomach isn't flat and i don't have a nice ass and i don't eat well and i am behind in many things in life and that is when my mind continues to race over and over until i panic and can't stop it. I can't breathe and everything goes wrong and i feel like i am going to die.

self love is bullshit and it is not easy and it is oceans away from me as i lay trapped on an island of self doubt and regret and hatred for who i am and what my life is and i don't know what to do to change it.

i fear that as i grow older the self loathing will grow more and more and the self love will become an empty shell sitting, collecting dust on a shelf with all of my hopes and dreams until i die.

i beat myself up internally and i am my own worst enemy and i honestly wish that wasn't the case but this is just what i am used to. abuse. from myself. from my past. from the future ahead. it's what i'm used to and i wish that wasn't the case but it is.

i push myself to the edge and can never fully seem to jump, i get scared and wish i could just do it. just be completely and utterly happy with myself and who i am. to be the best, to be perfect and to hope for a day when i can be a guiding light for others.

self love is so much more than just appreciating and accepting who you are and what you look like.

it's not simple, or easy, or smooth. it's hard, it's difficult and it's jagged.

my own self expectations seem to be out of reach and not attainable and i keep going backwards.

my life is not the straight and narrow but rather a full on rollercoaster that i so much enjoyed as a child. now i ride them and become sick, much like when i think of my self love. it sickens me. it saddens me. it makes me dizzy.

and if anyone tells you that they completely and utterly love themselves unconditionally then they are a fucking liar.

Cover Image Credit:

Instagram // Broken Isn't Bad

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