Learned Optimism

Learned Optimism

How to become an optimist? Change your thoughts!

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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12 Ways To Be Kinder To Yourself, Because You Deserve It

By putting these few things into practice you'd be surprised how much easier life will get.

When you're in college, it can be hard to find ways to be kind to ourselves. Our schedules are booked, there's always something we should be studying for, and life gets overwhelming. We put so much stress on ourselves when that's actually not benefiting us at all. Here are just a few ways you can be kinder to yourself and reduce stress in your life.

1. Stop talking yourself down.

It's really easy to let self-doubt take over and think negative thoughts. That's not helping anyone though, so stop talking yourself down. Be confident in who you are. You cannot improve if you're caught up in your head anyways, so do yourself a favor and cut it out.

2. Give yourself alone time.

Even if you're not an introvert, you can still benefit from taking time aside for yourself. Alone time allows you to reflect and relax. Most people aren't 100% introverts or 100% extroverts, so everyone needs a little time to their self.

3. Set time aside to do things you enjoy.

Find your hobby or your passion and actually set time aside to pursue it. If your hobby is a musical instrument or sport, block out time every week to practice. If your hobby is Netflix, no worries, you can fit that in easily.

4. Exercise, but not too much.

It's important to stay fit and active, but it's also important to do it in moderation. Don't overdo it or you'll end up with an injury, and that's not very kind to your body.

5. Nourish your body.

No matter how busy you are, you need to eat. Trust me, I understand how hard this can be with a busy schedule, but breakfast and lunch are still meals! Give your body the fuel it needs to make it through the day.

6. Drink at least 60 oz of water a day.

You'd be surprised how much your health can improve by just drinking water. I'm serious, your skin, your hair, your entire body will reap the benefits if you just try to drink 60 oz a day.

7. Treat yourself occasionally.

Whether it's an actual treat like ice cream or buying that pair of shoes you've been eyeing for the past month or so, treat yourself once in a while. You deserve it.

8. Spend time with people who uplift you.

Surround yourself with people who uplift you and make you feel good about yourself. Don't waste your time around toxic people-- just eliminate them from your life. Life's too short for bad friends.

9. Stop procrastinating.

Procrastination is all fun and games until it's the night before your midterm and you haven't studied at all. Plan ahead so you don't go into major stress-mode.

10. Give yourself a day off.

In college, we tend to live a go-go-go lifestyle. We study and work hard all week long and then party it up on the weekends. Between school, Greek life, school clubs, work, and friends, we are really busy. When you get a chance to have a day to just relax, take advantage of it. They don't come very often.

11. Organize your life.

An effective organizational system will save you so much time, energy, and stress. Having a planner or bullet journal will really help you stay on top of your life.

12. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Your formal dress isn't here yet and there are only two days until formal? No biggie. Relax. Sometimes things that seem super stressful and important in the moment just don't matter in the grand scheme of life. Your formal dress will either come in on time or someone will let you borrow one of their old ones. Life goes on. I'm still working on this one, myself.

By putting these few things into practice you'd be surprised how much easier life will get. Be kind to yourself. Life is short.

Cover Image Credit: @jacimariesmith/Instagram

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First, Love Yourself

You should be your own first priority.

Do you ever going through your daily life and daily tasks and realize you’re doing so many things for other people but really not any for yourself? Helping a friend with homework, driving a friend to the grocery store, working on a project for a team, etc. Don’t get me wrong helping others is a great habit to get into, and something I really enjoy doing when I invest my time in others. However, you can’t forget to invest time in yourself too.

I recently got away from this personal investment. I’m a people pleaser, and I like taking time out of my day to benefit the lives of others in any way that I can. It brings me happiness in seeing the joy I can bring out in others, and I like being the person that people always know they can count on.

But, because of this, there have been times when I’ve forgotten about myself.

There have been times when I’ve been so wrapped up in doing something for someone, or so worried about pleasing someone, or focusing solely on them that that task or that person becomes my main focus in life. I’ve put my love in people, before putting it in myself. And this should never be the case.

Your main focus every day should only be yourself. You are your own first priority.

The statement, “I’m going to focus on myself for a while”, seems cliché I know, but it is actually so much more important than people realize. If you aren’t focusing on yourself, loving yourself, and taking care of yourself who else will? No one else has the power to care for you as deeply as you can care for yourself. You just have to realize that.

I’ve done so much soul searching lately and have only come to find that I am the one in charge of my own happiness, I am the one in charge of my actions, I am the one in charge of my thoughts and feelings. I am. Every decision that’s made in my life results from a choice that I made, and no one else can make those choices for me.

You should never give that personal power away to people because when you put others before yourself, that gives them the power to put others before you.

Do the things that you want to do. Go out and treat yourself to ice cream, or a new manicure, if you want to. Go with your group of girlfriends to see the newest Nicholas Sparks movie and cry your eyes out, if you want to. Stay up till 3 am studying for a test you are really worried about, if you want to. Go to the gym instead of going out to dinner, if you want to.

Do the things that you personally love to do, the things that make you happy, and the things that help benefit yourself and the person you are because this personal investment can go along way, and it can teach you a lot of things about yourself that you haven’t realized yet.

My deep care for others is one of the things I love about myself, and I take pride in it. But, the deep care I am now figuring out that I have for myself too, has only opened doors for me, never closed them.

First, be open to a life of loving yourself, and then be open to sharing that love and care with others. Because how will someone ever love you, if you don't even love yourself?

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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