Martin Seligman on “learned optimism”

Here’s a portion of a recent blog post by Tom Butler-Bowdon that I am eager to share with you.

To read the complete article, please click here.

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What makes a person pick themselves up after rejection by a lover, or another keep going when their life’s work comes to nothing?

The ability of some people to bounce back from apparent defeat is not simply a ‘triumph of the human will’.

Rather than having an inborn trait of greatness, some people develop a way of explaining events that does not see defeat as permanent or affecting their basic value.

In psychology, a different and more positive “explanatory style” in dealing with events is what you and I call optimism.

Martin Seligman was one of the first people to really study the optimistic mindset. He made a surprising finding: that optimism is not simply a trait that “we either have or we don’t”; it involves a set of skills which can be learned.

I wrote about Seligman’s seminal Learned Optimism in 50 Self-Help Classics.

Ironically, Seligman came to this conclusion after studying how dogs learn how to be helpless. Faced with unpleasant stimuli (mild electric shocks) in lab conditions, most dogs just give up and don’t try to improve their situation. But a few do.

Another researcher tested the principle on people, using noise instead of shocks, and found that learned helplessness can be engineered in human minds just as easily.

Yet as with the dog experiments, one in every three human subjects would not “give up”; they kept trying to press buttons on a panel in an attempt to shut off the noise. They kept believing there was a way out, even when things seemed impossible.

Seligman wondered: What made these people different from the others?

His now-classic book is the subject of this week’s podcast – more details below.

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To learn more about Martin Seligman, please click here.

To learn more about Tom Butler-Bowdon, please click here.

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