On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part III: Learned Optimism

glasshalfemptyLEARNED OPTIMISM. Master this and you can change, with or without therapy.

The Pessimist reacts to setbacks from a presumption of personal helplessness. His assumption: bad events will last a long time, will undermine what he does, and are his fault.

The Optimist reacts to setbacks from a presumption of personal power. His assumption: bad events are temporary setbacks, isolated to particular circumstances which he can overcome by his own abilities and effort.

Martin Seligman, Ph.D., Director, University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, is the psychologist generally credited as the founder of the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology focuses on the empirical study of positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.

Research has demonstrated that positive psychology interventions can decrease symptoms of depression and allow people to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, and have higher hopes,

An Exercise in Learned Optimism. Do try this at home:

1. First, you must know what situations get to you. Identify adverse situations or events you routinely face. Which ones typically bother you, creating negative emotions?

2. Note (and record) beliefs about those events that come to mind (the “recordings” you play in your head). What do you tell yourself about why what is happening is indeed happening?

3. Note the consequences of those beliefs (and write them down). How do those beliefs affect such things as your energy, emotions, and will to act?

4. Dispute those beliefs. Disputation can involve challenging the usefulness of the belief, focusing on evidence that contradicts or undermines the negative belief and supports a more positive interpretation, challenging negative implications on which harmful beliefs rely, and generating alternative explanations.

5. Distract yourself. Use distraction to stop the repetition – and recitation – of negative beliefs. You might take a breath, or snap a rubber band on your wrist and say “stop” when a negative belief comes into your mind. Writing down worrisome beliefs and fears to consider at a future time can leave you free to act.

6. Notice what happens to your energy and will to act when you dispute negative beliefs. With practice, disputation becomes more rapid and effective, as the energization it creates serves as a reward for your effort. With practice, the positive explanatory style becomes your default response.

Practice, practice, practice. And let me know how it works for you, ok?

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


2 responses to “On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part III: Learned Optimism

  1. Hi Marni–
    Isn’t the blogging world fun?
    I too have a blog and have found my niche–feel free to visit my blog: http://melaniemusings-melanie.blogspot.com

  2. As a camp counselor, I have noticed two things:

    1. When a child hurts themselves, their level of pain (or perceived pain) is directly related to my reaction. If I act panicked, their tears will not stop flowing. If I tell them it is not that bad, they will forget about it in minutes.

    2. One camper will say something mean to another camper and he/she will start crying. My first reaction is to tell them “thats not worth crying over.” By belittling the mean comment, I can make the camper feel better.

    Both of these examples contain external involvement, and if I understand your post, you suggest that its possible to have these conversations internally. By disputing how we feel, we can literally change our emotional outlook. So, instead of our emotions controlling us, we can control them.

    This isn’t only important for mental health. Recent research has shown that low serotonin and norepinephrine levels can cause physical ailments, as well.

    On that note, be happy and be healthy!

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