What is Learned Optimism?

Learned optimism is an idea proposed by psychologist Martin Seligman which states that optimism, or a talent for positivity, can be taught and learned by consciously changing negative self-talk into positive self-talk.  Another way to think about it is that you can teach yourself to be joyful, grateful and happy.  Much research and experience supports the idea that optimism can in fact be learned and practiced.

The benefits of an optimistic outlook are numerous and well-documented: optimists are higher achievers and have better overall health.  Optimists tend to feel more successful, grateful and fulfilled.  Therefore, if optimism is extremely beneficial and it is a skill that can be learned, why not cultivate it?

Seligman shows how to go about doing this through what he calls the ABCDE model, which stands for Adversity, Belief, Consequence, Disputation and Energization.  Don’t let the words fool you, the idea is actually quite simple and practical.  Here is an example:

A – Adversity: Someone rushes past you and bumps into you, knocking your drink to the ground.

B – Belief: You say (and believe), “That person is so rude and selfish!”

C – Consequence: Feelings of anger and hatred arise within you and stay with you throughout the day.

D – Disputation: You recognize that these negative feelings will not help you in any way and decide to step in.  You tell yourself, “It’s not worth getting upset over this.  Perhaps that person had to rush to the emergency room or had another serious crisis.  I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.  More than anyone else, this will help me.”

E – Energization: You feel energized that you have taken control of your thoughts and successfully calmed your mind.  You rejoice at your increasing ability to think optimistically.


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