Learned Optimism27 Sep 2016
Summary of Reginald Braithwaite's presentation at Nordic Ruby 2016.
Learned Optimism is a book by Dr. Martin Seligman.
The book exposes a theory about how people explain things to themselves. We all do this, it's part of the whole sentience thing we have going on. Something happens, and we make up a little theory about why it happened.
The explanations you produce are classified along the following axis:
- Personal vs Impersonal
- Whether the explanation makes you responsible for the thing that happened (personal) or not (impersonal).
- Specific vs General
- Is the explanation about the thing that happened (specific), or are they about you, your beliefs, your methods, ... (general).
- Temporary vs Permanent
- Is the thing that happened temporary? Or is it permanent? Did it happen just one time, or is it a pattern that will repeat itself?
Seligman research showed that explanations differ depending on whether the explainer is an optimist or a pessimist, and whether the thing that happened is good or bad.
- Good things are personal, general, and permanent.
- Bad things are impersonal, specific, and temporary.
- Good things are impersonal, specific, and temporary.
- Bad things are personal, general, and permanent.
Both optimists are pessimists are inconsistent in their explanations, but in a different way.
This is a simplified model, and may even seem silly; but if you're like me (norswap), it's hard not to recognize that you flog yourself over your mistakes more often than you pat yourself on the back for your achievements.
Seligman says you can train yourself to become an optimist, and this implies changing the patterns of your explanations. He claims this changes your mood and your productivity.
It is not controversial to say that our moods affect the explanations we make up for things that happen in our lives. Explanatory Theory takes it a step further and says that the explanations we make up for things also affect our moods and behaviour.
To train yourself to become an optimist:
You train yourself to make a note of your explanations, every day. Repetition and consistency matters.
You analyze whether your explanations for good things are personal, general, and permanent. You analyze whether your explanations for bad things are impersonal, specific, and temporary.
You correct your explanations to make them optimistic. And you track your progress, just as you would track your progress for anything else you are trying to change in your life.