Learned Optimism

Learned optimism is being able to shift one’s thinking from a negative to a positive perspective. This also encompasses being less to being more optimistic. This positive psychology concept is attributed to Martin Seligman (founder of Positive Psychology) who wrote “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life” which was published in 1990. Seligman believes that anyone can benefit from learned optimism through the ABCDE phases: Adversity, Belief, Consequence, Disputation, and Energization.

For instance, an unpleasant situation or an “Adversity” happened; you are stuck in traffic and you are running late for an important appointment. In this kind of scenario, your “Belief” is usually, “Oh, I am doomed, I would rather not show up”. Thus, this leads to the “Consequence” of thinking of cancelling the meeting which leads to guilty feelings. In learned optimism, you have to “Dispute” the belief; this may be a counter evidence or a reminder to move on. Like, you may remind yourself that it’s better to be late than not to show up. A successful disputation may then lead to “Energization” characterized by positive feelings which arise from your sense of accomplishment. For example, upon arriving at the meeting, you said, “Yes! I made it!”.

In the therapeutic setting, clients’ optimism levels are first taken. This is followed by the assessment of reactions to unpleasant situations. This may be accomplished by journaling spontaneous reactions to adversity. After around three days, the entries are reviewed and patterns are identified. For instance, does the client tend to feel guilty, belittle achievements, or internalize failures too much? The unhealthy beliefs are then disputed and achievements are celebrated.

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