Learned Optimism 101

Learned Optimism is an approach to self-improvement invented by American psychologist, Doctor Martin Seligman and described in his book, Learned Optimism (1990). Seligman argues for the benefits of an optimistic outlook and describes how to learn to be optimistic.

Beliefs impact outcomes
Having a positive set of beliefs and attitudes as an individual and as a team member is a key aspect of Bioteams. I was particularly impressed by Seligman’s work on Learned Optimism and referred to it both in The Bioteaming Manifesto and The Bioteams book.

Learned Optimism in a paragraph
Seligman characterises the three main differences between pessimists and optimists in terms of how they rationalise “set-backs”:

  • Permanence: Optimists point to specific temporary causes for negative events; pessimists point to permanent causes.
  • Pervasiveness: Optimistic people compartmentalize helplessness, whereas pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole.
  • Personalization: Optimists blame bad events on causes outside of themselves, whereas pessimists blame themselves for events that occur.

Learned Optimism in a single sentence!
The optimist’s outlook on failure is “What happened was unlucky (not personal), a temporary setback (not permanent) and just for one of my goals (not pervasive)”.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Here is a short self-assessment questionnaire (no longer available) from Stanford University which you can take to see your scores in terms of Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization and your overall score.

Applying Learned optimism in business
Learned Optimism has many applications in health and in sports and there are also some interesting papers applying Learned Optimism to business, for example, Applying Learned Optimism to Increase Sales Productivity by Peter Schulman

Checkout The Book
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life