How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

Martin E. P. Seligman - 2006 - Vintage Editions, Penguin Books - 319 pages

Learned Optimism

2021 September 08 | by Arduino Mancini Resilience

The book helps to answer several very important questions:

  • why are some people successful and others seem destined to fail in all their ventures?
  • why do some people never give up? And what are their characteristics?
  • can the feeling of powerlessness (the belief that what happens is not under our control) be learned or is it part of the personal trait?
  • is there a relationship between helplessness and depression?
  • why does depression affect women to a significantly greater degree?
  • are there situations in which being a pessimist can be helpful?
  • is it true that people with an optimistic view of life live better and longer?

I bought this book only after having leafed through it, because from the title I had the feeling that I was dealing with the usual American ‘how to…’ manual.

I began to reconsider my position when I found the title in reliable bibliographies and realised that I was dealing with a book that can help people radically change their attitude towards life’s events and improve its quality.

The author leads us on a journey where, through several studies and exciting stories, the reader gradually becomes aware that optimism can contribute greatly to our success and influence the quality and length of our lives; in short, our future largely depends on how we deal with failures and work to contain them.

Here is a short video in which Martin Seligman talks about the concept of positive Psychology – you will find other interesting videos by querying the search engines.

The good news that Martin Seligman tells us is that optimism can be learned; what may appear to be a pessimistic nature, embedded in our traits, can actually be changed even radically through the techniques that the author introduces to us: with examples of application in everyday life, in the relationship with children and at work.

Interesting examples of the use of the C.A.V.E. technique. (Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanation) based on the analysis of explanatory style, which indicates how people explain an event to themselves and how they experience it: e.g. ‘I can’t do anything right‘ or ‘Everything I touch turns to gold‘.

Seligman presents some fascinating applications of the technique.

For instance, in 1988 it was possible in the USA to predict both the results of the primaries and the presidential race ‘simply’ by analysing the text of the candidates’ speeches; the winner was George Bush, the candidate judged to be the most optimistic.

You can imagine the use that can be made of such indications in the preparation of political leaders’ speeches, can’t you?

Another interesting case is the application of the C.A.V.E. technique in sport; here, the way athletes evaluate their own performance can provide coaches with useful indications to help improve their results and/or manage a team.

What I found exciting, however, is the concept of learned helplessness, a state of mind in which a directive management style risks bringing the whole organisation to its knees: a point that entrepreneurs and managers in search of ego nourishment should reflect upon.

At the end of the book a very important question: what optimism are we looking for?

An optimism resulting from the so-called ‘Pollyanna syndrome’, which consists in perceiving, remembering and communicating only the positive aspects of the events, ignoring the negative ones, or a balanced optimism, which realistically increases awareness and confidence, reducing the risk of failure?

Certainly the latter; to its construction, critical thinking can make a fundamental contribution.

Finally, a word of warning: there are some tests in the book which you may be tempted to try. I suggest you do not get worried, especially if the results are not the expected ones: I, perhaps due to printing errors, often got inconsistent results.

A must-read book, because it can simply change the way you look at events and live your life.



Part One – Research

  1. Two ways of looking at life
    • The territory to conquer
    • Depression
    • Success
  1. Learning about helplessness
    • Vulnerability and invulnerability
  1. Explain adversity
    • Measure your optimism
    • Explanatory style
    • Who are the people who never give up?
    • Attention to responsibility
    • What can you do if you are pessimistic?
  1. The last stage of pessimism
    • Measure your depression
  1. As you think, so you are
    • Learned helplessness and the explanatory style
    • Is pessimism the cause of depression?
    • Explanatory style and cognitive therapy
    • Rumination and depression
    • The other side of depression: women and men
    • Treating depression
    • Cognitive therapy and depression
    • Why does cognitive therapy work?
    • Therapy

Part Two – The kingdoms of life

  1. Success at work
    • The explanatory style of success
    • Measuring talent
    • The explanatory style at Metropolitan Life
    • The “special strength” study
    • Special strength
    • The new Metropolitan Life recruitment policy
    • Changing Pessimists into Optimists
    • Why Pessimism Exists
    • Optimists and pessimists
  1. Children and parents: the origins of optimism
    • Measure your child’s optimism
    • Why children can’t be helpless
  1. School
    • The classroom
    • Measure your child’s depression
    • The Princeton-Penn longitudinal study
    • Divorce and parental crisis
    • Girls and boys
    • The college
    • The West Point training centres
    • The traditional view of academic success
  1. Sport
    • The National League
    • The 1985 Mets and 1986 Cardinals
    • The National Basketball Association
    • The Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets
    • The Berkeley swimmers
    • What every coach should know
  1. Health
    • The mind-body problem
    • Optimism and health
    • Pessimism, mental illness and cancer
    • The immune system
    • Optimism and health
    • The men of the Grant Study
    • The mind-body problem revisited
    • Psychological prevention and therapy
  1. Politics, religion, culture: a new psychohistory
    • American presidential elections from 1948 to 1984
    • 1900-1944
    • The 1988 elections
    • The 1988 primaries
    • The 1988 presidential campaign
    • The 1988 Senate Elections
    • The explanatory style across the border
    • Religion and optimism
    • Psychohistory revisited

Part Three – Change: from pessimism to optimism

  1. The optimistic life
    • Guidelines for using optimism
    • The ABCs
    • Identify the ABCs
    • Your ABC score
    • Discussion and Distraction
    • Learning to discuss with yourself
    • The externalisation of voices
    • In summary
  1. Help your child avoid pessimism
    • ABCs for your child
    • Recording your child’s ABCs
    • Your child’s ABDE
    • Recording your child’s ABCDEs
    • Externalising voices for your child
  1. Optimism in organisations
    • The 3 benefits of optimism
    • Learning optimism
    • Changing your inner dialogue at work: the ABCDE model
    • ABC
    • Identify the ABCs
    • ABDCE
    • Externalising voices
    • In summary
  1. Flexible optimism
    • A new way of looking at depression
    • Changing the balance
    • The strengths of the maximum self
    • Flexible optimism



(No Ratings Yet)
Leave your comment now! (* mandatory)

Name *
E-mail *
Your comment *