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on May 4, 2004
Unlike many of the positive thinking books that attempt to woo the reader into believing that optimism is the answer to life's ills, this well-researched book explains optimism and pessimism, how they originate and their pros and cons. It is an excellent book and should be read by all who want to understand these issues. I recommend two books in addition to this marvellous book. The first is Optimal Thinking: How To Be Your Best Self, a practical how-to book to show you how to resolve your emotions and make the most of every situation. The second book is Serious Creativity which shows you how to generate options, particularly when you are stuck.
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on May 28, 2003
Learned optimism
When Martin Seligman deliver his APA presidential address, I was in the back of the room. His ideas were radical -- too radical for some therapists, who began walking out. These days Seligman's ideas reach beyond the research community and we can all gain.
Here's the basic thesis. When rats receive shock after shock, and nothing they do prevents future shocks, they learn to be helpless. They just give up. Dogs exhibit the same behavior and so do people. However, not all people -- and, for that matter, not all rats -- succumb. With people, Seligman has learned, thinking style is the moderator, i.e,. the differentiator between those who give up and those who keep going.
At first I seem an unlikely person to read this book, let alone recommend it. I'm known as irreverent, cynical and "cantankerous," as one reader said. However, Seligman defines an optimistic style by the way we respond to adverse events. Optimists see them as specific rather than pervasive, transient rather than permanent, and caused by factors outside oneself. In that sense, I might qualify!
I recommend this book because it is important to understand that thinking style can outweigh other predictors of success. His stories with insurance sales representatives and athletes are persuasive. One insurance company found that an optimistic style can compensate for lower aptitude, as measured by their traditional test.
Seligman also acknowledges that an optimistic style will not always be appropriate. When facing high risk, it's better to err on the side of pessimism. Indeed, he says, some occupations tend to attract and reward those who are mildly pessimistic.
On the downside, I found I could not relate to the tests in the book. Example:
Your car runs out of gas on a dark street late at night.
Either "I didn't check to see how much gas was in the tank" or, "The gas gauge w as broken." Well, it seems that the condition of the gas gauge is an objective fact, which I'd find out sooner or later. And if I stop a crime by calling the police, it's possible that a strange noise caught my attention AND I was alert that day. Then again, I get irritated at tests in general ( that a pessimistic style?)
The next step is to explore the ways our society and institutions foster a sense of helplessness. Seligman encourages us to get a medical exam if we've experienced many losses, yet the medical profession often encourages us to feel helpless. Taking a pill, which requires getting a prescription, gives all control to the doctor. Schools, prisons and other governmental institutions teach people they're wrong - and often labels students or inmates as "C student" or "bad person."
And while Seligman says we can all learn to be optimists ,every psychological relationship has limits. In today's economy, when people get knocked down over and over again, are they learning to be pessimists? And can they learn a new style of thinking?
Finally, couldn't someone be a pessimist in some life domains and an optimist in others?
These questions may be too much to ask of a book destined for a popular audience.
Meanwhile, it's enough to say, this is one of the best popular psych books around, by someone who really knows the score.
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on April 19, 2001
When I started to read this book I had in mind that it deserved a 5 star rating. Now I've read it through I feel that 2.5 stars would be more appropriate, but rounded up rather than down.

So why the change of mind?
Basically because I feel that the author has divided his attention between two quite separate targets - and in consequence doesn't really score an "inner" on either of them.

My initial reaction was based on two points:
Firstly I didn't spot this immediately as a book on cognitive therapy, and
Secondly, as a sometime hypno/psychotherapist myself I thoroughly enjoyed Seligman's description of how he overcame the champions of behaviourism and sold his own discoveries on 'learned helplessness' to the psychological/psychiatric/mental health establishments.

It must be said, however, that apart from three self-tests, this description takes up the first 208 pages of a book where the main text only runs to 296 pages (including the introduction).
For those interested in the experimental validation of the theory, this amount of detail is, I guess, entirely justified.
On the other hand, given that the book's subtitle is "How to Change Your Mind and Your Life", it seems rather unsatisfactory that the "How to" section only constitutes less than 30% of the text - and even then, Chapters 12, 13 and 14 (about 74 pages) are essentially three versions of the same information.

I was also less than impressed by the fact that, although the current (1998) edition has an updated Introduction, there are several places in the text where no attempt has been made to update information on crucial experiments from the original (1990) edition - see the study of cancer patients (page 184), for example, or the East Berlin/West Berlin comparison (page 202) where a footnote offers this teaser:

"As I edit this manuscript (April 1990), I find myself wondering to what extent the explanatory style of the East Germans over the last few momentous has changed."

And so, I suspect, do your readers, Dr Seligman!

As a history of the development of one portion of the cognitive therapy movement, for those readers interested in the subject, I would up my rating to *at least* 4 stars....
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on April 15, 2004
This was a fairly interesting read. Seligman spends 80% of the book discussing what he has discovered about learned optimism over the years, and what other researchers have found on the subject. All of this information helps build an strong case for the idea that we humans can, and should, learn to be more optimistic.
That being said, I gave this book such a low rating because I feel that the title is completely misleading. I didn't want to read all sorts of information about WHY changing my mind and life is important and possible. I wanted to learn HOW, and that's what the title promises.
To be sure, there are some suggestions of how to learn optimism, but such little space in the book is dedicated to this topic that I felt misled and "ripped off" by the title.
It's like reading a book called "Instructions for Knitting a Sweater for your Baby" and discovering that only the last chapter is in fact instructive; the first 100 pages are about the history of knitting, the need for babies to wear sweaters, what happens to those poor babies who don't wear sweaters, and why the author considers himself to be the best darn knitter in the entire county. Enough already!
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on March 6, 2008
This is a fascinating book that leaves the reader feeling, well, optimistic. Optimism means “having a strong expectation that, in general, things will turn out all right in life, despite setbacks and frustrations.” Dr. Seligman goes further and defines optimism in terms of how people explain to themselves their success and failures. Everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. What differentiates the optimist from the pessimist is a person’s ability to see their failures as due to some factor or circumstance that is changeable rather than as a result of some personal defect that they feel powerless to change.

Learned Optimism is an interesting read for those who want a deeper understanding of how to achieve and help others attain states of happiness, success and better health. The material was enjoyable to read and share with others. I will definitely use these practical and easy to use strategies with myself, my clients and my children. The focus on positive self-talk and recognizing a person’s strengths is much more appealing and instructive than other books which magnify weaknesses and try to “fix” a person. I highly recommend this important book as well as Dr. Seligman’s website [...] which is an excellent resource for free assessments and positive psychology information.
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on February 18, 2000
I found the book to be difficult to read and comprehend (and I am fairly intelligent person). There is all kind of unnecessary detail about various psychology philosophies, stories about other psychologists nothing to do with the subject at hand, lots of anecdotes which again have nothing to do with the subject. There are self testing questionaires for "pessimism" which are useful. There is too much info described too bluntly for "self diagnosis" of severe depression and other personality traits which would, in my opinion, put an already depressed person into deeper depression rather than inspire him to seek help (I am not a psychologist but I am an MD). The section that actually deals with changing pessimism to optimism is only about 50 pages out of more than 300 page book. The gist of the book can perhaps be summarised in less than 10 pages.
I did not find the book to be even readable (but I still read it).
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on December 28, 2003
This was more of a psychology book rather than a self-help book. There were more contents on ¡§What is the problem ?¡¨ instead of ¡§How to tackle the problem ?¡¨ It contained a lot of description of experiments, making the book looked like the author¡¦s personal research history. Some contents were repetitive, e.g. the casual relationship between pessimism and depression. The reading was not light, although not hard to understand either.
Having said that, the contents showed the author was an expert in the optimism area with plenty of experience and research. He was objective. For example, the author recognized pessimism has its values, the idea of ¡§flexible optimism¡¨ is at most a tool only. The book includes a section for parents to guide their children.
There were some interesting concepts or ideas:
¡P Why depression is so serious nowadays ?
¡P Argued the difference between optimism and pessimism does matter.
¡P The three aspects of optimism and pessimism differences.
¡P Positive idea: optimism can be learnt.
¡P ¡§Maximal self¡¨ theory. How the meaning of life is reduced.
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on November 30, 2003
Most of us know how to be pessimists. Fortunately, I was reered in a home with my parents were usually happy and positive and actually condoned on negatove thoughts. Rarely did a negative thought come across.
On the other hand, I have met other people, friends when I was growing up and families of some other people that I went to school with who were not all that positive so it was easy for me to see why their offspring mimmicked their negativity.
In Learned Optimism, author Martin Selligman asks; "Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" "How do you feel if a friend says something that hurts your feelings?" "How often do you take on exciting new projects or celebrate your successes?"
Selligman, one of the world's experts on motivation, shows you how to chart a new approach to living with "flexible optimism."
In the this groundbreaking book, based on over 20 years of clinical research, Dr. Selligman outlines easy-to-follow techniques that have helped thousands of people rise above pessimism and the depression that accompanies negative thoughts.
LEARNED OPTIMISM shows you how to:
Recognize your "explanatory style" - what you say to yourself when you experience setbacks--and how it influences your life.
Boost your mood and your immune system ---with helpful thoughts
Help your children by practicing the patterns of thought that
encourage optimism at an early age and at home
Stick to your diet or resolve a difficult business deal: Break the "I give up habit" with Dr. Selligman's ABC techniques.
Change your interior dialogue and experience the astonishing positive results.
Learned Optimism offers tests that reveal your present level of optimism and pessimism, and proven techniques to transform negative thoughts and talk yourself out of defeat. When you know how to choose the power of optimism, you'll gain an essential new freedom to build a life of real rewards and lasting fulfillment.
Learned Optimism provides a wealth of information to help anyone conquer depression or even be even more optimistic. Highly recommended.
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on January 24, 2003
This book was recommended to me by my psychology professor, who's also a very successful counselor in private practice. He uses this theory himself (it's been used professionally for at least 2 decades now). He told us that the cognitive behavioral therapy that's detailed in this book is a revolution in treating depressives. Dr. Seligman has identified that depressives have a pessimistic thought pattern that's destructive-- and that can be changed. Depressives tend to berate themselves with a mental brutality that's a hundred times worse than they would ever endure outside of their heads. This book identifies those negative thoughts and teaches you how to think more rationally and realistically.
There are no Stuart Smalley mindless "I'm good enough and smart enough" chants in here, no "confront your family & lovers and tell them just how much pain they've caused you" nausea. Instead, there's just sound and simple advice on how to recognize your own self-abusive thoughts and refocus them so you don't beat YOURSELF into a downward spiral of hopelessness.
The only negative I can say about this book is that there is a lot of Dr. Seligman's professional history and it has plenty of clinical justifications and statistics for the professionals. Take comfort in knowing that this is a well-researched and well-supported theory, and then skip just over this dry stuff.
Research has proven that in most cases of mild to moderate to depression, cognitive behavioral therapy is as effective as anti-depressant medication. All the good and none of the weight gain or loss of sex drive. I definitely say it's a better way to go!
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on January 23, 2003
I guess you could call it my 'personal project' -- for several years I have been investing a lot of time working on improving my thinking style and emotional attitude. I have worked my way through the classic inspirational books and the more recent psychology self-help books. And I would not call Learned Optimism 'outdated' but rather 'classic' in that literature. It seems to me that different books are best for different people (Personality Psych 101). The optimistically inclined might like Learned Optimism, the realistically inclined might prefer Optimal Thinking, the pesimistic might like The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, whereas the Zen inclined might prefer How To Change Your Entire Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing .... William James called it 'Pluralism' and popular culture calls it 'Different strokes for different folks' and personality psychology calls it 'individual differences in temperament and culture.' So I recommend Learned Optimism with the understanding that people differ in optimism, pessimism, and realism in ways that make different books necessary depending on where you are coming from. Improving thinking styles does take time and effort, but improvement can make life better. Certainly Dr. Seligman's books are a potentially useful part of such a project.
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