Amir Sharif
Weekend hacker.
Self improvement enthusiast.

Learned Optimism: Cheatsheet

Core takeaways from the book, Learned Optimism: How to Change… by Martin E. P. Seligman and how I’ll be changing my behavior.

The book introduces the concepts of explanatory styles” - how people explain the causes of events and setbacks to themselves. Pessimistic explanations tend to be permanent, pervasive and personal, while optimistic ones are temporary, specific and externalized.

To train yourself to be more optimistic, simply take pessimistic thoughts and apply the optimistic lens on them.

Permanent to Temporary

Pervasive to Specific

Personal to Externalized

Here’s an example of a pessimistic explanatory style that is permanent, pervasive and personal, and how it could be reframed in a more optimistic way that is temporary, specific and externalized:

Pessimistic Thought: I failed that job interview. I’m just completely incompetent and will never get hired anywhere. I have no valuable skills.”

This thought displays:

Permanence (the belief that you’ll never get hired) Pervasiveness (the generalization that you have no valuable skills at all) Personalization (the attribution that your supposed failures are due to an inherent flaw within you) A more optimistic way to rephrase it:

The job interview didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but that’s because I didn’t prepare thoroughly enough for the technical questions they asked. My public speaking skills still need some work. However, I have many other strengths like project management and teamwork that would allow me to excel in the right role. This particular opportunity wasn’t a good fit, but by practicing interviewing and researching companies better, I’ll improve for the next one.”

This optimistic rephrasing has:

Temporary Language (didn’t prepare thoroughly enough”, skills need some work”, implies improvement is possible) Specific Focus (on interview prep and public speaking abilities rather than overgeneralization) External Attribution (about lack of preparation rather than an inherent personal flaw) The key is to avoid global, permanent statements about your abilities or self-worth. Break it down to the specific, temporary, external factors surrounding that one particular situation. This prevents feelings of pervasive helplessness.

Other techniques:

Use Humor: Find ways to laugh at mistakes and setbacks rather than berating yourself. Humor provides perspective.

Dispute Catastrophic Thinking: Whenever you have a pessimistic thought, such as I’ll never get this project done,” question the evidence for that thought and come up with more realistic alternatives.

Use Empowering Language: Instead of saying I’m a failure,” use more specific and temporary language like I didn’t succeed at this particular task.” Avoid labeling yourself negatively.

Practice the ABCDE Model: A - Adversity (Identify the problematic situation) B - Beliefs (Note your negative beliefs about it) C - Consequences (How those beliefs affect your feelings/behavior) D - Disputation (Challenge those negative beliefs) E - Energization (Replace them with more optimistic beliefs)

Keep a Gratitude Journal: Make a daily practice of writing down things you’re grateful for to train your mind to focus on the positive.

Avoid Overgeneralizing: When something bad happens, don’t assume it is permanent or pervasive across all areas of life.

Practice Optimistic Self-Talk: Consciously reframe negative self-statements in a more constructive way.

Socialize with Optimistic People: Spend time with others who tend to see setbacks as temporary and specific rather than permanent and pervasive.

Visualize Success: Take time to vividly imagine achieving your goals to reinforce an optimistic future outlook.

Celebrate Small Wins: Don’t overlook or minimize instances of progress and small victories on the path to larger goals.

1 Pager

March 24, 2024