“The realist sees reality as concrete. The optimist sees reality as clay.” — Robert Brault
Optimists know something that pessimists don’t.
They know how to explain negative events to themselves in a way that’s empowering.
When something goes wrong, be careful how you explain it to yourself.
An optimist explains negative things that happen as temporary, objective, and situational.
On the other hand, a pessimist explains things as permanent, personal, and pervasive.
In the book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin Seligman warns us against making negative events permanent, personal, and pervasive.
“Learned Helplessness” Leads to Inaction and Passive Behavior
Learned Helplessness happens when you teach yourself to be helpless by how you explain the things that go wrong in your life.
Learned helplessness is when you believe nothing you do matters.
This leads to inaction and passive behavior.
In other words, you just give up.
You give up, because it seems that no matter what you do, nothing will work.
It won’t matter.
Don’t Make Negative Events Permanent, Personal, or Pervasive
When you explain things to yourself as permanent, personal, and pervasive, you teach yourself to be helpless.
Or, to be more precise, you build a habit of learned helplessness.
A pessimist explains things that go wrong as permanent, personal, and pervasive.
For example, you might tell yourself, “this will never change” or “it’s me” or “nothing ever goes right.”
This can lead to learned helplessness or depression.
Explain Negative Events as Temporary, Situational, and Specific
So what’s the solution for “Learned Helplessness”?
Practice explaining things better.
Don’t make negative events permanent (“This will never change … This always happens.”)
Don’t make negative events personal. (“This always happens to me … Why always me”)
Don’t make negative events pervasive. (“Everything always goes wrong … Nothing ever goes right.”)
An optimist explains events as transient, situational, and specific.
For example, you might tell yourself, “this too shall pass” or “it’s the situation” or “in this case, things didn’t go so well.”
When you explain negative events this way, you condition yourself for learned optimism.
You empower yourself to take action.
You can learn to be an effective optimist.
Look on the bright side, every negative event in your life is another chance to practice your learned optimism.