- Bad events are temporary setbacks
- Isolated to particular circumstances
- Can be overcome by my effort and abilities
- Bad events will last a long time
- Will undermine everything I do
- Are my fault
- Inoculates against depression
- Improves health
- Combines with talent and desire to enable achievement
(Now available online at http://www.authentichappiness.org/.)
and in the organizational context are all built on the same principles.
The structure is “ABCDE”.
A = Adverse event or situation
B = Beliefs about that event
C = Consequences of those beliefs
D = Disputation and Distraction
E = Energization
As with all forms of mental discipline I have encountered, from sports psychology to these suggestions, they seem simplistic and somewhat silly when written on paper. However, I have found that such disciplines, like exercise, healthy eating, systematic investing, and others, can have powerful effects when applied consistently and intelligently over time. They are not magic. But, they do work.
Briefly, the trick is to learn to identify adverse situations or events that your routinely face. Learn to hear (and record) the beliefs about those events that come to your mind (the “recordings” you play in your head). Feel the consequences of those beliefs (and write them down), in terms of emotions, energy, will to act, etc. Once you have gotten familiar with these components, dispute those beliefs and distract yourself. Disputation can involve challenging the usefulness of the belief, generating alternative specific, external, and temporary explanations, focusing on evidence that contradicts or undermines the negative belief and supports a more positive interpretation, and challenging negative implications on which harmful beliefs rely.
In addtions to disputation, distraction can be employed to stop the “loop” of these tapes in your head. One suggestion is to wear a rubber band and snap it on your wrist while saying “Stop” in a loud voice. Then write the worrisome beliefs, fears, etc. down to think about at a set future time. This leaves one free to act.
Finally, notice what happens to your energy and will to act when you dispute the negative beliefs. Over time, the disputation becomes rapid and effective as the energization from it rewards you for the effort. Eventually, the positive explanatory style becomes your “default” response.
Chapter 15: Flexible Optimism
Finally, Dr. Seligman returns to the fact that optimism is is not always the right approach. He notes that pessimism has probably played a survival role during most of human history as we lived through harsh climatic changes and dangerous environs. Worrying about high-risk negative consequences could keep the worrier and his or her dependents alive. But, still, enough optimism to act was required, and in the developed world today, the justification for pessimism is more infrequent.
When a real risk of a severe negative consequence exists, a cautious, risk-avoiding approach is appropriate. It is appropriate in such an instance to view the risk as pervasive, permanent, and applying to you and yours personally. This can be a life-threatening risk (AIDS) or a life-damaging risk (pushing a developmentally unready child to start school, rather than holding him back). But, when the risk is small (some wasted time and effort, a little public embarrassment, the possibility of a number of failures prior to success), take the optimistic view and ACT!
True to his philosophy undergraduate major, Dr. Seligman includes some ideas about changes in our culture such as increased importance of the “self”, less community, and decreased shared belief in region as reasons why pessimism and depression have reached such proportions at this time. I find his views interesting, and possibly correct, but the evidence he presents does not seem compelling. Regardless, the specifics he has spent his life researching concerning optimism, pessimism, their consequences, and our ability to affect our explanatory style seem extraordinarily important to anyone interested in teachers, students, learning and schools.