We live in a society where personal fulfillment is very important. We continously strive to be fulfilled on a personal and professional level and we won’t settle for less. A reasonable logic conclusion is that we should be happier in this “age of self” than the previous generation. The exact opposite seems to be true. Depression is 10 times more prevalent than 50 years ago, claimsmany lives and is diagnosed in people on average 10 years younger than a generation ago, according to Martin Seligman in Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind and Your Life.
Seligman’s research found pessimism to be “fertile ground for depression” and it therefor follows that if we have a set of skills that can teach us to be optimistic, we will be less depressed, achieve more and have better health. Learned Optimism is not just the power of positive thinking, but it is about changing the destructive things we say to ourselves when we experience setbacks. Crucial to this is a sense of personal control, the belief that your life is your hands and that everything that happens to you, is not just fate. Seligman continues to explain that the Theory of Personal Control has two principal concepts:
- Learned Helplessness-a giving up reaction when setbacks happen.
- Explanatory Style- this reflects the word in your heart( a “yes” for optimists as opposed to a “n0” for pessimists) and is the way in which you habitually explain to yourself why things happen. This influences our behaviour and can cause depression.
Three crucial aspects of the explanatory style is:
1. Permanance: Do you believe the causes of bad events to be permanent (pessimistic) or temporary (optimistic)? “Diets never work” (pessimistic) as opposed to “Diets don’t work when you’re eating out” (optimistic).
2. Pervasiveness: Do you give up on everything when you fail in one area (pessimistic) or can you put your troubles neatly in a box (optimistic)?
3. Personalisation: Do you blame yourself (pessimistic) or other people or circumstances when bad things happen(optimistic)?
It is normal that we’ll experience both in a cycle op ups and downs and pessimism has a constructive role in that it keeps us grounded. This is the aspect of pessimism that we refer to as realism. While we can learn the skills to enjoy the benefits of optimism, we also want to retain pessimism(realism) when needed. For us to do this, Seligman suggests the ABCDE template. In short, you look at the Adverse situation and identify your Belief behind that, look at the Consequences of that belief. You then challenge your own thinking (Disputing) and arrive at a more Energising explanation of events.
It is a powerful tool to examine and change thinking. I have used it with great effectiveness in my coaching and my coachees have been able to enjoy the benefits of a changed way of thinking long after the coaching has come to and end.