Thursday, January 15, 2015
In Learned Optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman reported on an Attributional Style Questionnaire he developed that ranks individuals on an Optimism-Pessimism scale.
He did a longitudinal study on school children (longitudinal study is a study that is done over a pre-specified period of time). What this study found was that those who scored the highest for optimism stayed non-depressed or, if they did get depressed, they recovered rapidly.
In contrast, the pessimists were most likely to get and stay depressed. Seligman also found through his research that high scores for optimism are predictive of excellence in many areas of life – from sports performance to life insurance sales performance. This finding saved Metropolitan Life millions of dollars in personnel selection.
He also found that college freshman who rose to the challenges of their first year and who did better than expected were optimists when they entered college. Those who did much worse than expected (the expectations in both groups were based on measures such as GPA, SAT and other achievement tests) entered their freshman year as pessimists.
Dr. Seligman summarizes his many studies on optimism and pessimism by stating, "over and above their talent-test scores, we repeatedly find that pessimists drop below their potential and optimists exceed it. I have come to think that the notion of potential, without the notion of optimism, has very little meaning."1
Overall, optimists tend to have feelings of control over their lives. Seligman states in his book that "becoming an optimist consists not of learning to be more selfish and self-assertive, or presenting yourself to others in overbearing ways, but simply of learning a set of skills about how to talk to yourself when you suffer a personal defeat."2
As you learn to be more optimistic, you will be learning to speak to yourself about your setbacks from a more encouraging viewpoint.
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