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What Is Learned Optimism?

Learned optimism is the process of recognizing and challenging pessimistic thoughts in order to develop more positive behaviors. This concept in psychology aims to help people find new ways to manage tough situations and improve their overall well-being.

The term “learned optimism” comes from positive psychology, a branch of psychology founded by Dr. Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman uses the phrase “learned optimism” to contrast “learned helplessness,” a thought pattern where someone feels unable to change negative circumstances. Under learned helplessness, you can’t change the situation and give up. Under learned optimism, while you may not always be able to change your situation, you can change how you respond to it.

People in any situation can benefit from practicing learned optimism. Since the concept focuses on how you understand the cause of your challenges, you can apply it to many circumstances.

Benefits of Learned Optimism

Practicing positivity can have a variety of benefits for your well-being. Research suggests that learned optimism can improve your health through:

  • Improved physical health: Optimistic people may approach health problems more proactively than pessimistic people, giving them better health outcomes.
  • Better mental health: Studies show that optimists tend to report better mental well-being than pessimists. Learned optimism practices may also help you reduce the symptoms of depression.
  • Higher motivation: By practicing optimism, you can stay more motivated as you work toward goals such as Recovery.

How to Increase Your Optimism

Under learned optimism, positivity is a skill that takes practice to learn. The learned optimism process involves changing how you think about the causes of events. As you practice learned optimism, it may take a while for you to retrain your thoughts. You can try these two models to rethink how you explain the causes of your circumstances.

Use the ABCDE Model

Dr. Seligman promotes the “ABCDE” model of learned optimism, which involves asking yourself these questions about your negative thoughts:

  • Adversity: What event caused the negative thoughts?
  • Belief: How do you feel about the event?
  • Consequence: What behaviors came from your feelings about the event?
  • Disputation: What examples of events prove your negative beliefs wrong?
  • Energization: How does challenging your negative beliefs inspire you to move forward?

Recognize Cognitive Distortion With the Three P’s

You can try to reframe negative thoughts through three kinds of cognitive distortions:

  • Personalization: Instead of blaming a negative event on yourself, can you connect it to an outside cause?
  • Permanence: Instead of thinking that the negative event will affect you forever, can you make changes for the future?
  • Pervasiveness: Instead of believing that one bad event will impact every other event, can you identify it as a single event?

Maintaining Positivity During Recovery

During Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, learned optimism can help you work toward a substance-free life. It can keep you motivated to stay in Recovery and find alternative coping methods. As you build a new life, 7 Summit Pathways can help you stay positive and develop healthy behaviors. If you need support during Recovery, we welcome you to contact our staff or schedule an appointment today.