At the beginning of April I had this serious stack of books that I was going to read and have just finally finished the first one in the pile. Not because it wasn’t a good read; I just hadn’t been devoting enough time to reading or at least to book reading. The first book I finished in the pile was
Learned Optimism by Martin E. Seligman and it probably could be found under self-help, psychology, and yoga in the library because it ties in nicely to a lot of the principles of yoga we’ll be discussing on Meditation Mondays in June.
This book was a tough read for me emotionally because it dealt with some serious issues and was also a great read because it make me think…. A LOT! Here’s the best of what I got out of this book:
- I am a pessimist. At least that’s my explanatory style. I tend to see bad events as not too permanent, nor too pervasive, but pretty much blame myself if they occur. I see good events as pretty permanent, not too pervasive, and pretty much give credit to others for making them happen. I am average, though, on how much hope I have for the future. This was all news to me as I always assumed that I was pretty optimistic and that taking responsibility for EVERYTHING was a good quality to have….why blame others? Well, because sometimes it’s their fault!
- I may be depressed. I feel like that’s not a big jump considering what I had learned about myself already. It’s pretty hard to be super upbeat about the world if you’re always taking the blame. It’s also no surprise considering the fact that I’m female and women are more likely to become depressed than men. We’re ruminaters and tend to mull things over too much….HELLO! Type A personality is written all over me and that includes the need to be in charge and to figure out every angle and sometimes to feel collapse when I can’t get both of those things done and be successful. I need to stop trying to find the source of certain situations and instead change the thoughts needed to act. This makes me wonder if meditation might not be such a good thing for some as you will see when we get to Meditation Monday this coming week. I need to take more action in my life and stop planning so much….or at least putting so much worry and effort into the plans.
- Motivation is not the same as optimism. I have aptitude for the things I’d like to accomplish in life….and I’m motivated (most of the time) to get them done, but I do lack some optimism about the degree of success I will have at achieving those things. And of the three, optimism is the key to success. I think we often misuse the words optimism and motivation and interchange them like they’re the same thing. This book has shown me the correct definitions of the two and it makes a whole lot of sense when I look back at all I have and haven’t done in life.
- I may have screwed up my kids….but I can change it! Did you know that kids most often have their mother’s explanatory style? Yep, if you’re a pessimist, blame your pessimistic mother! Just kidding! Be nice to your mom! Think about the way you say things around and to your kids. Are you making the bad out to be permanent and like it falls across all situations and is likely their fault? Or, can you let them know that both bad and good are ever changing, just like their part in it and that maybe it’s only applicable to the specific situation for which we’re dealing with? Yeah, I like that better myself and I’m trying really hard to let my kids know that they have the power to change their moods and their situation. Giving them some control (or idea that they have control) is not the same thing as blowing smoke up their behinds or letting them run wild.
- There are some reasons to be pessimistic. Pessimism or glass half empty people are always thought of as gloomy and sad. But, there’s some good news for those of us who are pessimists by nature….we serve a purpose! We are more likely to see the truth about our successes and failures. We live deeper in the reality of the world instead of blind optimism that would cloud our judgement of safety and prevent us from seeking out realistic outcomes. I am very much a realist and I’m willing to admit defeat. Do I wish that I had more optimism when it came to sharing the blame for the way things are? Oh yeah! I wish that I could see life a little less clearly when it comes to financial matters and were more impulsive at times. But I’m good at what I do and part of that is because of the way I view the world.
- It all boils down to the individual vs. the community at large. We’re a very individualized society in this country. We care about us first and others second….for the most part. Seligman hit the nail on the head for me at the end of the book when he talked about how now a days we are less committed to something bigger than ourselves: our families, our nation, our religion. In yoga we talk about walking the 8 limb path to enlightenment and that part of that is connecting to something bigger than you are. Yoga is not a religion, but a practice that blends with any religion and allows you to choose your own deity or higher power. For me, right now, that’s the power in the belief that we’re all part of one big goodness of humanity and I look for it in all and seek to be a part of it. I feel like this will drive me closer to optimism the more I see it in play. My children have made me more optimistic and my students each semester get more and more into the yoga practice and pull me along with them. This too makes me more optimistic. It’s hard to hold on to the old ideals of family when I’ve moved so far away from my own. There are no more Sunday night dinners with aunts and uncles and grandparents on the regular. There are no family vacations. I no longer practice the religion that I was raised with. And in this election year I am more and more distant from the politics of my country. The ties that bind are breaking for us all and this leads to more pessimism and more depression.
- There is hope for change! Two ideas I want to hit on here before I wrap up and suggest that you get a copy of this book for yourself ASAP! First, check out the book and especially look at the ideas for connecting to the larger picture. Take more time for others and you’ll find more optimism for yourself. But, don’t let your commitment to a larger institution force you to lose your sense of self. It’s still important to be you. (in other words, don’t join a cult!) Second, Seligman talks about the ABCDE technique and the most important to me is D – Dispute. We all know how to argue against someone that says something about us that we feel is untrue. Don’t buy into those statements from others and don’t buy into them when you say them to yourself. Dispute the pessimism when it’s necessary and when it’s keeping you from moving forward. Use the pessimism to remain in reality of this world, but fight the good fight of what might be bringing you down or holding you back.
I know that this was an insanely long review, but I really loved this book and I would love to hear your thoughts on it as well!
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? What’s something you need to learn to dispute in your own negative thinking? Are you living in reality? What is your greater community? Other thoughts on the matter?