Learned Optimism — Book Notes

Learned Optimism book cover

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

National Bestseller The father of the new science of positive psychology and author of Authentic Happiness draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it which can lead to happiness.

Buy the book

3.99 (13,394 ratings by Goodreads)


Learned Optimism — Book Review

Optimism, easy to preach but not necessarily easy to practice. Myself included. Maybe that’s what makes us human. Hence, Learned Optimism is a must. Since despite equal talent and commitment, it might turn out that optimist will succeed where pessimists fear to tread. Just take Jack Ma’s story for example, his origin story now seems legendary.

Here’s the good news, optimism can be learned, learned optimism can be lean upon during adversity while building personal resilience.

Learned Optimism is based on Dr Seligman extensive research focused on offering humanity valuable insight and practical techniques and methods in our daily battles between the two wolves, between us and our negative thoughts.

Hence, I strongly recommend those struggling with the feeling of helplessness, pessimism, depression, or simply in search of happiness to read the book.

I rated the book at 4.00/5.00.

Read Learned Optimism


Learned Optimism — Book Notes

Three modern forces which might cause depression:

  1. The heavier emphasis on individual
  2. Erosion of shared social experience
  3. The priority in developing high self-esteem.

Research suggests that undeserved high self-esteem might lead to criminal behaviour. Hence, learned optimism suggests adults should teach children optimism, not self-esteem.

Maybe we’ll understand why as you read further.


The little voice in our heads

No, you’re not crazy. At least I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy. In your case, you need to decide that on your own.

The little voice in our heads is those voice we heard when we explain our circumstances to ourselves. It is supposedly in an explanatory style.

Since the enemy here is our own self, the fight is much harder to be won and it will take a lifetime. The fight only ends when our life does. Hence, this little voice could be keeping us in a pessimistic rut feeding a victim mindset of helplessness —a loser. Pessimist generally sees setbacks as perpetual, pervasive and personal. Pessimist tends to take things personally.

And as the tale of the two wolves goes — the wolf that’s going to win is the one you feed. Hence, my friends, feed the right wolf. Don’t feed both and hope for the best, and most certainly don’t feed the big bad wolf.

So, feed the right wolf means learns to develop a more optimistic little voice in your head, a more optimistic explanatory style, which will help you get out of the cycle of pessimism. Whereby the pessimism creates a deep sense of helplessness. A belief system which revolves around “nothing I do matters”. Most of the time, this self imposes belief might turn to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Another key trait of an optimist is that they more often than not, wouldn’t take things personally. To them, setbacks, problems are temporary hurdles meant as a learning curve to makes them better — more equipped to handle the uncertainty the future has to offer.

The road you choose, the explanatory style you choose, matters. As Oogway says, "One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it."
The road you choose, the explanatory style you choose, matters. As Oogway says, “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”

The learned optimism is fundamental

Learned optimism and learned helplessness matters. In laboratory experiments learned helplessness had nearly the same impact and fundamentally the same cause as depression,

 the belief that in the face of bad or uncontrollable events, individual action does not matter.

The good news is we can unlearn learned helplessness. This will also help to protect against future helplessness. Research suggests that resilience comes down to the explanation we give ourselves when things go bad. It does come down to our explanatory style.

So, how to talk to ourselves?

I used to fear failures until I read a book on fear of failures. Now, when I felt intimidated, scared, afraid to fail, I just ask myself one simple question,

“What’s the worse that can happen?”

Most of the time, the worse that can happen might not be that bad. It’s what we told ourselves, our little voice in our heads, the explanatory style we choose, magnify the not-so-bad worst-case scenario.


✘ Pessimist frequently uses “always” and “never” to explain setbacks and trouble.

But the truth is nothing is ever truly permanent, things change, circumstances change, we change.

Pessimist chooses to focus on the bad stuff. Whereby they believe that bad events will undermine their whole life — which leads to helplessness.

✔ Optimist frequently uses “always” to explain good lucks

People with an optimistic explanatory style find those good events are caused by permanent conditions, and those bad events are the result of temporary factors. An optimist believes good things result from pervasive reasons, while setbacks are related only to short-term circumstances.

Oh, I remembered another quote,

“Change your (personal) narrative, change your life.”

Learn Your ABC’s

Learn the ABC (adversity, beliefs and consequences) technique to think about the chain of cognition — the train of thoughts. Adversity starts the cognitive explanatory cycle, quickly solidifying thoughts into beliefs that generate your feelings and responses.

Remember that the way you explain the setback to yourself – not the event itself – matters the most in determining how you respond by acting constructively or if you fall into despair.

Again, this is where self-awareness is important. You need to interrupt this depression-inducing cycle by changing your narrative. Try the ABC methods by writing down all the sequences of this kind that you notice over a two days period.

A — Adversity
B — Beliefs
C — Consequences
D — Disputation
E — Energization

In order to break the cycle and begin to change the thoughts we have following adversity, we need to distract ourself by thinking of something else or arguing against the negative thoughts and changing our personal narrative.

Alternatively, we can divert our attention by combining a physical ritual (like snap a rubber band on your wrist) with the mental act of arresting your negative.


Distraction will immediately refocus your attention. You can also render negative thoughts less potent by writing them down and scheduling a time to evaluate them later.

Better yet, argue against your entrenched thoughts, which can also make them recur less frequently. Unchallenged negative thoughts are draining and debilitating, but disputing them is energizing and could be fun.

Try saying — Riddikulus!

Then, reframe your perspective, by distancing yourself from habitual negative thoughts and dispassionately analyze their accuracy.

Dispute your thoughts after even minor adverse events and record what happens. As we practice disputing entrenched thoughts, we’ll get better at recognizing them, arresting negative patterns and changing your explanatory style. This, in turn, might energize you.

And that’s the secret

As Po (the kung fu panda) found out that there is no secret ingredient. It’s just you. And at times, you are might be the only one you’ve got.

Another worthwhile reading includes

Read Learned Optimism


Other Curious Pin (Pinterest) on the Learned Optimism




Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.