Notes From Ed Text

The ABCDE’s of Learning Optimism (and Unlearning Helplessness)


Methods To Learn Optimism Sticky Note

Did you know that you can learn optimism?

Did you know that you can un-learn helplessness and pessimism?

Today’s topic is about learned optimism, and I’m going to have a little help from Dr. Martin Seligmann, author of “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life”. Martin is a strong promoter within the scientific community of his theories of positive psychology[1] and well-being.

Previously, I’ve written about the importance of being positive. Seligman expands on that notion, and draws a big distinction between the optimistic person and the pessimistic person.

“The optimistic person, when they have a setback, believes that it’s temporary, I can change it, and it’s just this one situation. The pessimistic person, when they have a setback, believes it’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything I do.” – Martin Seligman

At the core of Seligman’s philosophy is the concept that optimism can be learned. Pessimism can be learned as well!  And both, according to Martin, can be unlearned!


First, let’s define pessimism, which is the opposite of optimism.

Pessimism, also known as “learned helplessness,” is described by Seligman as “the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.” (You can buy Seligman’s book here!)

Methods To Learn Optimism Notes From Ed

Pessimists are more likely to:

  • Get depressed
  • Achieve less than their talents warrant
  • Have lower immune health
  • Live a life that’s not as pleasurable as it could be. 

Thankfully, pessimists can learn the skills of optimism and permanently improve the quality of their lives. So, how do you learn to be optimistic?

The first step is to understand your explanatory style.

Your explanatory style is “the manner in which you habitually explain to yourself why events happen.”

  • An optimistic explanatory style stops helplessness.
  • A pessimistic explanatory style spreads helplessness.

The next step to learning optimism is understanding the ABCDE’s.

The ABCDE’s stand for Adversity, Belief, Consequences, Disputation and Energization.

When you tune into your inner dialogue and hear your explanatory style, listen to your thoughts on:

  • Adversity → This is the obstacle you face.
  • Belief → This is how you viewed it.
  • Consequences → This is an acknowledgment of what you did in response to the obstacle.
  • Disputation → This is how you argue against the pessimistic feelings.
  • Energization → This is the outcome of your actions in fighting the pessimism.
Methods To Learn Optimism Ed Kopko

Each component of the ABCDE’s is important, but the key to the ABCDE’s and how they can help you learn optimism is the Disputation, and the realization that you can argue against these pessimistic beliefs you may be harboring.

When disputing the pessimistic beliefs in your explanatory style, consider:

  • The Evidence behind these beliefs. You may find there is none!
  • The Alternatives to these beliefs.
  • The Implications of these pessimistic beliefs.
  • The Usefulness of these beliefs.

It’s worth noting that beliefs are just beliefs. They can be wrong.

Learn to be optimistic–you will live longer and be happier doing so!

Keep living Bold!


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Ed Kopko

Project Bold Life

Ed Kopko with his book Project Bold Life
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