Learned optimism

Working in such a people intensive business like real estate sales, you must be a life long student of the human condition to enjoy consistent success in thisindustry. I have just finished a fascinating book called “Learned Optimism” by American psychology professor Martin Seligman. It was first published in1991 and continues to be reprinted and is regarded as a seminal book in this field.

There were three key aspects that I found fascinating in this book. The first was that in the clinical trials they conducted on optimists and pessimists, optimists tended to be more resilient and successful than pessimists in fields where rejection was a common occurrence (like real estate sales). Even when the technical expertise of the pessimist was greater.

Second was that the internal explanatory language that we use to explain the world to ourselves dictates our level of optimism or pessimism and that we can choose to alter this with some self awareness and conscious practice, i.e. “Learned Optimism”.

Lastly, that depression (as an extreme form of pessimism) is at epidemic levels in America (and I suspect Australia) but this was not always the case. It is a late 20th century phenomenon that occurred as the importance of the individual rose above a belief in higher causes.

These higher causes traditionally included a belief in God, a large family and country (patriotism). In the 1960’s and 70’s people started to stop going to church.
Divorce rates increased and families got smaller as the use of the contraception pill became popular and therefore the support of a large family dissipated. This coincided with waning patriotism, when the US government committed to the Vietnam war. This was deeply unpopular and then through the Watergate scandal they
realised the US government was also corrupt.

Without these higher causes to believe in, we then became more fixated on ourselves and all this naval gazing lead to the rise in depression. Our faults took centre stage over our belief in the greater good.

Human beings and their complex ways will always fascinate me but it is our ability to adapt, correct and relearn that is one of our most admirable traits. A dose of periodic pessimism can anchor us in reality but when it tends towards the norm, an equal dose of “Learned Optimism” might be just the tonic. I highly recommend this book.

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