The Concept of Learned Optimism

The concept of learned optimism was developed by Seligman in 1991 during his routine study of learned helplessness, which holds that some reoccurring events can prove difficult to control. As he carried out tests to examine helplessness, Seligman began to question why some individuals resisted it. He observed that some people blamed the experiment for their failure, while others faulted themselves for the outcomes. This saw Seligman shift his focus to studying why some people eschew helplessness. The simple answer to why such people remain steadfast is optimism. Seligman carried out several tests where he conditioned people to be optimists. The findings informed the concept of learned optimism, which motivates one to view the world from a positive point of view.

Seligman went a step further to develop a simple method to guide individuals on how to use the concept of learned optimism. The process involves training people in different ways of responding to adverse events, specifically by learning how to handle defeat. The Ellis ABC model (adversity, belief, and consequences) is used to train participants on how to overcome personal defeat. Exposure to learned optimism helps individuals devise new ways of dealing with adversities.

The concept of learned optimism can help one cope with stress. According to Chadwick (2019), it addresses the inner elements such as motives and competencies, which determine an individual’s coping mechanisms. A good approach is where the focus is on defining the problem, developing alternative solutions, and adopting measures to address the issue. This applies well when it comes to coping with stress in the workplace. In addition, the concept necessitates the development of emotion-focused coping strategies which aim at reducing distress. Some of the tactics employed include: “avoiding, selective attention, blaming, and minimizing”. Liang et al. (2019) further noted that optimistic individuals tend to view life with the belief that the results will help them deal with stress. This is because such individuals demonstrate high self-efficacy and confidence levels when undertaking different tasks.

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