You’re in a large lecture hall, having just given an important presentation – one you think is your best work yet.
You haven’t even left the podium.
Suddenly an esteemed colleague stands up and severely criticizes all your efforts in front of all your peers.
Now imagine you’re one of the heads of the Positive Psychology Movement – Dr. Martin Seligman – and so it’s your career duty to remain positively cheery — even under this humiliation.
Seligman underwent this exact challenge in 1975 at Oxford University.
The man who shamed him: a competing professor, Dr. John Teasdale.
He realized he could easily become defensive and depressed – telling himself a pathetic loser’s tale of permanent career ruin.
Or he could tell himself a happier story – one which could co-star Teasdale as his friend and co-author of a new psychological theory all about the powerful effects of various self-story-telling styles during crisis.
Together the two created their now famously reported theories on “learned helplessness” and “explanatory styles.”
I call this “TURNING YOUR TALE OF WOE INTO A TALE OF WOW!” – and it’s something I teach clients that I coach to do – with all their stories of woe from their past and present.
Basically, Seligman and Teasdale put forth that bouncing back up from bad times is 100% dependant upon the kinds of “stories” you tell yourself.
Resilient people engage in naturally positive explanatory styles – telling themselves happy tales like:
“This problem is temporary, related to the particular situation I’m in.”
In contrast, those stuck in misery-mode are under the influence of “learned helplessness” –immediately engaging in pessimistic self-story-telling styles like:
“This bad thing is going to undermine my life in all ways!”
If you’re particularly pessimistic – Dr. Seligman says it’s not entirely your fault. It’s part evolutionary.
When we lived in the jungles, running barefoot from the jaws of dangerous animals, we needed “worry” as a survival mechanism to spur us to decisive action.
Worrying literally could save our lives.
But, then again, even back then, some “optimism” was necessary – so you’d have energy and creativity to act and protect.
Here in our modern world worry has less of a life vs. death role. Instead, having an “optimistic-explanatory-style” is our true life saving force.
Seligman cites several studies in which “pessimistic explanatory styles” not only keep people less resilient, but also make people more vulnerable to illness.
If you’re having a difficult time mastering your thoughts and feelings, check out my best selling video course The Anxiety Cure.