By: Kathy Shalhoub

We’ve all met the person who always seems to have bad luck, failed projects and a pessimistic view on life. Why does that happen to some people and not to others?

It’s because they’ve learned how to be helpless.

It’s weird but these people actually need failure or bad luck to feel good about themselves because then, all that is happening is not their fault. They can blame circumstances for their situation and they do not need to take responsibility for their own future.

Martin Seligman, a PhD in psychology and the leading expert on learned helplessness has determined the primary causes of it: pessimism!

Do you know what the defining characteristics of the pessimist are? Take two people who sustain the exact same hardships of life. The pessimist will tend to believe bad events will last a long time, that these events will undermine everything they do and that they are all their own fault. The optimist on the other hand, believes that defeat is only a temporary setback, that the reason for this setback is a one-time thing confined to this one case, and that circumstances, bad luck, or other people have brought it about.

The thing with optimists is that they are unfazed by defeat, they simply see it as a challenge and try harder next time. Pessimists on the other hand, give up more easily and are more often depressed. Yikes!

Now being a pessimist wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t have such far reaching effects on our lives. Just imagine that the way we think about our lives and the things over which we have control can completely shape our future!

If we believe we do not control our lives then we will sit back and be helpless. And when we overestimate our helplessness, other forces will take control and shape our future. And this applies to every aspect of our lives, our careers, our leisure activities, our health, our weight, our children’s future, our chances for success,…

Regardless of what category you put yourself into, what’s crucial is what you think when you fail. Do you beat yourself up about it, or do you brush it off and move on? Changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience setbacks that life deals all of us is the central skill of optimism. And guess what? Optimists have been proven to have a higher success track record.

Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter. The way pessimists explain failure to themselves spreads helplessness while the optimists’ way stops helplessness.

Ask yourself, what is your reaction in the face of a setback or a failure? Is it all your fault? Does it stop you in your tracks for months on end? Do you quit and move on to something else? Do you simply assume it’s a one time thing and try again? The way you explain events to yourself determines how helpless you become!

Getting back up in the face of defeat is called resilience. And the great news, is that resilience is not a trait that we are born with, it is something that is acquired. Which means that most of us can become resilient, optimistic, and increase our chances of happiness and success if we teach ourselves to believe that:

  1. Defeat is only a temporary setback
  2. The reason for this setback is a one-time thing confined to this one case, and
  3. Circumstances, bad luck, or other people have brought it about.

Blogger’s Bio: Kathy studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has a PhD in Marine Sciences from the University of Paris. She is also a writer and published her first book, Life as a Leb-neh Lover, in 2010. Kathy is fascinated by matters of the mind, self discovery, self acceptance and personal development and is currently researching these topics. Check out her blog, ‘like’ her on Facebook or follow her on twitter @Lebneh_Lover.

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