Ep. 140: Working Through Depression by Learning Optimism Part Three

In the last part of this Learned Optimism Series, I got more into Optimism with you.

Let’s review:

Optimismcan help protect you against depression.

It can help how you see what you have achieved.

It can enhance your physical well-being.

The central skill of optimism is changing the destructive things you say to yourself when you experience the hard parts of life that all of us have.

Becoming an optimist is not about being more selfish and self-assertive or to present yourself to others in overbearing ways.

Becoming optimistic can be as simple as learning a set of skills that help you talk to yourself from a more encouraging viewpoint when you encounter personal failures.

Think of it as more than positive thinking.

Optimism is a skill.

A skill can be learned!

Today, I’m going to talk about the opposite of optimism, which is pessimism and how that can move you into Learned Helplessness.  We’ll also talk a bit more about Explanatory Styles.  But don’t worry, this is all going to lead us into what we can do about it!

Stick with me…. there’s great stuff ahead!

All right let’s get into pessimism!  If you remember from the very first episode in this series, there is a need for pessimism too!!  So, make sure you pay attention to that as we learn more about pessimism today.

Pessimists tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do and most importantly, their own fault!

Pessimists give up more easily and get depressed more often.

Depression is the ultimate expression of pessimism.

People who have pessimistic habits of thinking can turn a setback into a disaster.

Do you know anyone like this?

Could it be you???

I have some great news for you, or your friend…whoever fit the description I just shared with you…

Pessimism can be reversed.

Pessimists can learn to be optimists by learning a new set of thinking skills.

Pessimism isn’t all bad, it has a role too.

Pessimism can help us accurately look at reality.

This can make us wiser.

It can heighten our sense of reality and give us more accuracy.

A healthy, small dose of pessimism is needed to keep us all in check.

Next, we need to understand more about Learned Helplessness:

Learned Helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.

Depression and helplessness are the same thing.  They have the same brain-chemical connection.

Therapy for helplessness and depression should be based on changing people’s explanations of why things happen to them.  Looking at the beliefs of why hard things happen is the basis of change.

If Helplessness can be learned, then it means it can be unlearned.  I think that’s really good news.  When we look at things in this way, it builds in hope!  If we just believe there is nothing we can do about anything, can you see how that will take hope away? 

It’s actually a really simple concept but when your thoughts loop in the inability to change anything, it’s understandable that hope would decrease.

How do you answer these questions…

Have you been taught to be helplessness, that nothing you do changes what happens to you?

Or did you learn to look for more optimistic reason for what happens?

When you learn in advance that how you respond to circumstances actually matters, it can help to prevent learned helplessness.

The sooner you learn it the more ingrained it can become in your life.  Beginning to recognize when you respond pessimistically is the first step!

I think that brings a power in your life that no one can take away.  It begins with believing that you have the choice of how to respond, in ANY situation.  Do you believe that you have that power to respond however you choose?

This would be a good journaling prompt.

Do you believe you have the power to respond however you choose?

If so, what are you going to do differently in a circumstance you are struggling with right now because you believe that?

If you don’t feel it yet, how would allowing yourself to believe it change the way you respond now?

Write those prompts down and schedule in some time either today or tomorrow morning and let yourself free write about those.  See what comes up for you!

Let’s now get into Explanatory Style:

Explanatory Style is the manner in which you habitually explain to yourself why events happen.

It’s the way we explain what happens in our lives.

It’s how we have learned to explain to ourselves why we get or don’t get reinforcement for the things we do.

It’s the way people explain to themselves the causes of bad events.

An optimistic explanatory style stops helplessness because it recognizes that it’s a one-time event, whereas a pessimistic explanatory style spreads helplessness because it feels like it happens in every circumstance.

Your way of explaining events to yourself determines how helpless you become, or how energized, when you experience everyday setbacks as well as big defeats.

Working with a therapist to be diagnosed and treated if that’s necessary for you, and then working with a coach like I me, can work together to help you to become more optimistic.

It can help you from relapsing because when you learn skills that you can use again and again, you can rely on yourself and those skills that you’ve learned instead of relying on drugs.

Drugs bring relief from depression, but it’s not permanent because when you stop taking the drug, it stops helping.  Please…don’t take any of this as advice to stop taking medication you are currently taking, or that I am in any way implying that they are bad to take because they are not permanent.  I don’t believe either of those things.

Medication, when it is prescribed by a competent doctor or therapist, work as activators; they push a depressed person up and out of the depressive state, but they do not make the world look any brighter.

That’s where a coach can help you to learn those skills to make the world look brighter.

The key to permanent relief of depression is a change in the way we look at the world.  A change in our explanatory style.

When you learn skills that show you what you are thinking and how to change it, that’s when progress starts to happen.

You change your explanatory style.

You develop confidence because of the control you have of yourself.

You internalize the ability to change instead of relying only on external help.

There are times when both internal and external help is required and should never be looked as unnecessary.

The reason why I’m sharing this today is to share with you the purpose of both and how they can work together.

I took medication for a few years to get me “up and out” of my depression as I was explaining before.

But I found it to be true, that all though I felt better I still didn’t feel like myself.  I felt like I was out of the heavy darkness of depression, but still felt lost in the fog.

The medication was necessary and the length of time you may need to take it will vary.

A lot of people need to take medication their entire lives, and if that is the case for you, then you should definitely do that.

As I’ve learned skills that helped me become more aware of my thoughts and learn to manage my mind, that’s when the person I have always been came back.

Throughout this podcast I’ve tried to share as many of those things that I have been doing and as I learn more, I’ve been sharing more.

I have another skill that I learned from Dr. Martin Seligman that I wanted to share with you today.

Just knowing a bit more information about the “what” & the “why” of your explanatory style, can help you decide how you want think, or at least notice what you are thinking.

There are 3 different parts that make up your Explanatory Style.

Quick reminder, your explanatory style is the way you habitually explain to yourself why events happen.

The three parts that make up your Explanatory Style are:

Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization

Permanence is about time.

If you give up easily because you believe that what has happened to you is permanent, you will feel helpless more than someone that believes it is temporary and won’t be around forever.

Pay attention to the words you use to help you see where you’re at in this area.

If you use words like always and never, you are more permanent pessimistic.

If you use words such as sometimes and lately, you are more optimistic.

See how that works?

The next part of your Explanatory Style is Pervasiveness.

Pervasiveness is about space.

I understand this one better when I think of it as how much of my life I have let my explanatory style seep into.

If I let a negative event make every aspect of my life feel bad, that is more pervasive than if I keep it contained to one area of life.

For example, if I have a terrible situation at work and I make that mean my family and friends are also terrible, that’s more pervasive.  It is taking up more space in my life.

The last part of the three parts of Explanatory Style is Personalization.

Personalization is if we blame ourselves for everything that is happening, which is internal vs if we blame other people or circumstances for what is happening.  That is external.

When someone blames themselves for failure, they often suffer with low self-esteem.

People who blame external sources usually like themselves better.

This is the easiest of the three parts of Explanatory Style to understand in my opinion.

Remember the three parts of Explanatory Style are:

Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization

Whether or not you feel hope depends on two of the three parts of explanatory style.

When you can find temporary and specific reasons for why things are happening, that’s when you feel hope.

If you feel like something is permanent, that creates helplessness.

If you feel like bad things happen in every part of your life, the space it takes up in your mind, that also creates helplessness.

And when you start to feel helpless, hope isn’t easily available to you.

Does that make sense?

I’m hoping that putting words to the way you may be feeling AND recognizing that you are not alone in the way you feel, will help you add to your hope.

I am the Hope Coach!  When we feel hope in the future and peace in our past, we can learn to be more optimistic!!  See how beautifully this all works together?!!

How did writing down your ABC’s of Optimism go last week?

Did you find at least 5 examples of Adversity, Belief, and Consequence?

If you didn’t listen to episode 139, I taught you all about the ABC’s of optimism and it would be good to have some examples that we can add on to with what we learned today.

Let’s add the D part of this today.

The D stands for either Disputation or Distraction.

These are both ways for you to deal with your pessimistic style when you become aware of them.

That’s what you were practicing last week.

Learning to be aware of the way you think.

When you become aware of your thought, then go through the ABC’s to evaluate the event, you can now decide if you want to Distract or Dispute it.

First, start by trying to Distract yourself when the pessimistic thoughts come.

That just means trying to think of something else.

This helps you to interrupt the thoughts you are having.

Interrupt the thought by choosing to think something else.

Even if it does nothing else for you, you are showing yourself that you have power over your own thoughts.  You can CHOOSE to think something different.

Your brain thinks its job is to come to some solution about everything that you think.

That’s good for some things but not everything.

You can do a few things with the thoughts you are trying to distract yourself from.

You can tell your brain that you don’t want to think about that right now and that you’ll think about it later.  You can even tell your brain a specific time that you’ll come back to it, like 7pm tonight.  That can calm it down.

You could also write the thought down on a piece of paper and journal about it either right then or decide on a time you’ll do it later.

Either way, your brain feels like it has been paid attention to and it will get to figure out this problem later.  Usually, if it’s not something that you really need to figure out, it will just float away.  Doesn’t that feel hopeful?  You don’t have to entertain every thought that ever comes in your head.  What a relief that is!!

The second D you could use is Disputation.

This is actually a deeper way to deal with pessimistic beliefs.

It’s more lasting when you face the belief this way and some of those thoughts need to be disputed and faced head on.

This is done most effectively by writing them down.

Go back to your ABC’s list and see which circumstances you wrote down that you can now answer with Disputation.

Disputing your beliefs head on by journaling about them.

Question your beliefs!

Go deep on them.

Why do I think this way?

Is it real?

Is there a different belief I would rather have?


Can I decide that I want to believe it and if I do, how does that feel instead of holding onto my old belief?

Look at this as having a really good argument with yourself!

This is such a powerful way to journal.

Have an actual argument with yourself on paper.

Try to go at your thought from a bunch of different angles.

By disputing what you automatically think is the only way, you can change future reactions to a more optimistic response.

If you don’t believe me that this works, try it!

I dare you to see what happens.

Add to your ABC’s list from last week and add the D.

Either Disrupt the thought or Dispute it.

Use your previous 5 events or look for new ones this week.

Remember, this is work worth doing!!

Habits of thinking don’t have to last forever.  One of the biggest findings in the study of psychology in the last 30 years is that people can choose the way they think.

To me, that brings SO much hope!

I am not stuck in the habits that I don’t want anymore.

I can learn to think in a new way.

I have been learning to think in a new way and that’s why I know it can work for you too.

Start by simply paying attention to the way you talk to yourself, then choose to change the words that you use.

This is a form of work.  But it is very worthwhile work.

When you feel your emotions bringing you down, that is your cue to get to work!!

You don’t have to feel helpless in this.

You can choose to be optimistic more often.

Even catching yourself once a day will get you there.

You’ll soon be catching yourself more and more and you’ll begin to feel more hope in the everyday things that used to bring you down.

If you would like to speed up this process, I’m here to help you.

I’ve helped many women and a few men too, change their explanatory style.

Having a coach like me help you catch where your thinking may be Permanent, Pervasive or Personal can help you progress into an optimist faster.

I can help you see what you’re thinking and help you make decisions that are more in line with who you really are.  It’s a beautiful change to watch someone go through and I’d be honored to help you too.

Register for a free 15-minute session with me and we’ll get started building an Optimistic Explanatory style for you.  The link is in the shownotes or at hunkeedori.com/minimentor.

Let’s get to work busting up those old pessimistic thought patterns and get you to a more optimistic life!

Ep. 140: Working Through Depression by Learning Optimism Part Three
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