I’m reading Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism, to see again how modern psychology reflects ancient rabbinic wisdom. The book contains a quiz that assessed one’s optimism, pessimism, self-confidence and sense of hope. According to the scoring, I’m mostly optimistic, have an extraordinary sense of hope (good Jew that I am), but somewhat low self-esteem… I looked back at the questions that reflected the self-esteem, and discovered–as he discussed–that if you don’t think the reason for your successes is your own wonderfulness, then you are not optimistic…
For example, if the question asks why you got a job, and you say because you interviewed well that day rather than you interview well period, then you have lower self esteem. BUT if you think the reason something went badly is because of a specific reason — for example – skiing did not go well because skiing is hard, rather than because I am not athletic, then you are optimistic.
As we are in our period of cheshbon hanefesh, spiritual accounting, I find this idea intriguing. Seligman is suggesting we globally own what we do well, and be very specific about what we don’t do well, rather than feel like we are inept, unqualified, otherwise “bad.” This allows us to view the world in a way that allows for growth and success, and removes us from feelings of failure and inadequacy, while still remaining truthful. (I interview well in general, but I am also not that athletic – and skiing is definitely not in the repertoire – one needs vestibular b
alance for that.)
He reminds us that it is all about the stories we tell ourselves, the narrative going on in our heads. How much space do we rent out to the people who think ill of us, or whose words lead us to rage, or helplessness?