Strengths: well researched, well written, a pleasure to read, doesn’t claim to be anything it’s not
Weaknesses: long. Completely materialistic (G.K. Chesterton says, “I feel sorry for the materialist. He is not allowed a tiniest imp!”)
Springboard to: “Optimistic child” by Seligman – can’t wait!
The only question I have about this book is where has it been all my life! I honestly cannot believe it took me until now to read it. I have learned about the phenomenon of learned helplessness in ’92 (that’s 25 years ago!). I have learned about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in ’97. And only now did I get to meet the mastermind behind it! Instead of a turgid academic type, he tuned out to be a very personable guy with a tremendous clarity of mind and a great sense of humour. Any mom undeterred by 300 mages of dense small print should drop any other reading she has on the go and dive into it right now. I realize, though, that she would be in the minority, so here is a brief summary:
Pessimism kills. It is not just a cool posture or a way of protecting yourself from disappointments, it is a sure way of repeatedly shooting yourself in the foot. At the same level of talent, pessimists do worse in school, work, relationship, health, and are much more frequently and severely depressed. On the other hand, incorrigible optimists, while doing better in all areas of life, tend to skew and bias reality and end up frequently walking off a cliff. So the answer is what Seligman calls “flexible optimism”, which is basically an insight into your automatic thought processes. These thought processes are your knee-jerk reactions to adversity that were formed in childhood and that basically manipulate you by sending you subliminal messages, telling you how to feel about the world and about yourself when misfortune strikes. In the case of a pessimist, they pull you down and keep kicking you until you can no longer move. In the case of an optimist, they tell you to blame others for your failure and move on. There is a way dragging these impostors into the bright light, analyzing them with a lie detector, and deciding whether or not you should be listening to them. This is what CBT is all about, and it really is not that complex. You can do it to yourself or to your kids.
Another biggie is that the automatic thought processes are acquired in childhood, and adult life does nothing to disabuse you of your fallacies, they just get more entrenched. So it is very important to get to your kids before they leave the protection of your wing. They need to be aware of their puppet master and be able to stand up to it if they are to avoid the crippling effects of pessimism and the reality distortions inherent in optimism. It is equally important to get to moms, since they are the agents most involved in forming these processes in the first place.