I would recommend autistic-leaning people first read What You Can Change And What You Can’t. However, if you only want to read one of the two, read this one. Both are very informative but this one is also useful.
Summary of Learned Optimism:
-There’s an epidemic of depression due to the West’s out of control individualism and concomitant breakdown of community, institutions, and religion. Major depression is ten times as common than it was a century ago (often beginning at age five instead of thirty-five) and twenty times more common among women (3% to 60%). Seligman doesn’t explicitly draw this connection but these are similar to the differences between West Germany and East Germany under Communism:
Fifty percent of West Berliners sat or stood upright, but only 4 percent (!) of East Berliners. Eighty percent of West Berlin workmen had their bodies in an open posture—turned toward others—but only 7 percent (!) of the East Berliners did.
-Excepting the bipolar subtype, which can be treated with drugs, all depression is caused by hardship and learned helplessness in varying degrees of severity.
-Learned helplessness is 100% curable, provided it is just learned and not ACTUAL helplessness (in which case ACTUAL skills are also needed, e.g. assertiveness training).
STEVE MAIER and I had now found out how to produce learned helplessness. But, having caused it, could we cure it? We took a group of dogs that had been taught to be helpless, and we dragged those poor, reluctant animals back and forth across the shuttlebox, over the barrier and back again, until they began to move under their own steam and came to see that their own actions worked. Once they did, the cure was one hundred percent reliable and permanent. We worked on prevention and discovered a phenomenon we called “immunization”: Learning beforehand that responding matters actually prevents learned helplessness. We even found that dogs taught this mastery as puppies were immunized to learned helplessness all their lives. The implications of that, for human beings, were thrilling.
…So the fit between the model and the real-life phenomenon was exceedingly close. Inescapable noise, unsolvable problems, and inescapable shock produced eight of the nine symptoms which contribute to the diagnosis of major depression. The closeness of this fit inspired researchers to test the theory still another way. A number of drugs can break up depression in people; the researchers gave all of them to the helpless animals. Again the results were dramatic: Each of the antidepressant drugs (and electroconvulsive therapy as well) cured learned helplessness in animals. They probably did so by raising the amount of crucial neurotransmitters available in the brain. The researchers also found that drugs that do not break up depression in people, like caffeine, Valium, and amphetamines, do not break up learned helplessness either. The fit, then, seemed almost perfect. In its symptoms, learned helplessness produced in the laboratory seemed almost identical to depression. When we now looked at the upsurge of depression, we could view it as an epidemic of learned helplessness. We knew the cause of learned helplessness, and now we could see it as the cause of depression: the belief that your actions will be futile. This belief was engendered by defeat and failure as well as by uncontrollable situations. Depression could be caused by defeat, failure, and loss and the consequent belief that any actions taken will be futile. I think this belief is at the heart of our national epidemic of depression.
-Resilience, or lack thereof, is produced by a positive feedback loop between setbacks and explanatory style. Therefore a positive explanatory style (tendency to interpret hardships as temporary, externally caused, and highly specific) will create a virtuous cycle of rebounding from failures. A negative explanatory style (tendency to interpret hardship as permanent, personal, and pervasive) will create a vicious cycle of rumination and self-alienation.
-Explanatory style can be measured through fairly simple textual analysis and used to predict everything worthwhile with stunning reliability: presidential elections, sports performance, employee retention, survival of cancer, etc. In some domains it outperforms IQ!
-There are two main ways to stop a negative explanatory style, distraction and disputation. Disputation works better in the long run but distraction has some uses (e.g. explosive ordnance disposal).
-Two ways of training disputation are to keep an ABCDE journal (Adversity, Belief, Consequences, Disputation, Energization) or to have a trusted friend play “negative Nelly” and practice debunking their catastrophizing inferences. Get defensive like in a political debate and use contrary evidence from memory, suggest a range of alternative interpretations, and deny overgeneralized implications.
The fundamental guideline for not deploying optimism is to ask what the cost of failure is in the particular situation. If the cost of failure is high, optimism is the wrong strategy. The pilot in the cockpit deciding whether to de-ice the plane one more time, the partygoer deciding whether to drive home after drinking, the frustrated spouse deciding whether to start an affair that, should it come to light, would break up the marriage should not use optimism. Here the costs of failure are, respectively, death, an auto accident, and a divorce. Using techniques that minimize those costs is inappropriate. On the other hand, if the cost of failure is low, use optimism. The sales agent deciding whether to make one more call loses only his time if he fails. The shy person deciding whether to attempt to open a conversation risks only rejection. The teenager contemplating learning a new sport risks only frustration. The disgruntled executive, passed over for promotion, risks only some refusals if he quietly puts out feelers for a new position. All should use optimism.