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What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  624 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
In the climate of self-improvement that pervades our culture, there is an overwhelming amount of information about treatments for everything from alcohol abuse to sexual dysfunction. Much of this information is exaggerated if not wholly inaccurate. As a result, people who try to change their own troubling conditions often experience the frustration of mixed success, succes ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Vintage (first published December 14th 1993)
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Feb 01, 2012 Michelle rated it really liked it
Shelves: psych
Another Martin Seligman psychology book that just snuck into my pile and got itself read. Dr. Seligman fairly dispassionately gives us the good news and the bad news about what psychological traits, functional and dysfunctional, are amenable to change or are immutable for the vast majority of people, depending on how deeply these characteristics are embedded in the psyche.

Phobias are moderately changeable with treatments that were available when the book was written in 1996. Sexual identity is
Jun 17, 2012 Marshall rated it liked it
Pretty interesting psychology book. A very candid look at what psychologists and biologists have found out about our changeability. Huge industries have been erected around change, particularly dieting. Every brand has its own promise for change, which often contradicts the other brands. They don't need to be right to make money, just persuasive. So why not learn about what the science actually observed works or doesn't work?

This book covers several things people commonly want to change about th
Lucia Gannon
Oct 30, 2011 Lucia Gannon rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I have just read this book for the second time. I read it as a work assignment with the intention of exploring the ideas contained in the book in an educational small group setting.
It is very well researched and referenced.
Martin Seligman challenges a lot of the perceived wisdom on depression/anxiety, addiction, obesity.
His views are thought-provoking and informative.
He emphasises how important it is to be aware of our belief system around these conditions. Our beliefs will influence how we rega
Feb 21, 2009 Katie rated it liked it
I'd actually rate this more like 3.5 to 4 stars. I greatly enjoyed the whole book with the exception of a couple of chapters, but the last part on childhood put me off badly enough with it's blatant bias and cherry-picking of studies that I had to downgrade my overall rating of the book. It's too bad, because I really loved the book and was enthusiastic about it and wanting to recommend it to my friends until then.

Seligman is usually upfront with you when he's arguing his own perspective and not
Jon Cox
Jun 09, 2012 Jon Cox rated it liked it
Amazingly, this book is out of date. There have been too many advances in psychological research since Seligman wrote it, that his summaries and conclusions are out of date. For example, the current research says that naltrexone is very effective at helping people avoid relapse of alcohol and opioid dependence. The read is interesting if you keep in mind that it is almost 20 years old and out of date. Also, Seligman begins the book with some exaggerations to make his point, and ends up sounding ...more
Jan 25, 2012 Joshua rated it liked it
The sections on depression, anxiety, phobias, and anger are excellent and insightful. In much of the rest of the book, however, the author seems to overstep his bounds, spending exhaustive amounts of time presenting personal postulates on subject areas outside his expertise. The most frustrating examples of this are the sections on biological factors in dieting, transsexualism, and homosexuality.
Nikhil P. Freeman
Jul 27, 2011 Nikhil P. Freeman rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Gluttons for punishments
This was a hot self improvement-pop psychological mess. It is a shame because I agree wholeheartedly that any therapy should be forward thinking and allows a person to assume personal responsibility, but having distinctions in degrees of emotional difficulty in child abuse cases--mild fondling by strangers to forceful rapes by close relatives--is downright crazy, and expecting people to "turn down the volume" on such matters is fucking problematic. All this from a guy who wrote Learned Optimism: ...more
Jennifer Aitkens
Apr 28, 2013 Jennifer Aitkens rated it really liked it
Shelves: self-help
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 10, 2011 Enoch rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
This book is a great view into the mental reasons of why we have a difficult time changing our habits. It starts with understanding the troubles of our psychological world (i.e. anxiety, phobias, depression, etc.), then discusses a number of key areas people struggle (i.e. diet, alcoholism) and finally draws a conclusion of expectations we can assume during our seasons of expansion and contraction. The studies are a little shocking in their findings, but Dr. Seligman does a wonderful job of pres ...more
Michael Rehberg
Jul 18, 2014 Michael Rehberg rated it really liked it
This is where your emotional health journey should start. This is the skeptic's... the curious person's... the science-hungry person's survey of self help and therapy. Emotional health broken down and evaluated piece by piece, examined in light of, well, what you can change and what you can't. A fantastically clear cleave between nature and nurture. Great concise survey of the therapies available and their efficacy, drawn from psychological research. (Along with some theories from the author tha ...more
Anthony Zappia
I was drawn to this book by the title, as it__s a question that__s often on my mind. What I found was a book that while interesting, was mainly dealing with different psychological issues and problems, such as depression, phobias, panic, anxiety and alcohol abuse; it__s well written and argued from the perspective of a psychologist, but don__t expect a book on __how do I get that job?__, __how do I become a better leader?__, __How do I find my perfect mate?__ or __How do I bring more abundance i ...more
Aug 01, 2015 Rebecca rated it liked it
Shelves: brain-power
Here's a disclaimer right from the start: There are chapters in the book which I did not read - I was interested in one particular train of thought.

Having listened to and believed some of the other philosophies for a number of years (including the one which says that depression is anger turned inwards), it was really nice to read something different and have his explanations make sense.

I highly recommend this book to anyone - experienced at reading clinical books or not, especially if you are
Sep 10, 2014 Babak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this book when a friend had a family tragedy. I noticed the book discusses the research findings on PTSD. After reading a few chapters I kept reading. Quite fascinating ...

I loved Dr.Seligman's scientific approach and attention to details of research, which I couldn't do myself.
He has looked at studies and their methodologies. If for example no control group was available he will note that. So he can give a scientific and fair view of the latest findings for each issue. He is s
Mar 07, 2016 Catherine rated it really liked it
My opinion wavered between liking this book and loving it. I hadn't read it since I first bought it back in spring of 1996. As an armchair psychology student, I found it a great overview of what approaches work to "fix" certain "problems" (not that homosexuality is a problem, and he DOES say so). I especially felt that my own opinions of PTSD symptoms, what will fix PTSD, what will fix depression, and what it takes to have appropriately developed self-esteem were validated.

As a matter of fact, S
Mary Jo
Apr 02, 2012 Mary Jo rated it liked it
This is a very clinical and research-based psychology book, not a feel-good pop-psych self-help book. I imagine it would be great reading for a Psych 101 class. It gives an overview of several common mental health issues, a review of the research that has been done about various treatments, and recommends the treatment that is most effective in the long term. It’s really good information, and some of it is counterintuitive or goes against what some therapists and psychologists routinely do with ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Janice rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
The first two chapters caught my attention....he has some interesting theories, which are different than the mainstream of thought. He is very meticulous with his writing and his research, but sometimes pretty funny. A good quote: "so hard to swallow were these findings for learning theorists that the leading textbook writer in that field said at the time that they were no more likely to be true than that 'you would find bird shit in a cuckoo clock!'"
David Ford
Apr 05, 2016 David Ford rated it it was amazing
I read this book years ago. What I liked most about this book was its application of the scientific method, something so thoroughly lacking in most pop psychology books. The book didn't just *use* the scientific method, it sold me on the scientific method. I can honestly say, 20 years later, that this book has had a profound impact on the way I think.
Aug 16, 2012 Rubina rated it liked it
Martin Seligman says that this book is his "attempt to review with unflinching candor the effectiveness of most of the different kinds of treatment for the major psychological disorders", and that is precisely what he has done. In the age of self-improvement, many of us struggle to change, taking and embarking on a variety of activities perceived to be able to improve our lives. Sometimes it works but distressingly often, they fail. Focusing on addiction, genes, anxiety (panic attacks, phobias, ...more
Jan 02, 2016 Carol rated it liked it
I read the library's 1993 edition. Without an extensive background, I could tell that some of the findings were out of date. Still an educational read with plenty of scientific evidence to support the points. 3.5
Jennifer Shreve
Oct 27, 2011 Jennifer Shreve rated it really liked it
Ignore the self-improvement bit for a moment, as I'm pretty sure that was added to help sell the book. This is a fascinating breakdown of what's caused by nature and what we can attribute to nurture in a series of common ailments--from alcoholism to depression to sexuality. The breakdowns are clear, smart, and fascinating, especially if you're a pop psychology junkie like myself. The useful part is giving you a sense of what aspects of yourself are worth working on and which you can just give up ...more
Jun 16, 2013 Colin rated it it was amazing
This is the best psychology book for the general public that I have read. Written concisely and with illuminating examples, Seligman sticks to the empirical evidence rooted in rigorous methodology. It highlights that we can change many aspects of our lives, but that there are other arenas in which we will face much more difficulty.

While some of his claims are likely to be wrong or inaccurate, most of them seem to be grounded in clear thinking and what the evidence tells us.

I highly recommend thi
Mar 06, 2015 Clivemichael rated it really liked it
Well articulated, good detailed overview.
Su Osman
Sep 13, 2014 Su Osman rated it did not like it
I have made no notable progress in my life after reading this book but to be fair; false advertising has never seized to make me too optimistic.
Katherine Wertheim
Apr 15, 2012 Katherine Wertheim rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books. Have you ever wondered why you can't keep off weight through dieting? Or whether one childhood incident scars someone forever? Or whether AA really works for alcoholics? Dr. Seligman covers all this and more. He discusses what goes on in the brain and body for a whole variety of human conditions, whether it's trans-sexuals or homosexuals or just weight loss. I find this a fascinating book and a marvelous dissection of the human condition.
Dec 20, 2012 Laurene rated it did not like it
I was attracted by the title of the book. However, the book is not very helpful to me. The negative emotions talked in the book seem exaggerating and far away from me. It maybe helpful for those who suffer from the problems. As I read through it fast, I picked up one positive message in the chapter of Shedding the skins of Childhood, "It is more important to focus on responsibilities and being forward looking." I like books helping strengthen positiveness.
Mar 19, 2014 Cara marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating but someone has a hold on it.

p. 108
Causes of depression:
- learned helplessness
- ruminating
- pursuit of thinness
Burky Ford
Feb 08, 2014 Burky Ford rated it really liked it
Eric Fowler
Apr 26, 2009 Eric Fowler rated it it was amazing
Reading this book at a young age gives me a very different perspective on that last section of this book. It is more targeted to those in their mid-life who most likely having a crisis. The conclusion of this book is pure brilliance, bring back everything to its very first page. I can feel confident that I know the 'wisdom to know the difference' when going through life.
May 08, 2012 Sue rated it it was amazing
yet another book from Seligman that I've littered with stick-it notes where sections resonated or struck me as useful to return to more than once. Full of facts rather than rhetoric and humming with indicators about the early thinking that has resulted in "Flourish". Read it for insights about yourself or if you work with others.
Carol Gee
Sep 13, 2008 Carol Gee rated it it was amazing
A great tool for therapists. Makes the case for using efficacious therapeutic methods.

I have read that the author's thesis about learned helplessness, unfortunately, was co-opted by military psychologists, without his permission or knowledge, to reverse engineer torture in the 21st century by the U.S. government.
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Seligman is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology. He was previously the Director of the Clinical Training Program in the department. Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association by the widest margin in its history and served in that capacity during the 1998 term.[4] He is the founding editor-in-chief ...more
More about Martin E.P. Seligman...

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“Pessimistic labels lead to passivity, whereas optimistic ones lead to attempts to change.” 5 likes
“Above all, during the interval, change from “ego orientation” to “task orientation.” Think: “I know this seems like a personal insult, but it is not. It is a challenge to be overcome that calls on skills I have.” 3 likes
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