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

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  428 ratings  ·  40 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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Michelle
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
...more
Lucia Gannon
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
...more
Katie
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
...more
Jon Cox
Amazingly, this book is out of date.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
Marshall
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
...more
Nikhil P. Freeman
Jul 27, 2011 Nikhil P. Freeman rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joshua
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.
Babak
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
...more
Mary Jo
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
Enoch
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
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
Rubina
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
Jennifer Shreve
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
Colin
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
...more
Su Osman
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
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.
Laurene
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.
Cara
Mar 19, 2014 Cara marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating but someone has a hold on it.

Notes:
p. 108
Causes of depression:
- learned helplessness
- ruminating
- pursuit of thinness
Eric Fowler
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.
Mo El-Bishry
قرأت هذا الكتاب مترجما من مكتبة جرير قبل ان اعرف من هو المؤلف وأهميته وكيف أسس أيضاً علم النفس الإيجابي ورغم ان عندي كتابين أخرين له واحد أكاديمي بالانجليزية عنوانه علم نفس اللاسواء حصلت عليه من الرياض قبل اكثر من ١٢ سنة والثاني مترجم من جرير بعنوان تعلم التفاؤل وكتب الكترونية اخرى ولذلك قررت ان يكون المؤلف هو احد المؤلفين المفضلين عندي
Sue
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
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.
Mark Love


To review this book in depth would be to reveal some very personal information, and that isn't going to happen. I'll leave it at this: I find Seligman to be very reasonable and intellectually honest. This book has been very helpful to me.
Alison Golden
Fascinating, a little depressing because some issues show little improvement with treatment based on the data. Seligman is a positive psychology thinker, however, so I look forward to his latest book Flourish.
Jen
This is mislabeled as a "guide to self-improvement." it's pretty broad but has some good observations that seem to be backed up by Seligman's career experiences about what's changeable/not.
Barb
Oct 10, 2007 Barb rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in psychology
With all of the self-improvement and pop psychology books available, I found this a refreshing look at what emotional and behavioral factors we can change and which ones we just can't.
Shinynickel
Jul 08, 2008 Shinynickel marked it as to-read
Another Seligman - looks like an interesting companion to the other book of his I just stuck on my t0-reads.
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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...
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being The Optimistic Child Abnormal Psychology

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“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.” 1 likes
“Practiced regularly (twice a day), relaxation or meditation prevents angry arousal.” 1 likes
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