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General News    H3'ed 1/7/11

Martin Seligman's Response to Truthout's Jason Leopold's Report on Army "Spiritual Fitness" Test

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Message Martin Seligman

This article is one of three articles regarding the Army "Spiritual Fitness" Test.

The first is by Jason Leopold, Army's "Spiritual Fitness" Test Comes Under Fire.

The second is THIS article-- a response by Martin Seligman, who emailed me, requesting that I publish it. He also emailed it to Jason Leopold and posted it to a positive psychology listserve I've been a member of for approximately ten years (some of my work with positive psychology appears on my website

The third is my commentary Positive Psychology-- Throwing out the Baby With The Bathwater and the embedded video of the segment of the Keith Olbermann show which reported on this story.

Martin Seligman's Response to Jason Leopold's article.

This article "Test was designed by Psychologist who inspired CIA's torture program" may set the record for the sheer number of false statements about me, about positive psychology, and about Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. Apparently the reporter, Jason Leopold, has a checkered past in misreporting.

  • I had nothing to do with the CIA torture program, and I am strongly opposed to torture.
  • I did not design the survey used by Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.
  • All my time and work on Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is donated free.
  • The "spirituality" items on the survey are not about religion and I have been told that they were vetted by government lawyers so as not to violate the first amendment. Here are the items:

41. SPIRITUALITY I believe there is a purpose for my life. 42. SPIRITUALITY I am a spiritual person. 43. SPIRITUALITY My life has a lasting meaning. 44. SPIRITUALITY I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world. 45. SPIRITUALITY The job I am doing in the military has lasting meaning.

  • The results are completely confidential. No one but the survey taker ever sees them.
  • There are no required courses in spiritual fitness. The survey taker has the option of taking such courses if he or she wants to.

Here is what the Army said:

BACKGROUND. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is a holistic program designed to give all members of the Army community* the knowledge, thinking skills, and behaviors that will optimize the ability and likelihood to "thrive" in their lives, as well as their ability to successfully cope with life's challenges and adversity. The program does so by training specific skill sets along the five domains of human health and fitness (Physical, Social, Emotional, Spiritual, and Family). Integrating CSF results in greater "resilience", which is the sum of each individual's assets and resources in these dimensions.

Though CSF is largely focused on training skill sets (and how and when to apply them), it does delve into root causes of emotion, thought and action; what psychologists refer to as "meta-cognition". CSF is a programmatic first step towards teaching members of the Army community to understand how and why they think a certain way. Once people begin to understand this, they are best postured to change their thoughts and actions to strategies more adaptive, and more likely to result in desirable outcomes, towards "thriving".

Additionally, CSF uses a "strengths-based" training approach. Here, the program recognizes two important factors. First, that the best outcomes are realized if existing personal strengths are leveraged. Second, that "one-size-fits-all" training is both inappropriate and inefficient. Because some people are more resilient than others when first introduced to the CSF program, the education and training should be tailored to the individual. This increases interest at all levels, and greater likelihood of success.

The CSF program is not medical or psychological treatment. The program focuses on the ninety plus percent of the force that is fundamentally "well", but at widely varying levels of fitness in each domain. With this in mind, CSF's maximal benefit will be realized when incorporated early, and development of fitness is continuous.

People who are optimally fit will have the courage to take advantage of more opportunities, as well as the decision making, and communication skills to maximize the chance of success with these opportunities. And because attempting more DOES mean there is more risk of failure, internalizing the knowledge, skills and behaviors, making them part of doing business, will allow those individuals to weather the setbacks and disappointments better as well.

Conversely, when facing uncertainty and adversity, these same skills help to put the problems into appropriate perspective, find meaning in their lives, reduce rumination and catastrophic thinking, and focus on finding solutions.

Lastly, the CSF program recognizes that developing human resilience is a life-long process. There is no "end state" for a person's resilience; they can always improve. Therefore, the need to develop human resilience is enduring, and CSF will continue to morph as the Army community's resilience develops and its needs change.

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Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., works on positive psychology, learned helplessness, depression, and on optimism and pessimism. He is currently Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology and Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of (more...)
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Martin Seligman's Response to Truthout's Jason Leopold's Report on Army "Spiritual Fitness" Test

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