How can both optimism and pessimism have power? You’ll probably assume the power in optimism means it’s positive and good. While in contrast the power in pessimism is negative and bad. That’s partly true. However if we take a look at how both can impact our mental health, we’ll find that they can have a meaningful outcomes from both a positive and negative perspective. It’s really all in how each of us chooses to look at the situation or at life in general. Let’s dive deeper into both and the power each holds.
Optimism is being hopeful and confident about the future or the successful outcome of something. Optimists generally have a positive outlook. People who are optimists can see negative outcomes as just temporary setbacks and generally move forward with belief in positive results. They have a healthier outlook on life and the ability to better manage stressful events that may occur. They have better mental and physical health, including less anxiety and lower blood pressure.
One may argue that you can be overly optimist with rose colored glasses and miss the reality of a situation though. Optimism can help a person strive for more and pursue the lofty dreams. Some measure of a true reality can help the optimist more clearly gauge the risk of a situation or endeavor. Planning is a good way to help pinpoint the potential risky areas of what you’re trying to achieve and address those risks head on with your optimistic outlook. Creating a blend of a positive and objective look at things will help you properly and realistically evaluate your goal.
The power of optimism lies in your ability to see the future or your goal with the hope and confidence that you can accomplish what you set your mind to achieve. Of course you still have to include that good old fashioned, roll up those sleeves work to obtain your goals.
Pessimism in contrast to optimism is a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen. It is when we have a lack of hope or confidence in the future. The Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer can fall into this category. It’s not just women though. Men are also part of the pessimistic bunch. These are all the people we label with the “glass is half empty” attitude.
Unfortunately the truly pessimistic people are also those who have increased mental and physical health issues. Some of these include anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and more. Life circumstances can result in a more pessimist outlook. It can include divorce, job loss, illness and/or trauma. It’s not always the case that someone chooses to be a pessimist. There’s also the possibility that the person is predisposed to pessimism due to genetic factors. It all sounds pretty grim.
All is not lost though because it turns out that a dose of pessimism can be a healthy thing for us. Like anything in life too much of a good thing can be unhealthy. Small doses of pessimism can help you have a realistic outlook on a situation. It can alert you of threats and risks of a situation or within a goal you’re trying to accomplish. This awareness can help you be proactive and address the negative before something unexpected happens.
There’s also a cognitive strategy called “defensive pessimism” that can be of benefit for you. Defensive pessimism is a way to set expectations about what can go badly by first acknowledging what could go wrong, analyze it and plan a way to mitigate the issue if it arises. We do this in project planning to mitigate the risk of the timeline being impacted if a risk is actualized. It works in business and can work in life as well.
This approach will also help decrease anxiety by making the situation more manageable. It can help flip the script on ruminating about what can go wrong from a pessimists viewpoint and better prepare you if the possibility occurs. You’ll be treading into optimism with this approach. That’s a good thing!
Finding Balance Between Optimism and Pessimism
We’re always living in one extreme or another. What if you can strike a good balance between optimism and pessimism? I’m not suggesting a 50/50 split, but we can use pessimism like a spice. A little added can go a long way.
“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the airplane, the pessimist the parachute.”– George Bernard Shaw
Optimism may lead to better outcomes and a healthier life. That doesn’t mean we need to stay with our heads in the clouds as if nothing can go wrong. Defensive pessimism can be the way to incorporate some reality into the “half full” outlook many of us have. Too much optimism is essentially standing in the world with an inflated amount of confidence. We don’t want that. Set your high expectations for all that can go right and incorporate the knowledge of the risk at hand. Being realistic will help you assess where you might need to place more energy and planning.
If you find yourself falling prey to pessimism, these tips might help get you back on track to achieving the optimism to pessimism balance.
- Focus on today and live in the present.
- Fully assess the situation or goal.
- List the positives and negatives (optimist view and defensive pessimism).
- Review the areas you can control and what you can change or mitigate.
- Take action. Small deliberate steps will help you achieve big results.
- Journal the outcome of each step and plan your next steps.
- Congratulate yourself for things you’ve accomplished- big or small!
- Practice daily gratitude. Write 1-2 things you are grateful for each day.
- Go for a walk, get outside and take a moment to calm your mind each day.
- Take it from the top and start with #1 again.
Surround yourself with people who will support you and help you rise. A good vent session every now and then can help you release frustration and move forward. You want to avoid having people around you who are constantly viewing everything with a negative lens though. That will just drag you down.
We all have it in us to be optimistic and joyful. Some of us just need to work a little harder at it than others. No matter where you fall on the scale between optimism and pessimism, just remember flexing your optimism is like building muscles. You can’t achieve the ripped abs in one day. It takes time, consistency and focus. A good diet for your body, mind and spirit will help too. What might feel like work in the beginning can become part of your lifestyle in no time.
How do you balance your optimism and pessimism?
What is Optimism? Psychology Today
Pessimism Psychology Today