Pessimism is the attitude that things will go wrong and that people’s wishes or aims are unlikely to be fulfilled.American Psychological Association
A person with a pessimistic personality tends toward a more negative—or some might say, realistic—view of life. Optimists, on the other hand, see things more positively.
Pessimists usually expect negative outcomes and are suspicious when things seem to be going well. Optimists expect good things to happen and look for the silver lining when life doesn’t go their way.
“Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”― Thomas Friedman
Personality science has revealed that pessimism is not just about negative thinking; it also includes a focus on outcomes; that is what you expect will happen in the future. While optimists expect positive outcomes will happen more often than not, pessimists expect negative outcomes are more likely.
The “defensive pessimist”, takes negative thinking to a whole new level and actually harnesses it as a means for reaching their goals. Research has shown that this way of thinking can not only help them succeed; but also bring some rather unexpected rewards.
Who is a defensive Pessimist?
Individuals use defensive pessimism as a strategy to prepare for anxiety-provoking events. In enforcing defensive pessimism, individuals set low standards of their success, regardless of how well they have performed in the past. They think about concrete negative incidents and defeats that may negatively impact their goals. By looking at potential negative consequences, defensive pessimists may take steps to prevent or plan for them.
Defensive pessimists could alleviate their anxiety over public speaking by imagining possible obstacles such as forgetting the speech, being thirsty, or staining their shirts before the event. Because defensive pessimists have thought of these problems, they can appropriately prepare to face the challenges ahead. The speaker could, for instance, create note cards with cues about the speech, place a cup of water on the podium to alleviate thirst, and bring a bleach pen to remove shirt stains. These preventive actions both reduce anxiety and promote superior performance.
The Benefits of Defensive Pessimism;
Could Enhance Performance
The crucial factor in defensive pessimism is setting low expectations for the outcome of a particular plan or situation; like expecting that you won’t get hired after a job interview; and then envisioning the details of everything that might possibly go wrong to make these worst-case scenarios a reality. This gives the defensive pessimist a plan of action to ensure that any imagined mishaps won’t actually happen; such as practising for the interview and getting there early.
The benefits of defensive pessimism also extends to actual performance. Study carried out by Seery and Colleagues in 2008 showed that this has everything to do with negative mood. When prompted to be in a good mood, defensive pessimists performed poorly on a series of word puzzles. However, when they were put in bad mood, by being instructed to imagine how a scenario might have negative outcomes; they performed significantly better. This suggests that they harness their negative mood to motivate themselves to perform better.
Enhance Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
Strangely, defensive pessimist can even help boost confidence. Julie K. Norem in 2007 demonstrated that students who were defensive pessimists experienced significantly higher levels of self-esteem compared to other anxious students. In fact, their self-esteem rose to almost the levels of the optimists over the four years of the study. This may be due to increases in the defensive pessimists’ confidence to anticipate and successfully avoid the negative outcomes they imagined.
The defensive pessimist’s strategy of being prepared to prevent negative outcomes can also have some very real health benefits. Although these individuals will worry more about getting ill during an outbreak of an infectious disease compared to optimists, they are also more likely to take preventive action.
When pessimists become chronically ill, their negative view of the future may be more realistic and encourage the sort of behaviours that healthcare professionals recommend for managing their illness. Fuschia M. Sirois studied two groups of people; those with either inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or arthritis and asked them to rate their future health on a simple scale ranging from poor to excellent. Because both arthritis and IBD are long-term health conditions that often worsen over time you wouldn’t expect people to think their health would improve that much in the future.
However, those who were optimists still rated their health as improving in the future, whereas the pessimists saw their health as getting worse in the future. Taking this view may lead pessimists to engage in the types of coping strategies necessary to manage symptoms such as pain.
The key difference that separates defensive pessimists from other individuals who think negatively; such as those who are simply anxious or depressed – is their coping mechanism. Where anxious people use avoidance to cope with anticipated problems, the defensive pessimists use their negative expectations to motivate them to take active steps to feel prepared and be more in control over outcomes.
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