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Is it your tendency to see positives, even in very challenging situations? Or do you tend to immediately see all that could go wrong in every situation? I don’t know about you, but I have never been able to answer these questions conclusively. That is, I am still not sure whether my glass is half full or half empty. I tend to make that decision in each situation if necessary.
The mindset of an optimist enables him or her to see events, people, and the world in the most positive or favourable light possible. These individuals are described as having the ‘half-full glass’ mentality. The pessimist, on the other hand, tends to see the worst part of any situation and/or believe that something bad will happen. They have the ‘half-empty glass’ mentality.
Both optimism and pessimism are inherited personality traits as well as developed from the environment. Experts have found that humans are born with a natural tendency toward anxiety, but if caretakers in the home environment are loving and relaxed, children are more likely to become optimists in their adult life. However, where there are constant tension and dysfunction, pessimism will likely develop and become an enduring personality trait.
Even though I have not been able to decide whether my glass is half full or half empty, I have come to realize that the preferred way to be is to live the life of an optimist. Positive thinking does not mean that life stressors are completely ignored. It simply means that hardship is approached in a more useful way. Optimism reduces feelings of anxiety and depression while improving coping skills and increasing feelings of satisfaction and wellness. Optimists acknowledge negative events and outcomes, but they differ from the pessimist in that they are not likely to blame themselves or anyone for the negative outcomes. In addition, negative outcomes are seen as temporary and they continue to expect future positive events.
Does this mean that the life of a pessimist is only doom and gloom? (Asking for a friend)
To answer this question I went in anxious search of the benefits of being a pessimist. The pessimist in me did not expect to find anything to relieve my anxiety but I was pleasantly surprised. To all the pessimists out there, I am here to tell you that all is not lost.
There are two main types of pessimisms; one involves blaming oneself for every negative outcome and defensive pessimism involves using negative thinking as a harness to reach desired goals. The former obviously has less favourable effects, while the latter is found to help the individual to succeed and bring pleasant and unexpected rewards. People generally use avoidance as a coping mechanism when anticipating problems that may cause depression or anxiety. However, defensive pessimists use these negative anticipations as motivation to take conscious steps to prepare themselves and be more in control of results.
How does defensive pessimism work?
Anxious people use defensive pessimism to help them in managing their anxiety in order to have more productive outcomes. They do this by lowering their expectations to help in preparing them for the worst that could happen. The next step is to imagine everything bad that could happen. This may sound depressing, but it has been found that defensive pessimism really helps the anxious person to deflect the focus on their emotions in order to plan as well as act effectively.
What are the benefits of defensive pessimism?
Defensive pessimism serves as a strategy for people who are generally anxious to help them manage apprehension. This strategy helps them to pursue a particular goal rather than run in the opposite direction at the first sense of anxiety. For instance, when the defensive pessimist lowers his or her expectations and envisions all that could go wrong to not get hired after being interviewed for a job, the thoughts provide the individual with an action plan to make sure that the mishaps that he or she imagined will not happen. Actions may include actively considering other job options, practicing for the interview, and doing everything possible to get there early. Here is where I believe that there is some amount of optimism in defensive pessimism; optimism is needed to believe that the strategies will in fact work.
The strategy used by the defensive pessimist to avoid negative outcomes is also useful in health situations. These individuals are likely to be more anxious about contracting an infectious virus during an outbreak, but they are the ones who are highly expected to take every preventive measure to ensure that this does not happen. They engage in necessary coping strategies, follow all the safety rules, obsessively wash their hands, and the medical facilities are likely to be filled with defensive pessimists who are experiencing suspicious symptoms. It is believed that pessimists experience less negative moods and feelings of disappointment, as negative outcomes are expected and do not affect their wellbeing as they do optimists.
Which strategy reaps better results?
The strategies of the optimist and defensive pessimists have their benefits for those who use them. However, both groups may experience increase in anxiety if they try to do things differently. For instance, in a clinical experiment, performance suffers and anxiety levels were found to increase for defensive pessimists when they made attempts to raise their expectations. On the other hand, strategic optimists experience a decrease in performance and increased anxiety levels when they tried to lower their expectations.
What this says for me is that if you are not able to determine whether your glass is half full or half empty, seek to identify and benefit from the strategic optimism as well as the defensive pessimism in you in your various experiences and situations. Ultimately, it is what you do with the strategies of each that matters.