“How to Be a Successful Pessimist”
By: Shannon Green
Distrustful. Suspicious. Alarmist. Bleak. Negative. Dejected. Cynical. What do these words all have in common? They are all synonyms for pessimistic. I’ve always been keenly aware that I’m a pessimist. However, I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant for me as a person and how it would manifest itself at different stages of my life. It seems to have gotten worse in adulthood. So much so that I often find myself annoyed by overly cheery people. It’s hard to fathom that someone could be that positive all the time, so I assume they’re disingenuous and try to keep my distance. Generally, my pessimism manifests itself in three ways.
Anxiety: Part of expecting the worst is constantly worrying and catastrophizing.
Negative Thought: “What if I'm doing this whole parenting thing wrong and my son grows up to be a complete douchebag because of decisions I’ve made?”
Perfectionism: If I can do things with absolute perfection, there is no way my fears will come true.
Negative Thought: “I’m starting a business. If things aren’t perfect when I launch no one will ever shop with me and I’ll fail and embarrass myself and my family.”
Low Self Esteem: Expecting the worst in others doesn’t shield me from expecting the worst from myself.
Negative Thought: “I didn’t get that promotion that I worked really hard for. Clearly, I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe I’ve peaked in my career; why waste my time applying for other jobs...there will only be more rejection.”
When you’re a pessimist, those personal dialogues are quite abusive. We spend a lot of time having internal conversations that affect our external being in various ways. I can’t always control where my mind goes, but with practice, I can check myself before those negative thoughts run amok. Here is how:
Counter Argument: Write down your negative thoughts and counter them with more realistic ones. For example:
Negative Thought “What if I’m doing this whole parenting thing wrong and my son grows up to be a complete douchebag because of decisions I’ve made for him?”
Counter: The fact that I actually care about his character and the decisions that I’m making means that I’m already doing a great job. I have no control over the future, all I can do is give it my best.
Examine the Evidence: Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the actual evidence for it. For example:
Negative Thought: “I’m starting a business. If things aren’t absolutely perfect when I launch no one will ever shop with me and I’ll fail and embarrass myself and my family.”
Evidence: Zilch. Businesses are run by humans. Humans/businesses make mistakes and we still shop with them. My iPhone has crashed on me numerous times but I’m still #teamiPhone. Amazon has messed up a shipment, but I’m not giving up my Prime membership. Someone accidentally left a Starbucks Cup on the table in an episode of Game of Thrones, but I'm still watching it. All this to say, it’s ok if I’m not perfect and I’m bound to have some business related fumbles. That doesn’t mean I’m bound to fail.
Phone a Friend: If I told a friend of mine that I was turned down for a promotion and they responded, “You must not have worked hard enough. I doubt there are other jobs out there for you. Don’t even waste your time applying.” they’d probably go down in history as the world’s suckiest friend. Yet, here I am being the world’s suckiest friend to myself by not keeping my thoughts in check. Just as much as I deserve kindness from others, I need to give that kindness to myself. When it’s tough to offer yourself that kindness, ask people questions to find out if your thoughts are realistic.
All in all, being a pessimist isn’t the end of the world. I have to say, my anxiety and perfectionist tendencies have led me to do some impressive things. When I have the right (healthy) amount of “worry” I’m very thorough and thoughtful; I pull off projects and events that leave people with their jaws on the floor. But an unhealthy amount of “worry” can cripple you. When your negative thoughts become too much and you find it hard to be productive or pull yourself out of a slump, be sure to counter the argument, examine the evidence, and phone a friend.