How To Balance Optimism and Pessimism
We all need to understand that there are times when both the feelings of optimism and pessimism to some extent, will enter our lives. The key is knowing how to strike a balance to manage these feelings and to not to let doubt damper our path to prosperity. Every one of us knows people who are pessimistic. Being around them is anything but fun. Their pessimism can bring down those who are around them, spreading an aura of negative energy that can virtually extinguish the more positive outlook needed to keep things moving in a forward and positive direction. Let me ask you, do you tend to be pessimistic or optimistic? It is important to know what your default approach is because if you don’t like it, you can change it. If that sounds like a wining proposition to you, read on.
Optimism and Pessimism: Moving Beyond Either/Or
The first thing to recognize is that few people are entirely one or the other, despite outward appearances to the contrary! You don’t have to be EITHER pessimistic OR optimistic. Most people are going to exhibit a mix of both optimism and pessimism, depending on the situation, their personality and whatever emotions they are feeling at the moment. I find it useful to think of optimism and pessimism as existing on a continuum or spectrum. In this approach to understanding the concepts, it is the only way out at the extreme ends of the spectrum that you might find people who are only pessimistic or optimistic, but there’s a whole range of space in between those outer extremes that represent various mixes of the two. Making it an either/or, all-or-nothing choice between just the outer extremes is an oversimplification of reality. And we all know that reality is not that simple. It’s not black and white. There’s a lot of grey area in between. Unfortunately, being in the ambiguous grey area is what causes discomfort. Learning to live with the tensions of being in the grey area is a major challenge for many people. It’s easier to simplify reality, but it’s not being true to the complexities of everyday life.
The Impact of Optimism and Pessimism
If you go too far down the path of pessimism, you can get stuck there. Pessimism means the anticipation of negative outcomes. In the classic glass of water metaphor, it means seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full. If you get stuck at this end of the spectrum, your dreams and desires will remain unfulfilled and sometimes you can get trapped into a feeling of self pity and negativity. Realize this; you simply cannot create a positive future for yourself if all you can see are the potential negative results of your actions!
Where does this pessimism come from? One source is definitely our own past experiences during our lives. If we have been subjected time and time again to emotional pain in our lives, it is only natural that we come to expect the same. The problem with this approach, however, is that it creates an ongoing downward spiral of negative energy that can lead to defeatism and depression. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A key point to make here is that although history does tend to repeat itself, it does not HAVE to repeat itself. We have the willpower and ingenuity within to forge a new and more positive destiny for ourselves. Another source of pessimism is fear. Our fear of the unknown, fear of failure and fear of the opinions of others may lead us to over-emphasize potential negative outcomes as a way to justify not taking a risk in the first place. Do you really want to live your life in fear? If you do that, you’ll never find out all the wonderful things you could accomplish and experience.
Great Quotes on Optimism and Pessimism
“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.” Gil Stern
“A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn’t see the clouds at all – he’s walking on them.” Leonard Louis Levinson
“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.” Harry Truman
“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” Walt Disney
Can You Balance Optimism and Pessimism?
If you think about optimism and pessimism as a spectrum, then being all the way out at either end of it is a distortion of reality. We know that always being a pessimist can put one into a downward spiral of negativity that can be hard to recover from. But the continuum approach would say that only being an optimist is also a distortion. A true pessimist can only see potential negative outcomes and becomes paralyzed by that. An all-optimist would never recognize potential negative outcomes, and that can lead to some very dangerous decisions and situations. We all need to be able to make contingency plans in case something doesn’t go as planned, in case something goes wrong. Once again, what we’re trying to avoid is just making a simple either/or choice. Reality is more complex than that. Having said that, however, modern culture does tend to lean towards the pessimistic end of the spectrum! Just think about all the commercials you see in the media for various kinds of insurance that emphasize everything that could go wrong. It is wise to infuse a situation and decision with a common sense approach.
Let the Situation Help you Dynamically Balance Optimism and Pessimism
I think the best way to counter the pessimism of modern culture is to consciously lean more towards the optimistic end of the spectrum. We need more optimism! But we also need to be realistic as well. I think the situation itself can help strike a balance. If the stakes are high, you need to be more willing to anticipate potential negative outcomes in order to properly plan for them. Successful people always have a backup plan. If the stakes are not that high, practice indulging optimism and see what a life-enhancing difference it can make for you. In your approach to reaching goals and success in your plans, you should learn to temper optimism and pessimism with common sense and good judgment.
© 2012, Linda. All rights reserved.