Think Negative! The Power of Defensive Pessimism

Think Negative! The Power of Defensive Pessimism


We have been taught, since we were kids, that negative thinking is not good, and only positive thoughts can help produce positive results. Yet growing up, I never became an optimist.

I guess it developed in high school when I started hoping for the top scores in exams, best grades in class, and great recognition from my teachers, but always end up falling short of my expectations. I realized that hoping too much for something does not help my morale when I fail. And as a kid, I always experience failure.

Since then, getting a score lower than what I am expecting won’t make me sad. Not winning a contest that I knew I have no chance of winning won’t make me cry. I practice and study hard, but I don’t expect much. Little did I know, I am already employing defensive pessimism.

According to Julie K. Norem, PhD, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College. Defensive pessimists employ a calculated form of negative thinking to produce a positive outcome. She added that, “Defensive pessimism is a strategy used in specific situations to manage anxiety, fear, and worry

Defensive pessimists, like me, set their standards low, and then follow up with a detailed plan to avoid situations that might go wrong. Once they visualized the scale of bad things that might happen, they become proactive in keeping their plan smooth sailing.

Negativity has its positive side as well, and being one for many years made me learn to channel my negativity to produce positive results.

Here’s how I apply my negative mind-set to get positive results in life:

1. Master one’s fears and worries

It is counter intuitive to use pessimism to battle stress, fears and worries, but it does work. Being a pessimist, I always think of stress as a result of a problem. So what I do is control my fears, make plans, and be proactive in solving my problems. As the great athlete Georges St-Pierre said, “It’s OK to get butterfly in your stomach; the key is to learn how to make them fly in formation.

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2. Productivity is possible

Defensive pessimists worry a lot, but instead of letting it hurt them, they use it as driving force to become productive. Whenever I have loads of projects, I imagine bad things that may happen if I do not finish everything on time. The result is I work harder and better to fulfill my tasks.

3. Develop passion for excellence

Negative people always worry that they won’t meet the standards of other people, that their best is not enough to impress them. In my case, I work hard and make sure that my work is great before I submit it. Even if this means, I’d have to work all night. What matters most is that I won’t be humiliated with the quality of work that I did.

4. Competitiveness becomes second nature

A lot of pessimists become competitive without their knowledge. It probably comes from their passion for excellence. Personally, being competitive helps me plan better, and execute potent solutions. It also helps me to reach my full potential.

5. Ready and prepared for possible problems

Grace under pressure – this is not how best to describe a pessimist. I don’t like encountering problems, so even before I lose my composure during difficult situations, I make sure that I already have contingency plans in case something goes wrong. Prefactual thinking is one of defensive pessimism’s essential component; making us great planners and organizers.

To use pessimism to produce positive results can make you successful in life.  Lawrence Sanna, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says that defensive pessimists “tend to be very successful people, and so their low opinion of the outcome isn’t realistic; they use it to motivate themselves to perform better.”

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Indeed, being too pessimistic is not helpful. Negative thoughts can hinder people to be dynamic in solving problems, thus worsening a situation. But if you take control of your fear, and focus on solving what’s bothering you, that’s the time that you learn to empower yourself. I am happy that I learned to use defensive pessimism, maybe you should use it too.

Do you want to know if you are a defensive pessimist? Try this test to know.

(Photo credit: We Heart It )

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