I’ve been told again and again that I’m too pessimistic or too negative. That I need to embrace the endless possibilities of the world, that I need to see all the chances and opportunities I’m presented with by this majestic universe.
I’m doing all that, just not in the way you’d expect.
[…] I am a pessimist by nature. It is, after all, the wisest way to be. We pessimists have everything to gain, whereas optimists have a fifty-fifty chance of being disappointed. ― Tamas Myres, As the World Churns
My body is composed of 99% pessimism and a dash of sarcasm. A lot of sarcasm, but that’s a topic for another post. I don’t know if this will surprise you, but I don’t see this as a problem, quite the opposite. My pessimism is a problem solver.
Instead of optimistically looking at the world through pink colored glasses, I envision every single thing that might go wrong. In every scenario. I have to get to an event downtown, I’m pretty sure I’ll be stuck in traffic, so I leave early, arrive early and I’m super happy about it. I have a presentation to make for work, I’m pretty sure something bad will happen to my computer just when I’m about to finish it, so I save it every few minutes, computer doesn’t crash, still happy about it.
Being a pessimist for most of my life has taught me how to expect challenges at every turn and usually be ready for them when they do occur. Statistically, 90% of the bad things that we imagine will happen – never do. Yes, it’s not the best outlook on life, but I’ve made my peace with it and I’d like to think I react better in a crisis than the average person.
The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised. ― George Will
I’ve been unknowingly taking a page out of the stoicism handbook for years. One of the “life hacks” they practiced was called negative visualization. It is the act of thinking about how awful a situation may be in order to make yourself appreciate your present circumstances. For instance, are you feeling stressed at your job? How about if you lost your job tomorrow and could not get a new one for years to come? Does your current level of stress compare with the stress of that situation?
Asking yourself “what is the worst that can happen” is a tool of negative visualization. It’s a great problem solving technique that everyone should be using when faced with a big project. Anticipating a bad scenario makes you much more prepared to handle it properly.
To give you some numbers, humans have on average 50,000 thoughts a day, 80% of which are negative. More than 40,000 thoughts that have us worried, angry, sad, exhausted. That is a lot of negativity. I think optimists are like rare unicorns, because with those numbers, we are prone to pessimism.
I like to think I handle my negativity with pragmatism, because I have so much experience with it. My pessimistic tendencies are now used to taking my negativity with a pinch of salt and make good use of all those end-of-the-world scenarios my generous brain comes up with.
I recently read an article that has helped me re-evaluate my thought process when even I get overwhelmed by negativity, on an amazing blog called Barking Up The Wrong Tree. It addresses how we can differentiate between “productive” inducing worries and the ones that just suck the happiness right out of you (we see you, Dementors). This is done by asking one simple question:
Is this useful?
Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety. Just by asking yourself how ridiculous a worry is, it will improve your outlook on the situation. Decide whether your thought helps you or not, and you will feel a lot better within a few seconds. You overreacting over an offhand comment made a week ago – not useful. You worrying about busy mornings at the coffee shop and making the decision to leave earlier – useful.
Realizing and admitting that you’re worrying about something out of your control has the great advantage it not being your problem anymore. You’re done with that.
On to the next one.
Have a eudemonic week!
Photo credit to Matt Briney.