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Optimism and pessimism are personality traits that each of us possess. However, most of us are more strongly geared towards one or the other. In this article, we take a look at the power of positive thinking, the difference between optimists and pessimists, and how optimism can help you to succeed.

So, are you an optimist or a pessimist? If you’ve never thought about it before, it might actually be hard for you to decide on the answer. Many people tend to call themselves ‘realists’, but in actual fact, most of us have either an optimistic or pessimistic view of things. Another way to think about where you sit on the scale of optimism and pessimism is to have a think about whether you’re a ‘glass half full’ or ‘glass half empty’ sort of person.

Still not sure? You can conduct a simple experiment of the mind, to help you find out your natural leaning towards optimism or pessimism. Imagine that you’re in a doctor’s surgery waiting for a health check. First of all, are you imagining all of the things that could go wrong during your health check? Or perhaps you’re fairly sure you’ll be totally fine, and that this check-up will simply be a routine visit.

Next, imagine there are two magazines sitting on the coffee table in front of you. One has an article titled “All that was wrong in 2017, and how it will affect your 2018.” The other magazine’s headline says “Why 2018 is going to be your best year yet!” Which are you most likely to pick up and read?

You can perhaps infer from these choices and behaviours, where your natural disposition sits. If you’re imagining everything that could go wrong in your consultation, and you’re more likely to read about the upcoming doom and gloom for 2018, you most likely have a pessimistic view of things. On the other hand, if you’re not worried at all about your check-up, and are more likely to read the second magazine, you are most likely a bit more of an optimist.

Before you start beating yourself up for being such a pessimist, it’s important to note: both personality traits have their advantages. But most importantly of all, we can teach ourselves to be either more optimistic, or more pessimistic, if we choose. First though, let’s take a look at why you might prefer to lean towards either optimism or pessimism, given the choice.

Pessimists tend to view the world with trepidation. They will often picture the ‘worst case’ scenario, and prepare (or worry) accordingly. You might find that pessimists like to refer to themselves as ‘realists’ or those who view the world in reality, and have a true grasp on the real risks of a situation. In actual fact, pessimists tend to imagine scenarios as being worse than they really are.

There are many reasons that someone might become a pessimist, and quite often pessimism is associated with a higher degree of worry and anxiety. Those who try to preserve themselves against difficult scenarios are often pessimists. Are you someone who thinks about a phone call before you’ve even had it, and do you play out the possible conversation you’ll have in an attempt to prepare yourself? If this sounds like you, you’re probably a pessimist.

So, what’s great about being a pessimist? Despite what you may think, being a pessimist can have some benefits. Pessimists tend to focus on safety and security. Being a pessimist can help you to protect yourself against risks, and may even motivate you to prepare (or over prepare, as the case may be) for events like work meetings, study assignments, or other high-pressure situations.

Unfortunately, the downsides to being a pessimist can outweigh those benefits. A lack of positive thinking experienced by pessimists tends to mean that they do not strive for things like promotions at work, or for that lead role in the school play, because they imagine that they will not succeed.

Optimists, on the other hand, are those people who tend to ‘look on the bright side’ and imagine that things will turn out alright in the end. Optimists are hopeful for the future, and tend to worry less about upcoming events and difficult situations. If an optimist is called in for an unexpected meeting with their boss, they’re more likely to imagine that it’s good news than bad news, and are less likely to be anxious about the meeting.

The benefits to being an optimist are many and varied, and some studies have shown that optimists tend to be more successful than pessimists in their careers and studies. This boils down to an attitude of ‘can do’ and ‘anything is possible’, which most optimists possess. Positive thinking allows optimists to imagine that they can achieve greater things.

Positive thinking has benefits far beyond your outlook on life. Studies have shown that optimists can expect to live longer, due to a lower risk of heart disease. One of the major risk factors for heart disease is stress, and optimists tend to experience less ongoing anxiety and stress: meaning that they are able to maintain a lower blood pressure, for example.  Optimists are also more likely to take up a fitness challenge, or change their eating habits, thanks to a belief that they will succeed with their health goals.

According to researcher for University College London, Jeremy Dean, optimists are more likely to focus on growth and development – for themselves and for others. They tend to have larger social networks, and enjoy solving problems collaboratively. They are also more comfortable with asking for help. These kinds of behaviours enable optimists to live a healthier life, both physically and emotionally. The power of positive thinking really can affect the way you feel inside and out!

Of course, each of us sits somewhere along the scale of pessimism and optimism, and are unlikely to be solely one or the other. Success in business, in study, or in general life depends on being able to make the most of both traits. Being aware of your pessimist side can ensure that you are cautious with your decisions and do not take unnecessary risks, but can help you to avoid talking down your abilities and achievements. Even though pessimism can ensure a certain level of safe behaviour, its true to say that most of us would like to be more positive people. If you’ve ever suffered with anxiety or depression, adopting an optimistic view of things can help you to overcome feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Embracing your optimism will enable you to imagine and strive for success, where a pessimistic attitude can prohibit you from taking the steps towards success. Positive thinkers will do things like:

  • Apply for a promotion
  • Ask for help with something that’s important to them
  • Take on new projects or invest in further education
  • Embark on a healthy-living overhaul
  • Enjoy the ‘now’
  • Feel gratitude

Are you more of a pessimist than a positive thinker? Having an attitude of positive thinking is not only crucial for success, it’s also important for our sense of health, happiness and self-assuredness. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety or depression, you might find that you struggle with positive thinking, even when trialling to deliberately cultivate it. You’re not alone. As many as one in five Australians currently experience ongoing depression and anxiety, which can make it very difficult to be optimistic about life, and about the future.

The good news is that you can overcome this! Whether you’re simply a pessimist, or you have difficulties with anxiety and/or depression, there are simple and effective ways to tackle these and begin to be a positive thinker!

There is professional support to help you to cultivate an attitude of positive thinking:

  • See a counsellor to discuss your struggles and learn simple strategies to overcome some of these obstacles.
  • Visit a hypnotherapist, to help change your core beliefs behind your pessimistic thinking.
  • Embark on a life coaching program designed specifically for you. This type of program will give you strategies to become a positive thinker, and your life coach will help each step of the way.
  • Try therapies like EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), which are powerful, specialised techniques which can have a dramatic impact on your thoughts, behaviours and emotions.

Many of us would like to become more positive thinkers and embrace optimism, but it can be difficult without some help. To find out more about our unique psychology and life coaching programs, and how they can help you to become an optimist, get in touch with us today.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen