Is your optimism or pessimism holding your back?

Sometimes you read a book or an article where the writer is describing a certain personality trait and while you are reading it you identify with it and think to yourself, this is written about me. A couple of years ago I experienced this when I was reading Daniel Kahneman’s amazing book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. There was a section where he wrote about optimistic people and how their optimism gave them many advantages but it also had a flip side of weaknesses.  Me, being a glass half full kind of guy, identified with the words Kahneman had written and it gave me a deeper understanding of where my optimism could hold me back and how to overcome this. 

Since reading Kahnemans’ work I have thought long and hard about how my optimism impacts on the way I approach my life. One thing I have discovered is that I’m very generous to myself when it comes to positive self affirmation to chance situations that actually have nothing to do with decisions that I make. Let’s say I find the perfect park right outside the main doors of the shopping mall, I tell myself ’I’m a lucky person, good stuff always happens to me’. In this situation I reaffirm that this chance situation has happened because I am a good person, conversely I never self associate with negative chance situations. An example is if I tripped over something,  I don’t think “I’m clumsy” but rather “everyone trips up at times”.

You can see how this optimistic thinking could lead to an unrealistic perception of myself and therefore it’s important that I identify when I am doing this so I can stay realistic about where I need to develop as a person. Although this is important for the optimistic person, for the glass half empty or pessimist, it is just as important that they become aware of when they take ownership in a negative way in a chance situation and blame themselves. 

For example, roadworks on the way to work cause you to be late, the pessimistic person may think “this always happens to me, I should have taken an alternative route, it’s my own fault”, or if you get injured when playing sport, the glass half empty person may think, ‘nothing ever goes right for me, I can never be successful’. We all experience bad traffic and if you play sport you are going to get injured at some stage, both of these situations have nothing to do with your decision making or your personal character but when you place ownership on these negative times, it can lead to you restricting yourself. 

If every corner you turn in life takes you to a place where you are up against a wall which reinforces that you are getting it wrong, things are going to be tough. Sometimes situations do occur due to the choices we make, but sometimes they don’t and we have to be careful we don’t blame ourselves. We can be very unfair on ourselves during these times, unfair in harmful ways.

If you are reading this and can identify with this behaviour, what is the cost of this to yourself? Does being this way keep you away from who you want to be or what you want to do in your life? 

For both the optimist and the pessimist there is value in learning how you deal with chance situations. The first place to start its to become aware of when these occur and see what thoughts you naturally have, are they positive or negative? Once you gain an understanding of where you sit, you can develop strategies around how to see the situation for what it actually is, an out of your control chance situation. You can then lose the ownership of it and put yourself in a place where better thinking can allow you to develop yourself.

Life can be tough and it’s best that we don’t make it any tougher than we need to. By taking some time to think about how you deal with your chance situations and developing healthy ways of approaching them you can make better decisions for yourself, decisions that can help you grow realistically. 


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Bevan Eyles