Guidelines for Deploying Pessimism

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Am I a cheerleader for pessimism? Well as it turns out, sometimes I am. 

Generally speaking, pessimism can be thought of as the tendency to expect a negative outcome. Oppositely, optimism can be thought of as the tendency to expect a positive outcome. 

Dr. Martin Seligman’s research strongly suggests that optimism categorically leads to more personal and professional success when compared to pessimism. 

That said, he also points out that certain situations benefit more from a pessimistic approach.

Seligman, the Father of Optimism, offers the following guidelines for when we should err on the pessimistic side and when we should err on the optimistic side. These are handy to keep in mind!

Times to err on the pessimist side:

  1. “If your goal is to plan for a risky and uncertain future, err on the pessimism side. 

  2. If your goal is to counsel others whose future is dim, err on the pessimism side.

  3. If you want to appear sympathetic to the troubles of others, err on the pessimism side.”

On the flip side, times to err on the optimistic side:

  1. “If you are in an achievement situation (getting a promotion, selling a product, writing a difficult report, winning a game), use optimism.

  2. If you are concerned about how you will feel (fighting off depression, keeping up your morale), use optimism.

  3. If the situation is apt to be protracted and your physical health is an issue, use optimism.

  4. If you want to lead, if you want to inspire others, if you want people to vote for you, use optimism.”

Can you think of any other situations to deploy either pessimism or optimism?