I struggle with pessimism. I hate admitting that. I don’t like to think of myself as a pessimist, but the truth is, I often am.
My husband is a raging optimist. We are as opposite as opposites come.
When we talk about how great something could be, my first thought is, “Yeah but…”
“Yeah but what if I can’t do it?”
“Yeah but what if it doesn’t work out?”
It really just comes down to two kinds of fear. I’m afraid to try something hard because I fear failure. And I’m afraid to try something that might not work out because I fear disappointment.
I live like it’s better to do whatever it takes to minimize failure and disappointment – that it’s better to keep your expectations low so as to avoid the pain of dashed hopes.
Time for a Change
My daughter is like me in many ways. She fears failure and weeps over disappointments that are a big deal to her. And it hurts my heart to watch.
But it also motivates me to find help – both for her and for myself so that I can try to guide her. It’s funny that we’re often willing to help others, especially our kids, in ways we don’t help ourselves.
Pessimism is just something I’ve lived with for so long it’s become a part of me. It’s not something I’ve ever really considered that I could change.
But I came across an article on Optimism recently that suggested change is possible. The article said that to get in the ring with pessimism, you must challenge the four major thought patterns that lead to pessimistic thinking.
- Permanence. This is the defeatist “This always happens to me and always will” attitude or the “I’m never going to get better at this” attitude.
- Pervasiveness. This is a false “Nothing ever goes right” blanket statement spoken by someone that has let discouragement over a few disappointments get the better of them.
- Personal. This is the belief that you are the problem. You think “This always happens to me” because you think that you’re a failure and this latest disappointment is further proof of it.
- Powerlessness. This is the victim mentality that you can’t change your situation in any way.
These are well-travelled paths of thought for me. I’ve been down them many times before. Fear is my guide and pessimism is my travelling companion.
Pessimism is such familiar territory that I’m afraid to try optimism. It feels too risky. Disappointed hopes are too painful.
But pessimism is also painful. It robs us of the joy and excitement of expectation. It keeps us from embarking on adventures, getting our hands dirty, trying new things, and travelling off the beaten paths of our comfort zone.
Pessimism is costly.
The Truth about Failure and Disappointment
Failure is painful. Disappointed hopes are painful. But they are not the end of the world. They don’t have to be avoided at all costs. We can choose to see them differently. We can choose to see them as:
- Temporary. Disappointments aren’t permanent. They are temporary setbacks.
- Occasional. You will fail sometimes, but you will not always fail.
- Impersonal. You are not a failure. Failure is a part of life and learning. Without it, there can be no true growth.
- Alterable. You are not always powerless to change the outcome. And you are never powerless to change your outlook.
Although, if you’re as good at being a pessimist as I am, that will probably take some practice.
Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield said, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Sorry Philip, I’m sure you’re a nice guy and all, but maybe for those of us struggling with pessimistic thinking, a better maxim would be: