... the road to July!

30 January, 2008


The other day, I uttered a few words to a new set of friends, though whatever we discussed is immaterial but it fetched me an unexpected reaction, quite unusually.

Amarsh - “Man! You sound too pessimistic and sound too good to discourage someone”.

It is definitely not easy to accept yourself as a pessimist, how could I? But isn't it the usual belief that being a pessimist is no good and that we shouldn't be the one?

On the same hand, my immediate reaction was to discourage the impression that Amarsh had captured about me and that it's simply a fallacy. Also I went onto proving that I'm no pessimist but actually an optimist. The interesting patterns to observe here are that I went defensive one and tried to prove myself an optimist two.

So, one aspect is about “Defensive pessimism” and the other about “Strategic Optimism”. I kept questioning for a couple of days (none but myself) and researched to derive the following:

a. Defensive Pessimism – It is a strategy used by anxious people to help them manage their anxiety so that they can keep their focus away from emotions, to work with peace and enhance their productivity. Such people usually lower their expectations to help prepare themselves for the worst, then they mentally play through all the bad things possible. They are not depressive pessimists, they make productive use of their depressive thinking by setting lesser expectations which propels mind player in them to help them plan and act effectively and to make them feel more in control.

b. Strategic Optimism – It is a strategy used either by non-anxious people or by anxious people at times when they are not prone to anxiety. It is about setting very high expectations and then actively avoid thinking about what might happen. This strategy leads the person to go with the flow, with such high expectations there is less room for the mind to play, therefore, they prefer more advices to plan and act over the mind play.

Performance Issues:

Both strategic optimists and defensive pessimists typically do quite well but both of them are also vulnerable to situations that don't accommodate their strategies. For example if a defensive pessimist avoids playing through the worst-case analysis or tries to raise his expectations, their anxiety increases, thus, performance suffers. Similarly if a strategic optimist plays through all the possibilities or sets lower expectations, their anxiety increases to decrease their performance.

People may use different strategies in different situations, and not everyone is either a defensive pessimist or a strategic optimist, however, it usually pays to be one of them.

The other aspect is that one doesn't know all these technicalities behind the term “pessimistic”, also that not everyone is a defensive pessimist, so there a possibility that you have really become a pessimist (of course unknowingly) but how do you determine this very fact?

Answer to the above shouldn't be difficult given the fact that you are reading this article with focus. That means you've met both the optimists and pessimists all through your life. It is just about refreshing their behaviors once again.

On awakening, the optimists open the window, feel the fresh air on face, smile and say “Good morning God!” Pessimists? They rub their eyes, clear the throat, look out the window with eyebrows up and say “Good God, morning!”.

Pessimists are inclined to spot out the dark cloud in the sky, whereas optimists do not see any clouds at all because they are walking on them. There are countless such scenarios, endless stories to describe these behaviors. Where optimism is about attitude of positive expectations, Pessimists think that optimists live in some fantasy world and look at life through pink colored glasses.

Who are realists then?

The questions that took me the longest time to understand are, “Which group is grounded in reality? Who is being realistic, an optimist or a pessimist?” Who are realists otherwise?

The answer is both are realistic. Both are correct. Why? Because their disposition is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For a long time I thought that I belong to a third category called “realists” before I realized that realist by itself is no individual category. Realism is a benchmark which helps determine the degree of either the pessimism or the optimism.

Why it's difficult to accept Pessimism?

Human tendency is to live for the best i.e. We desire for best, we think best to our capability, we expect best to happen almost every time, may it sound even magical or if the magics have to happen every time. It's just the need which is moment driven and short lived by nature. Like desire, “need” too doesn't end but unlike desire it doesn't demand for the best things to manifest itself.

So by the virtue that we live for the best, who would like him/herself to be a pessimist? Because being a pessimist doesn't reflect the superlative human attribute i.e. thought process..

Why thought process?

From what I've learnt over time, I realize that broadly a human is driven by three major human functions.

  1. Thought Process

  2. Words spoken

  3. Actions taken

None of these functions are independent of each other either;

  1. What we think, gets reflected through our actions and words,

  2. What we act upon lets us think and eventually we speak,

  3. What we speak may again lead us to think and hence act upon.

If we observe the pattern here, it's the thought process that either commands both the 'actions and words' or acts as the intermediary connect between both the two. And as all the dictionaries also demonstrate that pessimism is primarily about belief, hence it is more about the thought process than the actions or words, therefore, it is quite natural for us to act/ speak as a pessimist, if our thoughts become pessimistic.

So, what if we are pessimists? Or not as optimistic as we would like to be? What should we do?

For the beginning as they say, “One of the greatest powers in the universe is individual power of choice. And the most powerful ones are the positive choices”. Yes! We can choose to change and we can begin today!

How do we begin?

Saying is one thing, making it to the self realization is another. For this self-realization to happen first we need to become aware of our negative thought process and not necessarily the actions or the words that we speak. Awareness about the negative scripts that are programmed into our minds that execute repeatedly.

What I realize is that it is usually a complex system and just a single thought of changing yourself is a mean entity to fight the whole negative system nurtured within you. As an effort, we need to program another script (called positive script) that does exactly the opposite of what negative script does. It takes a consistent effort over some time to write such a script, then consciously run this script after the negative script has run. For example, if you come across a thought that “I'm afraid to ... or ...it makes me angry”, let the thought come, it has to come and release itself and then consciously bring another thought that “I'll contain myself ... or I'll not be angry by any means, whatever happens”. Not much to ask for a new and much better you!

I know it sounds little kiddish but then this thought system is no less than kiddish and if we realize kids can easily tame the adults as well. If you come across a good article or book that inspires you, read and reread it over and over again. Repetition is the key to success.


Manoj Awasthi said...

Nice thoughts..

Sari said...

Hey Piyush!
I loved your post... everyone talks about optimism... talking about pessimism allows one to realise and understand how one can be more optimistic :)

Piyush said...

Good to see the appreciations. However, someone else could also relate to it, validates that the words make sense.