The World Through the Eyes of a Defensive Pessimist

Glass half empty or half full?I have a big confession everyone.  I am a pessimist!  Yes, that is right, I do not see all of the rainbows and unicorns throughout the world like those that exude optimism.  In my mind, everything can have a bad outcome.  When someone tells me something, my mind automatically starts calculating the risk involved.  I have never been a big risk taker.  Some people might think that I do take risks, but I typically plan out every scenario that I can think of.  I make calculated moves.  I know that I get this trait from my father.  He is the exact same way.  The funny thing is that this can irritate my wife just as much as it irritates my mom when my dad does it.  They both don’t think it is a bad trait to have, but it might hold us back a bit.  It is a gift, what can I say? 🙂  Before you start to feel bad for me, let me say that I am not an ordinary pessimist.  I am a defensive pessimist!  Want to know what that means?  Here you go….

A Defensive Pessimist

Unlike pessimism, defensive pessimism is not an internal, global, and stable attribution style, but rather a cognitive strategy utilized within the context of certain goals.  Pessimism involves rumination about possible negative outcomes of a situation without proactive behavior to counteract these outcomes. Defensive pessimism, on the other hand, utilizes the foresight of negative situations in order to prepare against them. The negative possible outcomes of a situation often motivate defensive pessimists to work harder for success. Since defensive pessimists are anxious, but not certain, that negative situations will arise, they still feel that they can control their outcomes.

Source: Wikipedia

I have always called myself a pessimist, but that was never right. My fear of bad things happening doesn’t cause me to do something that won’t be bad.  My anxiety about negative situations actually drives me to succeed.  Here is the world through the eyes of a defensive pessimist.

An Example of Optimism versus Pessimism

We are a big fan of camping.  We have done it for many years and we love it.  We hope to start taking our son on a camping trip soon.  Every since my wife and I met, we have been a fan of the outdoors.  Our typical camping trip is not how others do it.  We are hiking aficionados.  We love to hike.  We pack all of our supplies in 60lb backpacks and set off into the wilderness.  We do hikes that last a few days and some longer.  We just love it.  The best part is that we have friends that have the same affinity for camping.  One of our close friends are a married couple that are just like my wife and I.  The husband is a defensive pessimist like me and the wife is an optimist like my wife.  It just works for us.  Since we love camping so much, we do plan our trips accordingly.  Here is an example of how a trip planning session will go with us.

Optimist Planning

The ladies like things to just go with the flow.  They plan a bit here and a bit there, but they don’t fill in a lot of the detail.  They don’t handle the “what ifs” that might occur when camping.  I might ask “what if this happens?”  They might answer “we will deal with it when it does!”  That is not an answer that eases our minds.  I don’t fault them for this, but it does drive me crazy a bit.  My friend and I don’t rest easy when we don’t have a plan in place.  While the camping trip will probably go well, we have a hard time relaxing.  When we don’t have a plan for the negative scenarios, we have to think of them on the fly.  That is just not in the wheelhouse for many defensive pessimists.

Pessimist Planning

When the defensive pessimists plan the trip, everything is accounted for.  When I say everything, I typically mean everything.  We know the terrain we are going to hike, we know how long it will take us to get to the hiking trail. We know the weather forecast for the entire trip and we know exactly where we are trying to get to before we get there.  We understand the trails like the back of our hands.  We study different scenarios until we are blue in the face.  If something happens on the trip, we typically have a solution for it.  We are prepared for what life throws at us.  Our wives probably think we go overboard.

How I See the World

I see the world in a different light than many.  I see negative situations in almost everything.  That being said, I also see positive outcomes in those negative situations.  I don’t take leaps of faith like some will do. I take calculated jumps that I have researched the possible outcomes.  Yes, this thinking does hinder me in a way, but in the end, I can live with it.  Hell, I have been living with it for my whole life.  My defensive pessimism allows me to handle failure quite well.  I think of the worst thing that can happen and if I can come up with a solution to that, then I will go ahead with my decision.  I plan for the worst, yet hope for the best.

I have failed quite a few times in my life.  It happens to everyone.  While some might hark on their failure and allow it to get them down. I am driven by my failure to make sure I don’t make that same mistake twice. I analyze the failure and then use that data to help me make a more informed decision later down the road.  Some think that being a pessimist is a sad way to live.  While I might agree with you, I don’t think being a defensive pessimist is.  I think it is a great way to live.  I can accept failure and move on quickly. I can see the worst, yet come up with a plan to deal with it.  The fear doesn’t stop me from doing anything, it just drives me deal with it.  It can take me a little longer than some to come up with a solution to deal with it though.  There are downfalls in being this way and I am going through it right now.  Let me explain.

Our Housing Situation

We are currently searching for a home to buy.  We have found many great homes, but none that have stood out until this past week.  The price was a little high, but the home had all that we wanted and needed.  My wife loved it and so did I.  Yet, we have not put an offer on the home.  The reason is all because of me.  I can’t make a damn decision on a home.  I have been saving up for a down payment since I got out of credit card debt. I have a full 20% down payment and then some.  Since the home will cause us to pay more than we are now, I am hesitant.  The home is one that we can grow our family in.  The home is in a great neighborhood that is close to work and has awesome schools.  We are also closer to family and friends.  I am stuck on the higher payment thing.  Yes we can afford it, but who likes spending more than they are now?  The personal finance in me is making this difficult.  The biggest issue is that my gut says “go for it,” yet my mind says “hold on guy, let’s think of all the scenarios around this purchase!”  Damn you mind, let me make a freaking decision!  My mind won’t let me pull the trigger.  I keep going through all of the possible scenarios and then creating a plan for each one. That is what a defensive pessimist does.  Until I come up with a game plan for each, I will have a hard time making a decision.  Unfortunately, homes in this area only stay on the market for a few days.  My defensive pessimism could really hurt us in the home hunt.

While I am typically fond of how I confront each situation, this is not one of those times.  I know my Realtor and my wife are getting a little tired of my thought processes.  I am too!  I guess there is no scenario that is really all rainbows and unicorns.

The reason that I wanted to write this was because I know many see their debt as something that they will never overcome.  The mountain may be too high, so why even try to scale it?  That is being a pessimist.  Why scale the mountain when you can just look at it?  I am no pessimist.  I am a defensive pessimist, dammit!  The reason I got out of my debt was because I analyzed our situation and I came up with a game plan to fix it.  Honestly, I really came up with about ten different game plans.  I had contingency plans based on contingency plans.  After I finally made my decision on how I was going to do it, I was able to easily accomplish it.  If I hit a roadblock, I had a plan for getting around it.  My defensive pessimism really helped me a lot with my debt.  It pushed me harder to succeed.

If you are a pessimist, then I know what you are going through to some extent.  The only difference between you and me is that I come up with solutions to the negative situations and not just accept that they are there.  I don’t let anxiety take me over completely. I use that anxiety to fuel my desire to succeed.  I am a defensive pessimist and I am proud of it!


OK, now you!  Are you a pessimist, defensive pessimist, or an optimist?  Let me hear it!

Image via jenny downing

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Grayson Bell

Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog. It is Empowered Shopper, which helps people get information about products they want to buy. You can also check out Eyes on the Dollar, which is a great blog that I co-own.


  1. April 21, 2014 at 7:19 am — Reply

    I am more of a defensive pessimist, but I can also swing to optimist sometimes.

  2. April 21, 2014 at 7:24 am — Reply

    I would definitely say I’m a defensive pessimist as well. Like you, I plan for the worst and hope for the best. I think most times this puts me in a good position, though I think a dash of optimism here and there can sometimes help balance me out.

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm — Reply

      I use my wife as my dash of optimism. She is good at that!

  3. April 21, 2014 at 7:38 am — Reply

    I was with you the whole way in thinking I’m probably a defensive pessimist, until you started talking about all the planning that you do in advance of things! I am not a planner or a contingency planner at all. Maybe I’m just a regular pessimist LOL!

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:55 pm — Reply

      You have to plan for things if you want to be a defensive pessimist!

  4. April 21, 2014 at 8:40 am — Reply

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carefully thinking out your decisions. You’ve probably saved yourself a lot of heartache that way. On the other hand, it sounds like it’s holding you back in some ways. Hopefully your wife balances you out! =)

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:55 pm — Reply

      I have saved a lot of headaches, but I have also gained quite a few headaches!

  5. April 21, 2014 at 9:00 am — Reply

    “Our wives probably think we go overboard.” I was reading parts of this to Nicole and she just started laughing as this perfectly describes her & I. I’ve always classified myself as a realist with pessimist leanings and she would call me a flat out pessimist. Reading your description though, I see a lot of defensive pessimist leanings in me. I’m all about the planning for the different possible outcomes and do the same planning for the worst and hoping for the best. In terms of the house, you know my thoughts on it, but I’d very likely be in the same exact situation – best of luck on the decision sir!

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:56 pm — Reply

      That is why we work so well together John! We view the world in the same light.

  6. April 21, 2014 at 9:29 am — Reply

    I’m probably a bit of both. I don’t “expect” bad things to happen or see the outcome as being bad, but like you in packing, I try to be as prepared as possible. I don’t like to wing it in unfamiliar territories, mainly because it causes stress and disorganization, not because of something bad happening. It’s good you and your wife balance each other out!

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm — Reply

      It would be bad if I didn’t have my wife with me. I would probably never make a damn decision!

  7. April 21, 2014 at 10:20 am — Reply

    Defensive pessimism sounds a lot like simply navigating through scenarios and determining all possible outcomes whether good or bad. I’m all for that. I’m definitely not pessimistic…I don’t like to live life always looking at the negatives. I prefer to think of myself as cautiously optimistic.

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm — Reply

      Unfortunately, when you are a defensive pessimist, you look at all of the negatives, but you just plan for them accordingly. You still see the bad and focus on it.

  8. April 21, 2014 at 10:25 am — Reply

    Ha! I am absolutely an optimist and I have been an optimist since I was little, I think it is something that gets prewired in us at an early age. However, I am married to a defensive pessimist, so it has been a fun exercise trying to merge our outlooks on life during various transitions.

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm — Reply

      Well, my father is just like me. My brother does the same thing. It is just how we are.

  9. April 21, 2014 at 10:47 am — Reply

    I’m a little bit optimist and pessimist, but not defensive pessimist. I don’t like to go into details and do a lot of planning- I tend to prefer “go with the flow”. Or I just leave the planning bit up to my partner 😀

  10. April 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm — Reply

    I try to be an optimist and when things are looking down, I try to just have a sense of humor about things and laugh it off. Key words *I try. Doesn’t always happen.

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm — Reply

      I use a lot of humor, but that is to lesson the burden of always looking at the negatives.

  11. April 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm — Reply

    I am certainly like you. I always have to think about the worst case scenario and when I’ve done that and decided if I could find a way around it or live with it, then I’m Ok to proceed. Not sure where that went when we were racking up debt, but it maybe just hid for a while. It’s back in full force now.

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:59 pm — Reply

      That is why you and I work well together Kim.

  12. April 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm — Reply

    Never heard this term before but I think it describes me pretty well too. I think this is also kind of the hallmark of good financial planning. Good stuff.

    • April 29, 2014 at 10:59 pm — Reply

      I hadn’t heard of it either until I decided to look at what was causing me so much irritation. This term hit the nail right on the head.

  13. April 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm — Reply

    Well, I’d consider myself to be an optimist but I am definitely not pollyanna. And I definitely plan for the good and bad. I’ve always thought I was a realistic optimist. I look for the good and the opportunities but I try to be strategic in how I take advantage of them, which means considering both the positive and negative and being prepared to handle both. So maybe I am a defensive optimist? Does that even exist? I’m okay being a trendsetter! LOL! People who are negative for the sake of being negative don’t appeal to me, but there is nothing wrong with being prepared to handle things if they don’t go as anticipated, which is pretty much always. It’s fantastic that you found a house you love but I can relate to your hesitancy to pull the trigger. Even though it sounds as though you can comfortably afford the payments, it isn’t always easy actually having to pay more either. I’m sure you have already done this but my best advice is run the numbers. With the higher mortgage payments, your normal bills (including any investment/savings goals), do you still have enough discretionary income leftover to spend on other things that you make you happy – like going camping? The biggest mistake I see is people buy a home they technically can afford but after their mortgage payment and other bills, they have no money to do anything else. And sometimes it is all those others things that make life fun. Good luck!

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:00 pm — Reply

      I think you are a trend setter Shannon. You are creating a new term as we speak 🙂

  14. April 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm — Reply

    I never knew there was a name for it, but this describes me perfectly. I’m not all gloom and doom, but I always need to have a plan for different situations. It drives my boyfriend crazy, too, and he has said, “We will deal with it when it happens,” which drives me crazy! It’s a good balance to have, but I totally understand your hesitation with the house decision. We recently signed a lease for an apartment and it was an agonizing process for me. I hate thinking things through so much sometimes, but it’s in my nature.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:00 pm — Reply

      You and your boyfriend sound like my wife and I. When she says we will deal with it, I go nuts.

  15. April 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm — Reply

    I’m like you on this. We were also looking for a place and found something that we liked. I just couldn’t pull the trigger, plus I thought I could wait and get the seller to drop the price. I was right, except another buyer jumped in and bid the price back up and we lost out. I think it’s a good thing to plan for different situations and buying a house is definitely a big decision. Part of me feel a little regret for being indecisive though…hopefully it works out for you guys.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:01 pm — Reply

      I have been dealing with this for some time. People keep jumping in and bidding up the home prices to high levels.

  16. April 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm — Reply

    I’m not sure if I’m a defensive pessimist but I do like to find solutions to problems before they arise. I also like to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. When I travel I like putting together an itinerary but I also like leaving a little room for unscheduled events or days where we can just wing it and relax. I can’t blame you for thinking like this when buying a home. It is a big decision.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:01 pm — Reply

      I think you might have a little defensive pessimism in you Raquel.

  17. April 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm — Reply

    You sound similar to me….but not quite. You say you “plan for the worst, but hope for the best.” I would say for me, I “prepare for the worst, but expect the best.” I expect rainbows and unicorns…..but if a thunderstorm shows up instead, I’m ready for it. 🙂

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:02 pm — Reply

      Haha, nice word play there Travis!

  18. April 21, 2014 at 9:10 pm — Reply

    Analyze the numbers. Sometimes I have to put myself into someone else’s shoes and give myself advice. Would an average person say “buy the house”. Would they say look for a more frugal house? Would they say wait?

    Think of what someone else would say, and do it.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:02 pm — Reply

      That is very hard for me to do. Putting myself in someone’s shoes is not a forte of mine.

  19. April 22, 2014 at 8:14 am — Reply

    Okay, first of all, BUY THE HOUSE!!! Go with your gut on this one, Grayson. 🙂 Rick is like you, although many times he’s just a regular pessimist, which drives me totally up the wall. The defensive pessimist thing I can deal with, and it’s actually kind of nice when we go somewhere/do something and every possible scenario is prepared for. I’m the eternal optimist, the “We can do this!” girl, because I know that so much of success, in any arena, depends on a person’s willingness to work for it. But I think that having one of each in a relationship is great for balance, too. It’s nice when one person has the ability to dream big, but then another has the ability to say, “Whoa, let’s think this through first”.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:03 pm — Reply

      Well, we tried to buy the house, but our offer didn’t even get looked at. With our contingency, we got rejected immediately.

  20. Derek @
    April 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm — Reply

    I’m the exact same way, a defensive pessimist. This has really worked well for me throughout the years and gotten me to where I am today.

    However, I am only recently beginning to understand that this way of thinking can REALLY hold you back from reaching the next level of financial well being and happiness. The larger the risk, the larger the potential reward. If you try to plan for everything and minimize your risk, you’ll also never have a chance to get those really large rewards that come with the unknown.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:03 pm — Reply

      It works very well for me in most scenarios. Unfortunately, it is holding me back a bit when it comes to buying a home.

  21. April 22, 2014 at 2:47 pm — Reply

    I’m an optimist, but I do have some defensive pessimist traits. If we go hiking, I will check the weather and pack that take into account some situations that could happen, but I leave it at that. Once I know the basics are covered, I let life happen and deal with it if it comes up.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:04 pm — Reply

      I have to go much deeper than just the basics. That would leave me very nervous when hiking.

  22. April 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm — Reply

    I’ve always called myself an optimistic pessimist, I have some hope the best could happen but plan for the worst. It sounds like defensive pessimist is the proper term.

    I hate packing for backpacking trips because those “what ifs” make me want to pack way too much – extra food, extra layers, extra rope, etc etc.

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:04 pm — Reply

      I used to call myself that as well, but then I learned that I am a defensive pessimist.

  23. April 22, 2014 at 11:12 pm — Reply

    I’ve never heard of defensive pessimism, but I definitely qualify. As far as situations that I have no control over, I am forever the optimist. In fact, I have a tendency to be optimistic to the point of stupidity sometimes, but my wife loves me anyway. lol

    • April 29, 2014 at 11:05 pm — Reply

      I always try to control a situation. I will research ways where I can add some control to the situation. It helps with my decision making.

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