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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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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! =)

  4. “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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 😀

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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. 🙂

  17. 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.

  18. 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”.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

    1. 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.

  23. Hello All,
    I am also agree with you, regarding defensive pessimism.
    and really its gives a boost to my performance, when I think in this defensive way.

    Here I want to ask, that is it good to think every time in a defensive way ? As this gives me tension.


  24. I can totally relate to this article and am proud to be an eternal defensive pessimist. When I apply for a job, I imagine that I am getting a rejection letter and do not expect getting the new job to come into fruition even though I did my best in the hiring process. That way when the rejection letter does arrive, the disappointment is not as great because I already mentally prepared myself for the unfortunate news by just playing the scenario in my head. I expect radio silence as well. If I meet a new significant other, I know not to get feelings involved and get too attached to this person, thinking that he is the one with hopes so high that they reach outter space. I don’t know who this significant other is like that and he definitely does not have great plans for me let alone him being a stranger at first sight. Optimism is exhausting. You dive into every situation imagining a hunky dory end outcome and that things will always turn out okay in the end like this is some kind of utopian world we are living in or something. Then you become overwhelmed and even jaded when the universe decides to take a massive dump on your parade with a bad case of explosive diarrhea called REALITY. This is the Real World, not Fantasyland or Dreamsville Paradise. I stay aware that I, as a human, cannot predict the future and I definitely have No control over any of life’s curve balls that await me. Optimism promotes false hope and false sense of security when the facts of any given situation contradict the perceived outcome you want it to be. As far as job applications go, you will never know whether you will get the job or not from the moment you apply for it. You may think you are qualified for the position but looking at it from the hiring manager’s perspective, you may find the applicant still not a desired candidate you are looking for. Perhaps you know something about the company the applicant didn’t know even though they gave stellar answers to the interview questions and has all the skills and experience you are looking for. Maybe the applicant lacked the communication skills and personality traits needed to function in the work environment. And as far as dating and prospective partners go, you don’t know what this new significant other’s intentions may be. After the first time spent with one another, the significant other’s interest in you may slowly fades away until he has completely ghosted you. Perhaps he discovers you are a pretty and independent woman with a college degree and he feels intimidated by that. Or you get so excited and hopeful over him that you start blowing up his phone with never ending texts and phone calls that your unrelented optimism and eagerness scares him away. Or he is simply not interested and decided you are not his type. Sometimes no message from him IS the message that he is not interested. He does not necessarily have to tell you through words of his mouth that he is just not that into you. His unresponsiveness IS the message that he wants nothing to do with you. Or he may say he is busy or “have plans to take care of” every time you call him. Actions speak louder than words. Take heed that these are hints that he is no longer interested. Yes, the facts hurt but reality does not care. It is better to wake up and and face the harsh reality than believe a comfortable delusion that makes you feel better temporarily. Hope and anticipation of a fruitful outcome can bring you down in the dumps when reality and facts indicate the strong possibility of it not happening.