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.
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.
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.
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