Our world consists of optimists and pessimists. People exhibit behaviours that are likely towards one extreme or the other. What do you think is the reason for anyone to fall on one side of the pendulum? What influences a person to be an optimist or a pessimist? Is it by choice? Can you change it? Is it possible to make a shift? Is it possible to adapt to an alternative view? Why does one person highlight the negative side while ignoring the positive, and others emphasise the positive while overlooking the negative? Is the glass half full or half empty is determined by how a person views the world? The lens they use to view the world is different, and it is not just their perspective. Let’s look at their style of thinking, how they perceive their external and internal world, and how that impacts their lives in various ways.
Future Expectations: Optimists and pessimists use different strategies to navigate life. In general, optimists expect good things to come their way, are hopeful about their future possibilities, the world is full of opportunities, and they generally feel very confident. An optimist expects positive results, feels different energy within them and collects references of success from their environment to perform a task that helps them perform at their best, making them high achievers. For instance, they will apply for a job interview for which they don’t have much of the knowledge, as they see it as an opportunity to learn and envision its possibilities.
On the other hand, pessimists expect negative things to happen, think about the potential danger along the way, have little or no hope for the future, and believe their efforts are futile, so they are very passive regarding their approach towards any possible challenges. Pessimists perceive themselves as failures, recollect memories where there were disappointments, minimise their character or role, set low expectations, avoid situations where there is a possibility of failure, take a very calculated risk, and are ultimately low achievers. For instance, after submitting a job application, pessimists often think that they are incapable of completing the job duties. Even if called for an interview, they will look for reasons to avoid facing it because they believe it will lead to rejection.
Beliefs: An optimist generally has the belief that good things will happen. However, a pessimist carries the belief that bad things are going to happen. These cognitive styles become the determinants for the outcome or results they achieve. Optimists tend to believe life is full of possibilities, as opposed to pessimists, who generally have a negative belief about life – life is hard, it’s not easy.
Meaning: The meaning one attaches to challenges or adversity while pursuing a particular goal – success, hardships, achievements – identifies whether or not a person will attain the goal or abandon the pursuit. Despite failures, an optimist will show up more prepared or with an alternative solution. To optimists, the meaning of failure is different. Their perception is based on the foundation of possibility, improvement, or a better plan. A pessimist might decide to give up during a similar situation because their perception is based on the mentality that ‘It’s not for me, other people are lucky. I don’t have what it takes, and so on.’
Persistence: Optimists appear to have a remarkable ability to make the best out of everything, every situation, and tend to be more persistent in pursuing their goal, which boosts their confidence and builds their trust towards the possibility of it. On the other hand, pessimists focus more on the negative aspect; they feel less confident, which impacts their persistence in pursuing a goal. Disappointments, failures, rejections make them reluctant in their approach, which results in avoidance.
Self-perception: Pessimists are very hard on themselves and tend to be ignorant about their qualities and strengths. Optimists tend to be clueless about their weak points and think highly of themselves.
The lens they use go through different filters which is why how they see the world is different, and it is not just their perspective – let’s have a close look at their filters:
Control: Pessimists believe outside forces – luck, chance, and other people control events in their life. Optimists trust their ability to influence the environment and feel that they are the creator of their destiny.
Time-Duration: The time duration perceived by an optimist’s adverse situation is short term, whereas a pessimist perceives it to stay for longer or forever.
Global impact/generalisation: To a pessimist, one area’s impact is perceived as if it’s going to impact their whole life or many aspects. An optimist considers it to be a one-off, relating it to one particular area, independent of others.
Extensiveness: For pessimists, if one bad thing happens, they will expect other negative things to happen. For an optimist, if one good thing happens, they will expect many good things to happen.
Excessive pessimism can make life miserable, leading to avoidance behaviour by worrying too much about potential challenges and focusing too much on what could go wrong. Extreme optimism can lead to dangerous risk-taking behaviour like taking uncalculated financial risks and negligence towards necessary precautions, leading to health or safety hazards. Therefore, it becomes essential to learn to create a balance between both. The term ‘being realistic’ might look appropriate, but pessimists often consider their approach a realistic approach.
The middle of the optimism-pessimism continuum might not be a great approach either. Leaders need to learn to harness the power of both traits. Any investment or long-term planning requires an optimistic approach, and you need a pessimist when it comes to contingency planning.
In an organisation, you can’t let either of these leaders’ traits overly influence your business. As much as it sounds that an optimist leader positively impacts people, pessimism in a company can be a tremendous asset if placed in the right position.
While optimists can make the work environment more positive, pessimists can save an organisation with foresight. An optimist might repeatedly make the same mistake, and a pessimist can keep you from making that same mistake by using the past as their reference point. Optimists are great at grabbing the opportunity; pessimists can save you from disastrous decisions by focusing on what could go wrong. Optimism and pessimism were previously considered as fixed traits, but it’s a mindset you adopt. Anyone can learn to be an effective leader by using both traits; you need to learn how.
Learn how to leverage the best of both worlds. Contact me today to schedule your free strategy call at 0426886501.
(Barinderjeet Kaur is a Life coach and human behaviour specialist based in Melbourne. | Facebook page: Empower Your Destiny)
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