Healthy Defensive Pessimism

By Val Silver

Defensive pessimism harnesses the power of negative thinking. It eases anxious feelings and increases your chance of realizing a positive outcome.

A fair amount of pessimism is normal and even healthy. Your subconscious mind has a natural bent for the negative. It is hard-wired to alert you to to danger and to keep you safely in your comfort zones. Because of this, it is more likely to pay attention when something is wrong. Your subconscious seeks out negatives and stores them in memory with more weight than positives. 

There is a big difference between defensive pessimism and unproductive negativity.  Negative thinking patterns put you (and others) down, keep you stuck, and do nothing to make your life better, as opposed to being aware of risks and exploring them with intention and purpose in order to motivate you and propel you forward.

A negative mindset may tell you why bother taking care of yourself, so you don't. As a defensive pessimist, you might worry too much not to bother, even though you are cautiously optimistic about how much it will help. You get a checkup to alert you to potential problems, make targeted dietary changes and exercise more.  On your next visit, your numbers are better than expected. Yay!

Hoping for a positive outcome in the face of negative situations has been dubbed optimistic pessimism. It sounds like this, "After all I've been through, how can it get any worse," or "The only way from here is up." 

In defensive and optimistic pessimism, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

defensive pessimism

By focusing on worst case scenarios and setting lower expectations for success, some anxious people naturally maximize the power of negative thinking by using the strategy of defensive pessimism. 

This approach has two big benefits. It reduces feelings of stress about a situation and success is often higher than anticipated because negativity is used as a motivator when taking action in hopes of a better outcome.

It is natural to feel anxious about new situations. Your brain does not like change, especially big risky changes.  Even if you feel totally confident, it is wise to listen to the voice of caution from others and your inner self and have a 'plan B' if any of those concerns come up. The following exercise will help. 

A Defensive Pessimism Strategy for Important Decisions

When you are facing an important or scary decision about your health or life goal, this defensive pessimism strategy can help you decrease anxious feelings, increase your confidence, and improve your chances of having a positive outcome, maybe even more positive than you hoped.

Ask yourself the following questions. Take your time exploring all possible outcomes, positive and negative. Look and listen within. Gather information. Talk with an expert and/or someone who cares about you. Then, you are in a position to make wise, informed decisions and feel good about them, even if you still have worries. 

  • What is the worst that could happen? And the best?
  • What else could happen?
  • How will you prepare for all these possibilities in order to minimize risk and give yourself a better chance for a positive outcome?
  • What is the most likely outcome?
  • Do you have other options?
  • Given the possible outcomes and possibilities, which decisions and actions will you take? What feels best?

Once you have made your decisions, follow through with action. Have confidence. You can always adjust course if need be.

Will Defensive Pessimism Negate the Law of Attraction?

Will optimistic pessimism will somehow jinx or sabotage you? 

In a word, "No. There is a big difference between a steady diet of rampant, unproductive negativity and anxious feelings, and honestly assessing the negative side of an issues and your worries about it.

Pushing down negative thoughts does not make them go away. Your subconscious mind is well aware of what you are thinking (and is probably behind many of those thoughts). Suppressing your true feelings may even give them more energy. After all, you are using a lot of energy to ignore them so they must be important! 

Besides, when you are aware of possible challenges and are ready for them,  you will have a better chance of reaching your goal. Like they say in sports, "The best offense is a good defense."

Even if you do not feel anxious, entertaining only positive thoughts is not wise or practical, especially when your well-being is at stake. Often, it is not honest. You may not be being ealistic or practical. For example, you may feel totally confident that you will drive safely to your destination, but because accidents do happen, you buckle up anyway. You might feel confident about an upcoming medical procedure, but you bring somebody with you in case you need help. (I learned that lesson the hard way!)

Your subconscious knows what you really think and feel anyway, so you may as well acknowledge your concerns and use them to your advantage. Using negative thoughts in this way makes them your ally. Applying the defensive pessimism strategy purposely with intention allows you to use both positive and negative self talk to your advantage.

Defensive pessimism will help you allay anxious feelings, feel more in control, make wiser decisions about your health and life, and when followed by action, optimize your chances of success.

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