Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

This is actually a trick question, as few of us are completely optimistic or completely pessimistic. That said, most people do tend to lean more heavily towards one over the other.

It is difficult to get good research data on the percentages, as people who lean towards pessimism do not usually admit they are pessimists. The most recent study I could find was in 2013 and in it, it listed 50% of Americans identifying as being optimists, which seems (rather ironically) fitting considering the standard way many of us evaluate whether someone is an optimist or a pessimist is whether they see the glass as half-full or half-empty

The problem is, that of the remaining 50%, only 4% identified themselves as pessimists. I know this is not very scientific, but I see a lot more Debbie-Downers walking around where I live than 4%. I’m guessing a majority of the 43% who identified as “somewhere in-between” are more heavily pessimistic, as an optimistic person would likely have jumped at the chance to identify themselves as an optimist. Conversely, a pessimistic person would likely be fearful of jumping to that conclusion, but also fearful of labeling themselves a pessimist as well.

You’d be hard pressed to come up with many great historical leaders or inventors who were pessimists (I cannot think of any off the top of my head). But that does not mean we do not need pessimists too. If leaders surround themselves solely with other optimists they are likely to miss the changing currents around them. Some professions lend themselves to pessimism such as CPA’s, Safety Engineers and Actuaries just to name a few.

Pessimists tend to think of themselves as realistic and most things in life need a balance of realists and dreamers. I consider myself an optimistic realist. My clients rely on me to “Keep it real,” and at the same time help them find inventive ways to better themselves.

It’s imperative that I give each client things that help them get from where they are now, to where they want to be in the future. It would be overly optimistic to teach an 11-year old who is still learning their craft, the same things I teach professionals, who are already at the top of theirs.

Although pessimists serve a purpose in society, I cannot think of a good reason anyone would rather be one. I can however, think of several advantages of being an optimist over a pessimist. Optimists tend to be upbeat, have higher goals, and achieve more than pessimists. They are also considerably less likely to give up in the face of challenges or negative forces they experience.

Many people are of the mistaken belief that you are born either an optimist or a pessimist. I have found that each and every one of us have the ability to become an optimist, if we make that choice. It’s really no different than someone with poor eyesight. They can choose to live with their bad eyesight or they can get lenses that enable them to see clearly. Pessimists can similarly learn to view things through a corrective lens in their mind and change their entire outlook.

It’s rare to run across a peak performer who is not an optimist at heart. I have worked with clients that came to me with a pessimistic bent and the ones who were willing to work to change their outlook were the ones who achieved at higher levels. I believe there is a degree of self-fulfilling prophecy at work in being an optimist as well.

As Norman Cousins eloquently stated, “Optimism doesn’t wait on facts. It deals with prospects. Pessimism is a waste of time.” The bottom line is, no mater where you fall on the Pessimism/Optimism scale you have the power to change it.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc



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