August 23

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Pessimism Bias

People with too many negative tend to be overly pessimistic, and when this pessimism distorts their decisions, this distorted thinking pattern is called Pessimism Bias.

We’ve all met them, the naysayers, the pessimists, the complainers, and the negative people that cast gloom around them everywhere they go. Unfortunately, these people live in a world seeing only what’s wrong, what’s wrong now, what’s gone wrong in the past, and what could go wrong in the future.

As a result, they are constantly scanning the world around them for something negative.

How Pessimism causes Problems

What’s been shown time and again is when confronted by obstacles or setbacks, a pessimistic person typically gives up sooner than a more positive person, or even worse, doesn’t even try in the first place for fear of failure. Pessimists don’t tend to take opportunities, they’ll find any excuse not to take a risk, and then they’ll complain or blame others around them for their missed chances.

Having pessimism bias in your thinking will stop you from deciding to take an opportunity when it arises or bounce back positively from life’s mishaps. Instead, pessimists tend to beat themselves up and take any failure to heart rather than learn, reflect, and improve. Unfortunately, this only confirms their negative view of the world and strengthens the effect of pessimism on future decisions.

Even when things go right, a pessimist ironically thinks it may just be down to luck. As a result, they often don’t celebrate their wins, so they don’t reward themselves for success, and in doing so, this makes it all the more difficult for them to gather any positive momentum in their lives.

Pessimistic thinking will cause a person to look for the negatives in any situation, and even when the odds are in their favour, they will still feel that the risks are far too high, they won’t take chances, and perhaps won’t even bet on themselves when they need to.

Doing new activities, trying something new, learning new skills is part of personal growth, yet you can now see how pessimists get stuck in life, and even worse, they try and drag others back into that negativity. In groups, pessimists can influence group think disproportionately; in doing so, they can quell optimism, veto new projects, and limit progress in their organisations.

It’s easy to get stuck in negativity, but it will give you a grim view of the world around you. As a result, you’ll make poor decisions about your future, and you may alienate yourself due to habitually telling others why something won’t work or what is wrong in the world.

Pessimism is fundamentally a defence mechanism as by lowering your expectations in any given situation, and by preparing for the worst, you are also minimising any potential discomfort. You are giving yourself an excuse, and if you’d already raised your concerns, you could even blame others if something did go wrong. In this way, pessimists have already prepared themselves for failure even before it happens.

The Cure for Pessimism Bias

Reactively, pessimistic thinking tends to develop after some hard past lesson or a difficult knock-back. This pain is then carried forward to bias any future decisions because you don’t want to be hurt again.

The first step to avoiding being influenced by overly pessimistic thinking is noticing it in yourself and in the people that surround you in your life.

Pessimistic thinking trains you to focus on your problems. Even worse, it will also predispose you to get stuck in those problems because any solution is already being set up to fail by your pessimistic thinking bias.

We can all become pessimistic about our futures, our lives, or our careers, but pessimism can lead you to accept and even invite failure into your life. The excuse of never trying, of giving up too soon, or playing the ‘I told you so’ card is a far too easy hand to play.

Let me leave you with a little mental exercise to immunise yourself against pessimism; all you need to do is to spend some more time thinking about what wouldn’t happen if you didn’t do that thing instead of the worst thing that could happen if you did.


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