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Methods For Changing Perspective on the Future: Challenging Pessimistic Tendencies

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

In challenging your pessimistic tendencies, it is important that you address the reason behind those tendencies If you can pull them out by their root, so to speak, you will have a better chance of really adopting a new outlook. In many cases, pessimistic tendencies are rooted in a particular variety of self-protective belief.

Which is better? To love and then lose that love, or to never have loved at all? Some people adopt pessimistic attitudes because they would rather never love at all if taking the risk of loving means that suffering might result. In this sense, pessimism can be a misguided attempt at self-protection. By assuming that "things won't work out", pessimists effectively protect themselves from the pain of wanting and investing in some desired thing only to have their hopes dashed and that thing not be available. By assuming the worst, pessimists protect themselves from the possibility of false hope.

The wrinkle in this logic is that by avoiding the possibility of false hope, pessimists also avoid the possibility of hope in general. As we have seen, the ability to invest and commit to things; to feel hopeful about their outcome, is a vital part of being able to make those things become real. By not allowing themselves to commit to a desired vision of what can be, pessimists virtually insure that they will never realize the things they want. It's a paradox in a way: If you allow yourself to become hopeful, you allow yourself to invest and to work hard, and your investments may pay off or they may not pay off. If you do not allow yourself to hope, however, no investment is made, and nothing good occurs.

At issue is whether it is possible to survive a failure experience. If failure is seen as a terrible and devastating thing that cannot be easily survived, then it makes sense to keep yourself from hoping. Why take risks if you can't survive them? If, on the other hand, you believe you can indeed survive the possibility of failure (even a significant failure) then you will realize that it is okay to let yourself relax your guard somewhat and let yourself hope.

In fact, most people can survive a little failure - even a lot of failure. People survive the death of spouses and divorces, they survive losing jobs, moving to new cities and towns, and changing careers. People are able to reinvent themselves; They do this all the time.

Understanding that you can survive failure is a part of a larger set of learnable skills that some people develop better than others, known as Emotional Resilience We don't have space in this document to talk about the many aspects of emotional resilience, but we do encourage you to read up on it in this extensively prepared topic center. Emotional Resilience is a skill that can be improved with practice. Taking the time to learn about and improve your emotional resilience will pay off by helping you become a more positive and optimistic person.